Detroit's Waste Incinerator, USA

The Detroit Renewable Power is the largest solid waste incinerator in the United States, representing one iconic environmental and social justice fight. It is, also deeply implicated in Detroit's budget crisis.


The Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Facility, renamed Detroit Renewable Power, is the largest solid waste incinerator in the United States. Owned by Atlas Holdings, LLC, it is one of the most iconic environmental and social justice fights in the U.S. today. The incinerator is deeply implicated in Detroit's budget crisis as well.

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Basic Data
NameDetroit's Waste Incinerator, USA
CountryUnited States of America
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Waste Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Incinerators
Specific CommoditiesDomestic municipal waste
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsBurns about 800,000 tons of waste per year; generates up to 68 megawatts of electricity for DTE Energy Co.

Burns an estimated 2800 tons of commercial and household waste each day.
Level of Investment (in USD)1,200,000,000
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population7000
Start Date1986
Company Names or State EnterprisesDetroit Renewable Energy LLC from United States of America
Atlas Holdings, LLC from United States of America - Owner
Relevant government actorsMichigan Dept of Environmental Quality; City of Detroit
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersEvergreen Alliance, Greenpeace, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario and Southeast Michigan; Zero Waste Detroit (ZWD) members: Coalition for Community Change; Detroit Audubon Society; Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance; Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice; East Michigan Environmental Action Council; Ecology Center; Feedom Freedom; Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit; Great Lakes Environmental Law Center; Green Door Initiative; Greenacres Woodward Civic Association; Institute for Local Self-Reliance; Lemieux Consulting & Bright Recycling Services; Michigan Environmental Council; Rosedale Recycles; Sierra Club Environmental Justice Program; Sierra Club Southeast Michigan Group; Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision; Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice;Voices for Earth Justice; We Want Green, Too!; 48217 Community & Environmental Health Organization
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Suburban environmental groups
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Global warming
OtherFoul odor.
Health ImpactsVisible: Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Deaths
Other High asthma rates in children,
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseNegotiated alternative solution
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Development of AlternativesIn 2008, the Coalition began working on the New Business Model for Solid Waste Management to emphasize waste reduction, with an intermediate use of landfills, toward a goal of zero waste. The New Business Model shows that while the incinerator employs 160 workers, switching to recycling and landfill would employ 200 to 300, plus create the possibility of 1000 more jobs in recycling businesses. These businesses are predicted to generate $40 million in private investment to the local economy, saving Michigan residents the tax dollars currently being paid to operate the incinerator (
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Incinerator was built and continues to operate. However, the City of Detroit recently (in November of 2013) announced that under privatized collection, a citywide curbside recycling program will be available which has the potential to reduce pollution burden of the city and provide more jobs. The movement says that the next step would be to ramp up residential recycling and then commercial recycling, so that the incinerator does not have adequate trash to sustain operations.
Sources and Materials

(1) Sierra Club. The State of Detroit's Environment: An Initial Assessment Using the Framework of Environmental Justice. <>
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(2) Halcom, Chad. 'With Privatization, Less City Waste Likely to Head to Incinerator.' Crain's Detroit Business. Crain Communications Inc, 7 Oct. 2013. Web. <>
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(3) 'Trash The Detroit Incinerator.' Moms Clean Air Force RSS2. Mom's Clean Air Force, 20 Mar. 2013. Web. <>.
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(4) Mom's Clean Air Force. 'Toxic Detroit Incinerator Protested.' Moms Clean Air Force RSS2. 20 Sept. 2013. Web. <>.
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Information about the Detroit Waste Incinerator from Zero Waste Detroit, a coalition for recycling and an end to waste incineration
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Zero Waste Detroit hails city's move toward curbside recycling, calls for incinerator to be curbed
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Ecology Center (2017, February 27). “Breathe Free Detroit.”
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With privatization, less city waste likely to head to incinerator
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Other Documents

Photo of incinerator As viewed from neighboring homes
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Zero Waste Detroit Celebrates Small Victory Members of Zero Waste Detroit held short rally outside City building to celebrate the City's move towards curbside recycling while also pushing the City to stop sending trash to the incinerator. Photo credit: David Muller
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Other CommentsThis is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan.
Meta Information
ContributorBernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, [email protected] and [email protected], Updates to this case,March 30, 2018, by Laura Grier, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update23/07/2018