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Possible Landfill for Toronto?
05/01/2005

So, the Township of Southgate, Ontario (map here) is working on a plan to build a landfill that will accept Toronto's trash.

I don't know anything about the specifics of Southgate, but I agree with the Toronto Star -- building a landfill on suitable land not too far away is a reasonable solution to the problem... in fact, it's the solution that most any other community in North America has access to.

Of course, the predictable (and understandable) NIMBY response from neighbours has begun. You can't blame them. At the same time, a landfill would seem to be needed and it has to go somewhere.

Obviously anywhere that is not safe from a geological/environmental standpoint needs to be excluded. Other than that, it's not clear what the process should be. One possibility would be that any landowner at a environmentally-safe location can choose to turn his or her property into a landfill, regardless of what the neighbours say. At the other extreme, any municipality would be free to block landfills through land-use regulations. A possible middle ground would be for the province to assess the demand for landfill space and then have the political guts to decide where they ought to be.

According to the Globe and Mail, Toronto Councillor Jane Pitfield says that the City is unlikely to even try to send its garbage to Southgate, in part because of how strong the NIMBY force is expected to be. On the other hand, Pitfield seems to be a proponent of incineration and says "I hope we're not looking at landfill at all."

As far as I can tell, the whole debate boils down to environmental risk and perceptions of environmental risk. I would hate to see landfills ruled out because their NIMBYs are louder and because the current state of the law makes them more powerful than anti-incineration NIMBYs. Rather, the decision should be made on the basis of risk. Nothing I have seen so far convinces me that the risk of modern incineration (or alternatives) is not higher than the risk of modern landfills, particularly when we are comparing proposals for urban incinerators vs. rural landfills.

Of course landfills are cheaper, too.

And of course the City of Toronto should continue its efforts to divert waste, and should continue to push the province for Extended Producer Responsibility legislation that works. But none of that will ever eliminate the need for some sort of last resort for non-recoverable waste.


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