SWR magazine interviews Task Force 2010 Co-Chair Betty Disero
This summer City of Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman and Councilor Betty Disero, co-chairs of the Toronto’s Solid Waste Resources Diversion Task Force 2010, presented a report outlining a new three-stream system to divert significantly more residential solid waste from landfill. The city currently diverts only 27 per cent.
The new system will require residents to combine blue and grey box materials. Dry residue will be placed in a regular garbage bag. Kitchen waste and other organics will be collected in a new bin (lined with a bag) provided by the city that will be delivered to a composting plant. Organics will be collected weekly and the rest separately on alternate weeks.
When the Keele Valley landfill closes in 2002 all residue will be sent for disposal in Michigan (to the Republic and Onyx landfills). At that point the total cost per household for collection and disposal will be $158. According to the report, by 2006, the cost of the fully implemented system will rise to $160 per household.
A new composting plant located at the Dufferin Transfer Station will be phased-in at a cost of up to $25-million. Future plants that will process dry residue (by 2005-06) require further study. The city plans to consider emerging technologies to meet current and future diversion targets. The report also proposes expansion of and improvements to existing programs. These include plastic bags for overflow blue box material, curbside collection of scrap metal, and lower bag limits.
In 2001, Toronto is expected to generate approximately 907,000 tonnes of residential solid waste (one tonne per household at a cost of $121 per household). By the end of 2006, the report expects that the new system will divert 555,700 tonnes, or 61.3 per cent. The public works committee and the policy and finance committee approved the plan on September 10 and September 20 respectively. On October 2, City Council voted 40-1 to implement the plan.
Ms. Disero has worked to create a healthier and cleaner community since first entering politics in 1982. Following city amalgamation she was elected for Ward 17 — Davenport, making her one of Toronto’s longest serving and effective elected officials.
As chair of the Works and Emergency Services Committee and co-chair of the waste diversion task force, Ms. Disero’s immediate priorities are to find a “made in Toronto” solution to waste management and to divert 30 per cent of waste by 2003.
Solid Waste & Recycling magazine met with Ms. Disero at the Columbus Centre in Toronto, Ontario.
SWR: Please outline the key features of Toronto’s new waste plan and why it’s an improvement.
DISERO: Putting residential waste in a landfill is unproductive, particularly as organics produce methane gas that can be used for energy generation. We’re increasing the number of things we can collect in the blue box. (See industry news.) People will do three things. They’ll put their organics in one location, their blue and grey box materials in another location, and the residue will become increasingly smaller. From single family homes, I expect we’ll have great success.
SWR: What about apartments?
DISERO: Apartments worry me. We have to put on our thinking caps on to figure out a solution that’s workable for apartment dwellers [just over half of the population]. The city currently collects 85 per cent of apartment waste. [As of January 1, 2002 recycling is mandatory for apartments.]
SWR: How would the city balance the desire for an improved diversion rate with the economic costs of such a program? Supporters and skeptics alike have said that we can’t afford to do this.
DISERO: We can’t afford not to do this. While we may spend an extra million, we may save a million in landfill costs. In 2003, without incorporating any new systems and with the closure of Keele Valley, the cost of disposal will go up from $12 a tonne to $52, so there will be a big jump. We have to look at garbage differently — as a resource, whether it’s compost, metal, cloth, fabric or fibre.
We could source separate in homes and apartments using kitchen catchers and pales for organic waste, a clean system that could also be raccoon proof. The 70,000 tonnes of organics that we’d process each year will probably meet both provincial and federal guidelines. We could use it in our own parks. This action would take us up to 42 per cent diversion and cost about $1-million a year.
In another scenario we’d add a mixed-waste processing system for residue. That would get us above 60 per cent.
SWR: What will happen with the materials collected?
DISERO: I think we can find markets. Royal Plastics, for instance, could use dry waste as filler for house parts. Trex Company would buy the used plastic bags. GreenTech is interested in our ribbon cartridges. Another company is interested in buying the liquid organics from the anaerobic digester. If all these deals happen, we could see savings.
SWR: Kirkland Lake Mayor Bill Enouy would like to revive the Adams Mine proposal with the promise of a free composting plant.
DISERO: The Mayor isn’t interested. He doesn’t mind a good argument but he only wants to have it once. He wants us to move on.
