It takes roots: Community-led solutions to global climate change

By Elise D. Garcia

December 11, 2015

Excerpt: “I have asthma. My niece has asthma. There aren’t many people in Detroit that don’t have asthma,” Maxey said. “It has nothing to do with our lifestyle, but a history of environmental racism.”

The largest trash incinerator in the United States is located in the 48201 ZIP code of Detroit*, which is 70 percent African-American, Maxey said. Describing the multiple justice issues involved with the incinerator — including its health impacts and its implication in Detroit’s bankruptcy — Maxey noted that incinerators spew more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per unit of energy than coal-fired power plants.

The tack taken by the Zero Waste Detroit coalition of justice and environmental groups to shutting down the incinerator has been to “starve the beast,” Maxey said. Their focus is on recycling as much as possible.

“We’re just at the beginning of a zero-waste plan, and it’s been a fight to get here because city leaders were politically aligned with incineration,” she said. But over the past seven years, as a result of their persistent efforts, Detroit now has a citywide recycling program, and their relationship with city leaders has changed, she said. City councilors recently attended a meeting with San Francisco officials to discuss municipal recycling, Maxey said. “There has been a major shift in their attitudes as a result of the work of residents.”