Illegal Dumping In Northern Michigan’s Forests Has Become An Epidemic
Alcohol bottles, food bins, rubble, old tires, used syringes: just a few of the types of trash Shawn Huffman found near local hiking trails, double-track roads, and seasonal roads. And he’s not the only one who finds trash in northern Michigan forests: According to Adopt-a-Forest – a program run by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in Traverse City – there are 678 known illegal landfills across the state, including dozens in the Northern Michigan. Despite efforts to raise awareness, clean up and prevent, local environmental and law enforcement officials say eliminating illegal dumping on the ground may be impossible – at least without a fresh approach.
“We’re all fed up with looking at rubbish when we go out in our ATVs or walk or drive our local roads,” says Huffman (pictured) of himself and his neighbors. “This has been a persistent problem for years.”
Huffman usually only picks up trash when he sees it. This spring, however, he was inclined to organize major clean-up operations with his neighbors, “because of the large amount of items dumped this year”.
According to Conor Haenni, a member of the Huron Pines AmeriCorps who works as part of the Adopt-a-Forest program at Traverse City’s DNR, illegal dumping tends to spike this time of year, coinciding with spring cleaning. In northern Michigan, however, dumping is just a constant problem: there are 35 known landfills in Grand Traverse County, according to Adopt-a-Forest – the third highest in Michigan Counties. The problem is also widespread in Wexford (21), Manistee (17), Benzie (16), Antrim (15), and most other counties. Of the 22 counties in Michigan with no known landfills, 21 are south of Roscommon. The other is on the upper peninsula.
“The more public land there is, the more opportunities there are to deposit,” Haenni told The Ticker. “In the Metro Detroit area, Grand Rapids, in most of southern Michigan, we have low dumping figures for these counties. We also have fewer volunteers and fewer people reporting [in those areas]So I’m sure there are landfills and we just don’t know anything about them. But there is also a lot less public land down there. As you get up towards Traverse City, Gaylord, Grayling there is so much more public land so there is a much higher concentration of landfills. “
According to Haenni, Michigan has more than seven million acres of public land, most of which is in the Upper Peninsula or the northern half of the Mitten. While all of this land means a multitude of outdoor resources that humans can explore and enjoy – and for wildlife to thrive – it’s also difficult to combat dumping.
“[Law enforcement] I would go in circles and try to strategically place a camera at the perfect angle to get a license plate or any kind of information, ”says Haenni when asked about the potential for securing or monitoring known landfills. “And there are so many places [dumping] could happen so where do you start “
Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley agrees.
“When someone throws a bedspring or a washing machine out of the woods, it’s hard to identify who dumped it,” says Bensley. “People don’t have to name things like that. So it is very difficult to track people down unless there is a witness, which usually never happens. “
Andy Gale, president and general manager of Bay Area Recycling for Charities (BARC), believes illegal dumping is a symptom of two factors – neither is a deliberate disregard for the environment.
“I think people who throw things in the woods don’t want to throw things in the woods,” says Gale. “You probably don’t feel good about what you’re doing. But they do it anyway because they lack one of two things: Either they lack the money to pay for it [waste disposal]or they miss the time to plan it. People may not have the money to pay for BARC or American Waste because recycling is definitely a cost. Or they are in a situation where it is Saturday evening and they have to be out of their apartment by Sunday morning and everything is closed. But they can find a friend who shows up in their apartment with a trailer, and so they find a two-pronged path in the forest. “
BARC can recycle everything from mattresses to televisions to refrigerators. However, recycling fees range from $ 5 to $ 40 for most of these items, with additional fees for pickup.
According to Haenni, the “dangers of illegal dumping” include groundwater pollution (from batteries, freon in the refrigerator, chemicals from old televisions, etc.), dangerous bio-waste hazards (needles, faeces), damage to animals and wildlife, depreciation of property and negative impact on tourism.
What is the solution? Gale encourages people to pursue other options for their unwanted trash – be it seeking help from local churches, giving away items on Craigslist, asking BARC for a discounted rate, the Grand Traverse County RecycleSmart “Take It Back Recycling Directory,” or even “Put things down at the end of the driveway and put up a” vacant “sign. “
Haenni also recommends watching out for community recycling events – the occasional days when landfills, handover points, or local governments offer free or discounted prices for recycling electronics, furniture, or other difficult-to-dispose of items.
Huffman and Bensley, meanwhile, like the idea of targeting well-known landfills. Huffman suggests the DNR collect a fee on its recreational passes to fund garbage collection points along local trails or provide prepaid garbage bags for volunteer cleanup groups. Bensley addresses the possibility of parking large dumpsters near known landfills and having them hauled away and emptied on a regular basis – although he wonders who would pay the costs.
Right now, says Haenni, Adopt-a-Forest is playing a game of punch against mole with illegal dumping. Volunteers can plan their own cleanups and use an interactive DNR map of Michigan to locate landfills. Landfill disposal is difficult, however – as some sites are known as landfills and attract new trash every day, and because new landfills can emerge at any time.
“If you clean outside and continue on the double-track or dirt road, this is usually a kind of ‘clean landfill, you’ll find two,” explains Haenni. “So it’s just an ongoing fight.”