When Detroit, Michigan built the worlds largest waste incinerator it was thought to be the safest, most cost effective waste disposal method, however there are many alternatives to waste management that are more environmentally and economically sustainable. Although there are tax breaks and“renewable energy” status, there are serious negative social and environmental impacts that far outlast the financial gain. Waste incinerators may seem like more effective alternative to landfills but this issue only began receiving attention in the early 2000s.

Analysis of the Detroit Incinerator and its history, potential drawbacks and alternatives.

• Incinerator is more expensive than landfilling and poses an environmental and social risk

• The incinerator has created a myriad health and environmental risks that make a facility nearly deadly to live and work near

• Strategy to create a more cost effective way to dispose waste in Detroit

• Make recycling more of a priority Detroit’s solid waste management program

• Local concerns related to environmental impacts and public health and safety issues associated with the disposal of solid waste.

• Objections to the current waste management system and possible alternatives

• Rising awareness of the potential effects of acid rain, rate of children’s asthma rate increasing and other complications




  The incinerator also known as the Detroit Resource Recovery Facility is used to burn most of Detroit's trash to produce steam that generates electricity. Although this sounds like a very innovative idea it is the most controversial buildings in the city.   

    The incinerator was created after President Nixon's administration when new other sources of energy other than gas and oil were sought after. Engineers during that time period believed trash could be burned to create electricity by dumping the cities trash into an incinerator. Although some believed that this was a great solution to the energy crisis and  helped get rid of waste, environmentalist stressed the inevitable pollution that this process caused. 

In the 1970's the City of Detroit was having financial problems and ended up created the largest municipal waste incinerator ever costing about 440 million dollars. There were several major difficulties to overcome before creating the incinerator such as the fact it would put millions of tons of pollutants into the air every year that would increase morbidity rates. After many lawsuits and controversy the Young Administration decided to build the facility in an industrial area along Russell Street, which is a low income neighborhood and this made the neighborhood even less attractive. 

The Detroit Incinerator officially opened in 1986, but in 1991 the state of Michigan's Department of Environment Quality stated that Detroit need to add expensive new pollution control equipment that it could not afford so Phillip Morris and Aviation Services bout the plant and the equipment. To this day the City of Detroit is still paying off the loans. 

The incinerator is currently operated by the Michigan Waste Energy firm which specializes in producing energy from waste. The Detroit Incinerator was designed with three large furnaces and is capable of burning 4,000 tons of trash every day. Today only two furnaces can be ran simultaneously so about 2,800 tons are burned daily. The whole process starts with trucks that dump the city's solid waste then shred it and pulverize it for burning in a furnace to generate steam that can then produce energy that creates as much  as 40 million annually. 


There are several stakeholders in the company that range from the city government, management, people near the incinerator and the Michigan Waste Energy Firm. The government is a major stakeholder in the company considering that the city loaned the money to get the plant operating. The next set of stakeholders are the people that are actually employed in the company and management considering that they are getting paid to work there. If the plant was never created or if it were destroyed they would loose their jobs. The next set of stakeholders are the people who live near the incinerator especially because it creates an awful smell and causes pollution as well as negative health effects. The next stake holder is the Michigan Waste Energy Firm since it currently runs operations.

Overall the Detroit Incinerator does create electricity and get rid of trash, but it also has several negative side affects. The incinerator creates around 25 tons of hazardous wastes every year and over 1800 tons of other pollutants. Also the initial goal of the plant was to become more efficient , but the whole process is actually using more resources than saving them. It also has negative effects on peoples health.

Possible Solutions

There are several different alternatives such as different incinerating methods, switching to recycling or composting with anaerobic digestion and implementing stricter policies. Overall these solutions are aimed to increase efficiency and reduce environmental and economic damage.