Mayors across Southern Ontario are angry about revelations from a secret report prepared by consultants at Gartner Lee for the cities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), which includes the City of Toronto and the Regions of Peel, York and Durham. The report indicates what landfills around the province could potentially be used to dispose of Toronto and area trash if the U.S. border closes to Ontario garbage — a possibility once considered remote but now becoming plausible with the approval of various pieces of American state and federal legislation with that objective. The GTA plan assumes that in such a circumstance, the province would pass emergency legislation allowing the temporary use of domestic landfills that currently receive either little or no GTA waste.
Five municipal landfills and five commercial landfills are recommended as the best prospects from a longer list of ten municipal and ten commercial landfills. Among them are the municipal landfill of Essex-Windsor, Sarnia-Lambton’s landfill near Petrolia, and the so-called Ridge landfill in Chatham-Kent operated by BFI Canada Income Trust.
Local mayors and waste managers are livid at the suggestion that their valuable landfill space could be commandeered by the province and filled with Toronto’s garbage. They say they’ve invested millions in achieving whatever landfill expansions they could in past years, and many are fighting to extend their landfill lifespans via the introduction of more aggressive curbside recycling and composting programs. The mayors are angry about the provincial government’s refusal to discuss the issue with them in a meaningful way. The McGuinty government continues say that it has no plan to force Toronto garbage on other municipalities and spouts the line that garbage is a municipal matter with which they don’t care to interfere. Easy to say now, but such statements will ring hollow if the border actually closes.
Toronto’s service provider is contractually obliged to seek disposal sites beyond Michigan if that state alone rejects GTA garbage. But if the entire border is closed to Ontario garbage, or if new legislation makes exporting waste to the United States virtually impossible, Toronto and its surrounding municipalities will have to consider other disposal means, including incineration. The problem is that the province’s environmental assessment requirements are onerous and it can take a decade to win approval to expand or build disposal infrastructure such as landfills or waste-to-energy plants. Such solutions would be useful in the long-term, but will be of little use in a short-term crisis.
Ontario’s McGuinty liberal government has been heavily criticized by experts in the waste management industry for dithering, and especially for not making meaningful reforms to the province’s Environmental Assessment Act such that more disposal infrastructure can be approved and built in a timely manner.