gabeGuest Blogger: Gabriel Jones, MS, MUP ’17 (Program Coordinator at the Environmental Grantmakers Association) | July 11, 2017

On May 8, 2017, Reema Abi-Akar, Yi Tang, and I presented our Master’s project, Opportunities for Sustainable Materials Management and Zero Waste in Detroit,” at the American Planning Association’s Annual Meeting in New York City. We joined other poster presenters at the Jacob Javits Center to disseminate our findings among urban planners and other planning professionals. During our session, we connected with individuals from around the country who were seeking ways to integrate more sustainable materials management (SMM) into their respective cities. I also attended a session on SMM planning, where I learned about some of the findings from one of the APA’s latest reports titled Planning for Sustainable Material and Waste Management.

Reema Abi-Akar, Yi Tang, and me in NYC with our poster

What was the content of our presentation at APA NYC? Our report, for clients East Michigan Environmental Action Council and Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, characterizes the waste management systems of three post-industrial cities- Detroit, Minneapolis, and Baltimore– using stakeholder interviews, policy review, Sankey diagrams of the city’s waste flows, and environmental justice spatial analysis in order to present recommendations to enhance opportunities for SMM in Detroit.

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While efforts to become more sustainable were underway in each city, we found that Minneapolis was leading the way towards advancing SMM throughScreen Shot 2017-07-11 at 12.58.07 AM local policies and ordinances, stricter data reporting requirements, and increased usage of recycling and composting practices (see timeline above). We also found a higher percentage of nonwhite populations, households living in poverty, and lower median housing values in communities around the waste-to-energy incinerator in all three cities between 1970 and 2000. Additionally, from stakeholder interviews we identified 5 key themes- political, social, economic, technical/procedural, and environmental– that can either support or impede efforts to advance SMM.

Presenting recommendations during capstone

Subsequently, we proposed a set of eight recommendations for Detroit to consider when adopting an SMM framework in the future. Three of those recommendations include: (1) collect waste stream data in a continuous, consistent, and publicly available manner; (2) change the framing of waste management and instead refer to the process as materials management; and (3) strengthen monitoring and enforcement to hold municipal solid waste facilities more accountable and reduce air emissions violations. In the report, we provide more in-depth descriptions of each recommendation. Ultimately, our findings offer practical policy proposals for cities to overcome the challenges of advancing more sustainable and just waste management.

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Landfill tour near Detroit, Michigan

Shortly before we completed our report, the State of Michigan’s Solid Waste and Recycling Advisors also released two complementary reports that describe how the state can further their solid waste, sustainability, and recycling goals.

Our project was advised by Professors Tony Reames and Greg Keoleian. Access to our full report can be found here and presentation here.

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