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Toronto Garbage Rant
21/09/2004

I haven't had the time to get to it, yet, but I was fairly annoyed by Rex Murphy's recent rant about the "hypocrisy" of Toronto delivering its garbage to a landfill in Michigan:

It's a sad neighbour who dumps his garbage over the back fence to your backyard. Toronto, so fastidious about its air and energy, doesn't clean up after itself. If a poodle breaks wind in this city, there is an emergency meeting at city hall to re-gear the smog index. But Toronto has been hurling its detritus over the border for years. It collects its mighty mountain of waste and garbage and then ships it down to the states. There is a convoy of 125 great diesel trucks, puffing and panting their toxic fumes all the way, hauling one million tons a year of Toronto's garbage to Michigan.

Let's be reasonable. Every community produces waste, and landfill happens to be one of the most common ways to get rid of it. It just so happens that the landfill in Michigan is the closest one that will accept Toronto's garbage... even though the infamous convoy of trucks drives past operating landfills on its way to the border.

Toronto is doing what it can to reduce its waste, and has set some very challenging targets. In 2002/03, Toronto received an award for producing 20% less waste per capita than the Ontario average. Others are doing better, but the City is rolling out new programs as well.

Tonight I attended a public meeting on the green bin programme, which has been very successful in Etobicoke and Scarborough, and is being rolled out in the rest of the city soon. On hand was Norm Lee, Manager of Operational Planning (Solid Waste Collections) who told me that the diversion rate from single-family homes in those areas has now hit 60%. (I.e., only 40% of their waste goes to landfill, the rest is recycled or composted.)

I'm not trying to claim that Toronto is the greatest when it comes to waste management. But, as far as I can tell, it is doing a reasonably good job and is improving. Most of the rest of the burden -- helping to find a closer landfill, helping reduce packaging and other types of garbage -- requires the province to act.

The City used to have a landfill at Keele Valley, but it was shut down as a result of a 1995 PC election promise. MPP Frank Klees explained it like this: “We made the commitment to close Keele because the 905 isn’t Toronto’s backyard any longer... the area around the landfill urbanized rapidly in the last two decades, and whether that was sound planning or not, it happened. The area is now simply inappropriate for a landfill.”

Toronto has a goal of reducing its landfill requirements to zero by 2010. That sounds pretty damn difficult. But if people are upset about our garbage going to Michigan -- a perfectly legitimate thing under NAFTA -- then we need the province to help find new landfill space. There is obviously none in 416 and the City of Toronto can't just go out and buy land in some other Ontario county without hell breaking loose.

As for Rex, he can do his part too. He can't be part of the green bin programme because he lives in a Harbourfront condo, and the green bins are only available to residents with curbside pick-up. But there is nothing stopping him from getting a vermicomposter.


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