A new law will soon limit the kinds of waste people can put into burn barrels or pits. It says plastics, chemically treated wood, and electronics are among the materials that can no longer be burned outdoors.
Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley signed the law because Governor Rick Snyder is out of the country. Calley says modern conveniences such as computers and cell phones have also led to new types of household waste that needs to be disposed.
"Burning just isn't a good way to do it," Calley says. "I think this is a very rational approach toward protecting the environment on one hand and then the individual liberty of the people who just want to get rid of the leaves and the sticks in their yards."
The new rules don't go as far as some people wanted - which was to ban outdoor burning altogether. There have been fights between neighbors about drifting smoke, in some cases, causing or aggravating asthma attacks. But burning waste is so common in parts of rural Michigan that a compromise was struck. Some of the most toxic materials are banned, but grass, leaves and other yard waste can still be burned. And the goal of Dan Wyant, the director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, is an eventual rural culture shift away from burning debris.
"We really want to move away from outdoor burning things and putting things in a burning barrel, and so this is a transition," he says. "There was some concept that we just outright ban it, and we know there's been a tradition, a culture in Michigan to have burn barrels to put things in. We wanted to remove the most toxic things from that equation.
"We'll go out, and we're trying to educate. We're not trying to be heavy-handed in our enforcement, but we'll communicate about the law, and we do want to move away from outdoor burning," Wyant says.
The new rules become enforceable in six months.