Court Ruling on Environmental Suits & Tree Recycling

  • Christmas tree drop-off sites are becoming more common. (Photo by mmhaffie, Flickr)

The Michigan Supreme Court says anyone can sue the state if they believe it’s acting in a way that harms the environment. Jennifer Guerra has more on the recent ruling:

Nick Schroeck is with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. He says if a company wants to do something like discharge treated wastewater into a creek or a river, for example, it needs a permit from the state to do so:

“The way our environmental law works, you have to have a permit to pollute, as it were. That means that the state regulates the amount of pollution that’s allowed into the waters of the state.”

Find a drop-off site near you

More uses for Christmas trees

New York City’s Mulchfest


A law called the Michigan Environmental Protection Act or MEPA makes it possible for someone to sue the state for issuing that permit if they think it harms the environment. But a state Supreme Court ruling in 2004 took a restrictive view of who had the right to sue under that law.

That is. until last week’s ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court which says anyone with standing can sue under MEPA:

“Concerned citizens or environmental groups could essentially sue the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment over permitting decisions or failures in their permitting decisions for the state failing to adequately protect the environment.”

That is, they can sue as long as they are sufficiently affected by the matter at hand.

Schroeck calls it…

“A good decision for the environment… for now.”

That’s because the justices voted 4–3 in favor of the more liberal reading of the law. But when conservatives take back the court this month, that decision could be overturned.

For the Environment Report, I’m Jennifer Guerra.


This is the Environment Report.

So you’ve put away all the ornaments and the lights and the tinsel… and you have that bare tree in your living room. It’s not illegal in Michigan to throw your Christmas tree away… but a lot of cities and counties do recycle them… and chip them up into mulch.

Here’s the tricky part: some cities will pick up your tree at the curb… but only on one specific day. Others give you a two week window – usually the first two weeks of January. The City of Ann Arbor cancelled its curbside tree pickup this year to save money… and instead, residents have to haul their tree to a drop-off station.

Marsha Gray is the executive director of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association. She says the first thing you should do if you want to recycle your tree is call the people who pick up your trash.

“You want to ask them if they do a separate collection for the trees. If they’re collecting them separately from your regular trash, that means they’re most likely recycling, probably chipping those trees into mulch. If they’re collecting at the same time and they’re going right into the bin that means they will go to the landfill.”

If your waste hauler won’t recycle your tree… Gray says you can call your city or county offices. … especially the parks and public works departments. She says many cities and towns now offer drop-off sites for tree recycling.

Gray says tree recycling has been on the rise in Michigan in the past few years. And they’re not not just being used for mulch.

“Some of the trees are actually sunk into ponds and streams for fish habitat. And they’re actually worked into the sand and soil to prevent beach erosion in the wintertime.”

And of course… you can get creative with the tree in your own backyard.

“A lot of people will put them out if they have bird feeders to let the birds perch in near the feeder while they’re waiting their turn, you can chip it yourself, some people like to have the mulch for their own gardening purposes. I’ve read some really weird and interesting ideas, including, taking the branches and using the actual branch to create a stabilizer for plants.”

Gray says it’s also possible to take a chainsaw to the tree and save the trunk to use as firewood. But there are a couple caveats. She says you shouldn’t burn the branches because they can spark. Also… you’ll have to let the cut-up trunk sit in your log pile and season for a year before you burn it.

You can learn more about reusing Christmas trees on our website, environment report dot org. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Odd Animal Behavior a Sign of Toxic Pollution

  • Odd animal behaviors have been noted in some birds, fish, and frogs. Researcher Ethan Clotfelter believes it may have something to do with exposure to toxic chemicals. (Photo by Sean Okihiro)

Toxic chemicals can sometimes be fatal to wildlife. Some researchers are now looking for more subtle signs of contamination. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush explains:


Toxic chemicals can sometimes be fatal to wildlife. Some researchers are
now looking for more subtle signs of contamination. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Mark Brush explains:

Researchers are looking for birds that have a hard time standing up
straight, fish that are unusually aggressive, or frogs that seem a little
confused. These are signs that the animals might be affected by low-level toxic

Ethan Clodfelter is a researcher at Amherst College. He studied data that looked at the behaviors of animals from all over the world. He says toxic chemicals that persist in the environment might explain why these animals are behaving oddly.

“What we really are trying to do is to come up with behavioral measures that
are good, sort of, early warning indicators. Because behaviors are very
highly variable kind of thing, and so you expect that even very small levels
of contaminants could induce changes in behavior long before you see six
legs growing out of frogs.”

Clodfelter says people, such as amateur bird watchers, have helped wildlife
officials identify odd animal behavior.

His review was published in the British research journal Animal Behavior.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.

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