Working Partner Update: Zero Waste Detroit

Date: 12 Jun 2017 | posted in: waste - zero waste, Waste to Wealth | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Who is Zero Waste Detroit (ZWD): a collaborative of over twenty community, environmental and environmental justice organizations in Detroit. ZWD’s goal is to move the City to a solid waste management system that captures the value of the waste stream— recycling—before any disposal and away from the burning or of trash.

The Issue: In the mid-1980’s, Detroit built the largest municipal incinerator in the world with the financial obligation to sustain it, even after selling it in the early 1990’s—a “put or pay” system. That reality was disincentive for any recycling or capture of commodities in the waste stream. The incinerator contributes to the heavy air burden at the crossroads of two major highways in a neighborhood that is predominantly low-income African American, an environmental injustice. The incinerator, Detroit Renewable Power (DRP) is now privately owned by Atlas Holdings.

What ZWD has accomplished:

  • 2007, Began to envision a solid waste management system for the City that would stimulate economic and environmental benefits.
  • 2008, City Council Resolution supported ZWD’s solid waste model
  • 2009, City began small curbside recycling program
  • 2010, City’s contracted with the incinerator goes to 2021 but does not require minimum tonnage
  • and allows for a recycling program
  • 2011, voter approved City Charter mandates recycling as first option
  • 2013, waste contracts RFP included requirement to bid on curbside recycling for entire City.
  • 2014, citywide curbside recycling program rolled out
  • 2015, outreach to Detroit residents to sign up for curbside, along with Green Living Science and
  • with support of Dept of Public Works
  • 2017, thru May, ’17 signed up 13900 residents, with a corp of Recycling Ambassadors, to
  • assist reaching City’s goal of 20% participation rate one month early
  • 2017, honored with Spirit of Detroit award at First Annual Green Task Force Brunch
  • 2017, submitted comments to MDEQ on DRP’s multiple air permit violations
  • 2017, spurred update of City of Detroit’s Public Work’s website, in collaboration with
  • Department of Innovation and Technology and Green Living Science
  • On our plate 2017:
  • Continue work with City to increase resident participation in the curbside program to 30%
  • Update ZWD’s Solid Waste Plan
  • Explore ways to work with business community to increase recycling
  • Monitor MDEQ action re air permit violations by Detroit Renewable Power
  • Increase advocacy to City Council and Administration, including Director of Sustainability, on the importants of solid waste management in the City’s sustainable future


What you can do:


Enroll in Detroit’s curbside recycling program. or Take the Recycling Challenge to get a cart free: or Spread the word:

Follow Neil Seldman:
Neil Seldman

Neil Seldman, Ph.D, directs the Recycling and Economic Growth Initiative. He specializes in helping cities and businesses recover increasing amounts of materials from the waste stream and add value to the local economy through new processing and manufacturing facilities. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and is a member of ILSR's Board of Directors.