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Michigan is No. 1 for trash, but Whitmer wants higher fees to curb imports

A new report shows Michigan has more landfill trash per resident than anywhere else in the country at 68.3 tons – 72% above the national average.
  • Michigan has more trash in landfills per resident than anywhere else in the country, according to a new study
  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is calling for a steep increase in dumping fees to try and combat landfill waste growth
  • Michigan’s landfill costs of 36 cents a ton is low, and some think raising fees could curb out-of-state dumping

LANSING — As Gov. Gretchen Whitmer pushes a big fee hike for trash dumping that she says could deter out-of-state waste, a new report shows Michigan is home to more landfill garbage per resident than anywhere else in the country.

Whitmer’s plan would raise per-ton landfill fees from 36 cents to $5 in an effort to “bring Michigan in line” with regional averages and stop neighbors from treating the state like a dumping ground, according to the administration.


Federal data shows Michigan’s active and inactive landfills held more than 685 million tons of "waste in place" as of 2021.

That amounted to 68.3 tons of trash for each of the state's roughly 10 million residents, the highest rate in the country, according to a new analysis by IT Asset Management Group. Other national leaders –  all from the Midwest – include Indiana at 60.4 tons per capita and Illinois at 56.6 tons.


Overall, Michigan’s per capita ratio of landfill trash was 72% above the national average, according to the analysis. 

Whitmer’s proposed fee hike could turn additional landfill trash into about $80 million in annual revenue for the state, according to administration estimates. 

If that results in less trash, supporters say that could also mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Sierra Club, a leading environmental organization, has praised the proposal as a way to "control landfill pollution.” But opponents say the fees amount to a tax and worry the hike will ultimately increase costs for residents and school districts. 

“In my district, specifically, one of the largest users of our landfill is our public school system,” Rep. Bill Schuette, R-Midland, told Bridge Michigan. And as Democrats expand free school food programs, “shocker – that's going to be even more waste,” he said. 

The Whitmer administration contends Michigan’s current 36-cent per-ton landfill fee has made it a magnet for trash from Canada and other states. Ohio, for instance, charges $4.75 per ton. Wisconsin is much higher, at nearly $13 per ton.


Michigan’s 46 active landfills collected about 14 million tons of trash in 2022, and nearly a quarter of that came from outside the state, according to data from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

About 19% of Michigan landfill waste comes from Canada and 5% comes from other states. Combined, that amounts to an average of 12 million cubic yards of waste annually, according to a State Budget Office memo

Raising the landfill tipping fee to $5 per ton would put Michigan closer to the national average and "remove the big incentive for folks in other states and Canadian provinces to dump their trash in our landfills," EGLE Director Phillip Roos said last month in committee testimony.

"It's not like we're going way out on a limb here," he said. "I don't think it's going to eliminate out-of-state waste, but it's just putting it on a level playing field here so there's not a disproportionate incentive for it to come to our state.”

Revenue raised from the fee increase would be "the centerpiece" of Whitmer administration efforts to clean up more than 24,000 contaminated sites across Michigan, Roos said. 

Under the plan, most of the new money would go toward environmental remediation and brownfield redevelopment initiatives. That would be used to enhance water soil quality, transform blighted areas and promote “overall environmental sustainability,” according to a state budget memo.

But Schuette, the Midland Republican who serves on the House environmental department budget subcommittee, said he’s concerned that increased costs would be passed on to Michigan residents and businesses – who still produce the bulk of the trash that ends up in state landfills. 

The per-ton fee increase from 36 cents to $5 represents a more than 1,000% bump, he said, a point he also made during committee last month.

“I don't think that the administration is trying to solve a problem here,” Schuette said Tuesday. “What they are trying to do is raise revenue, and they're trying to raise that revenue on the backs of Michigan residents.”

Industry groups are echoing those concerns. 

The plan could have “unintended consequences,” according to the Michigan Waste and Recycling Association.

“A significantly higher trash tax may encourage some to find unsustainable alternatives to dispose of their waste,” the group said in a statement. “This is a burden that shouldn’t be placed on Michigan families and businesses.”

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters, which advocates for environmental policies, supports the proposed fee increase as a way to “level the playing field” with other states, said spokesperson Nick Dodge. 


“Landfills are a big source for a lot of contamination, so really, this is a public health concern,” he told Bridge.

Roos, in his recent committee testimony, said the Whitmer administration believes the plan would allow Michigan to have "better controls” over landfill waste while funding contaminated site cleanup. 

If costs are ultimately passed down to families, who produce about 1,700 pounds per year of solid waste on average, that would amount to a $15 to $20 annual increase, he said.

“There’s a cost” to doing nothing too, Roos said, citing landfill odors and potential contamination. “We’re ultimately paying one way or the other.”

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