December 22, 2014

Rule changes would disallow burning of household trash

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LANSING — Rule changes proposed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment would make it illegal to burn household trash throughout the state.

If approved, the new rules would take effect April 1, 2011.

“The changes will eliminate the current open burning exemption that allows the burning of household trash, including plastics, rubber, paper, shingles, treated wood, and other rubbish,” said James Ostrowski of the Environmental Assistance Program with the DNRE. “That means that after April 1, 2011, the exemption that allows residents to burn their trash will no longer exist, and it will become illegal to burn residential trash under state regulations.”

Ostrowski said that the changes also include three exemptions, which will allow the burning of contraband by a police agency, prescribed burns, and the burning of diseased or infested wooden apple bins.

He said the new rules would not affect people who wanted to burn leaves.

“The amendments will not change the provisions that allow the burning of leaves, brush, and other yard clippings, nor will they prohibit recreational campfires,” Ostrowski said.

Ostrowski said the DNRE believes the changes are needed because the composition of household trash has changed.

“The current provisions that allow the burning of household trash were added nearly 40 years ago, when the makeup of our trash was much different, as was the availability of waste disposal services,” Ostrowski said. “Along with an increased volume of household trash, composition of the waste now includes treated paper, plastics, foam, metals and other man-made materials. Open burning of this type of trash emits contaminants that can have both long- and short-term health effects on exposed people, especially those with cardiovascular and respiratory conditions such as asthma.”

He added that the burning of trash also causes a significant number of wildfires and property fires throughout the state, while also generating many smoke and odor complaints.

“Michigan is not the first to update its regulations,” Ostrowski said. “In fact, Michigan is the only state in the Great Lakes region that does not prohibit or restrict trash burning. Nationally, 40 states restrict or prohibit the activity under rule or statute.”

Ostrowski said the DNRE doesn’t expect the changes to affect a large number of people.

“Some residents in Michigan may have to pay to dispose of their trash in an acceptable manner,” he said. “However, most households in Michigan are located in areas that prohibit the burning of trash and are, therefore, already currently paying for waste disposal or recycling.”

And Ostrowski said that the DNRE wouldn’t be specifically looking for people who are not following the new regulations.

“The DNRE does not intend to actively target residents for enforcement of this rule, but rather focus on educating residents and local officials about the dangers of trash burning and the options available to deal with open burning complaints in their communities,” he said. “The immediate concern of the DNRE is protecting the health of those adversely affected by trash burning. It is expected that any enforcement will be complaint-driven and conducted primarily by local units of government, where they deem it to be necessary.”

Ostrowski added that the DNRE would not require local units of government to adopt the changes and enforce the new regulations.

“However, for those communities that are interested in addressing the issue, the DNRE will provide help with the development of ordinances,” Ostrowski said. “Where ordinances do not exist, the DNRE can assist local authorities with writing citations under the state regulation.”

Ostrowski said that these changes still must be approved by the DNRE, and have not yet been finalized. However, he added, they are in the final stages. He said he expects the final few steps to be completed by late January, early February.

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