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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
Name of conflict:Detroit's Waste Incinerator, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Michigan
Location of conflict:Detroit
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Incinerators
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Burns about 800,000 tons of waste per year; generates up to 68 megawatts of electricity for DTE Energy Co.

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Level of Investment:1,200,000,000
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:7000
Start of the conflict:1986
Company names or state enterprises:Detroit Renewable Energy LLC from United States of America
Atlas Holdings, LLC from United States of America - Owner
Relevant government actors:Michigan Dept of Environmental Quality; City of Detroit
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Evergreen 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
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Suburban environmental groups
Forms of mobilization:Development 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
Other Environmental impactsFoul odor.
Health ImpactsVisible: Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Deaths
Other Health impacts High asthma rates in children,
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Negotiated alternative solution
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Development of alternatives:In 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 an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain: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 & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

(3) 'Trash The Detroit Incinerator.' Moms Clean Air Force RSS2. Mom's Clean Air Force, 20 Mar. 2013. Web. <>.
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(1) Sierra Club. The State of Detroit's Environment: An Initial Assessment Using the Framework of Environmental Justice. <>
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(4) Mom's Clean Air Force. 'Toxic Detroit Incinerator Protested.' Moms Clean Air Force RSS2. 20 Sept. 2013. Web. <>.
[click to view]

(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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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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Information about the Detroit Waste Incinerator from Zero Waste Detroit, a coalition for recycling and an end to waste incineration
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Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

With privatization, less city waste likely to head to incinerator
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Other comments:This 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
Contributor:Bernadette 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
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