SWR: We know that the Mayor visited the Edmonton Co-Composting facility. And the report indicates that a variety of waste processing sites in Ontario were visited, including the REF-FUEL facility in Niagara Falls, the Canada Compost facility in Newmarket, the WASTECO and Mega City facilities in Toronto, and the Guelph Wet/Dry facility and SUBBOR in Guelph. What features of these facilities were most impressive to you? What features were not?
DISERO: The city endured a big argument about Kirkland Lake and I think the next one is going to be over residue. I don’t want to have that argument until I know for sure what we can do. I’m focusing first on anything we can take out of the waste stream before we have to process it. I expect the environmental groups will fight with members of council over that. Right now most of those technologies want $75 to $100 per tonne and that’s too expensive.
I’ve got a problem with the budget, too. The city just spent $2-million extra to shovel snow off residential streets — all I need is a million bucks! And if they give it to me I can save them a million by the end of the year. If we could come up a million then I’m hoping that a bank or soft-drink company can match that and come up with another million in the spirit of good corporate citizenship.
SWR: The plan includes a “take-back program.” Will this resemble Ottawa’s [which includes household hazardous waste]? (See the December/January 2002 edition.)
DISERO: It’ll be almost identical.
SWR: What upgrades are in store for the Dufferin Transfer Station [site of the city’s main organics digestion plant]?
DISERO: Our demonstration plant will be running this fall. It’s built in such a way that as the amount collected increases, we can simply add modules to process it. And because the waste is source separated, only minimal processing will be required.
SWR: Have you taken Halifax’s experience into account?
DISERO: We won’t have a landfill to take organics to after 2002, and people will have to remove them. If we tell people they’ll be charged for extra garbage, then they’ll divert. I’ve received e-mails from people in Halifax who’ve said, “Don’t do this, it stinks!” They don’t use bags to line the containers and they combine their kitchen and yard waste — spaghetti with leaves. We’ll keep our yard waste separate and use an airtight container.
SWR: To what extent could the private sector deliver the new systems and services? Is this not a time to introduce more competition into the system?
DISERO: We have done everything with the unions. I prefer not to contract out to the private sector, but if we do then it
depends on the 4-10 issue [four days a week, ten hours a day workweek]. If we don’t get it then we have to go back to the drawing board. If we do the five-day workweek, that means that instead of going with one truck with two compartments it means we’ll have to make two or three passes, which is expensive. We’re recommending that we phase it in and that we start in Etobicoke and Scarborough [approximately 170,000 single-family households] in the spring of 2002.
SWR: Have any particular product or service companies been considered?
DISERO: We’re going to recommend that two things go out for RFP: bins and bags. We’re going to see if we can get a consortium, a combination of a supplier and public relations company.
SWR: What about commercial waste?
DISERO: In a lot of cases, the private sector in general, and companies like Wasteco in particular, are better at recycling than the public. Their efficiency is higher and their cost of labour is lower. The costs will be hard to nail down until council makes a decision. We are talking to private companies.
SWR: In developing the new system, were deposit-refund programs such as those in Vancouver and Calgary considered?
DISERO: Yes, the first thing we said was that the best thing would be a deposit-return system. Failing that, let’s at least get producers to kick in for the costs. With the new provincial Waste Diversion Organization, we’re going to get 50 per cent. One hundred per cent would be nice but 50 per cent is better than nothing.
SWR: Please clarify the proposed “environmental control bill” [also known as the “green bill”]. Will this be a by-law to regulate the proper separation of waste streams?
DISERO: It’s going to be mandatory. We’re going to need a lot of education. There are three priorities: service, education, and enforcement — in that order. I don’t know if the Ontario environment ministry will help out, but we’re getting others involved. Our diversity advocate is looking at communications issues. We’re working on an individual mailing package and I hope council members will go door to door.
SWR: What emerging technologies are being examined?
DISERO: I’m impressed with companies like Trex and GreenTech who want to take plastic and cartridges and do something positive. We’re also talking to someone whose vending machines take back soft-drink cans. They’re already in use in Montreal, Quebec. It’s called a “reverse vending machine.”
SWR: The deliberation over the new system has been long and arduous. What keeps you motivated?
DISERO: Improving lifestyle in the city. We have a really great future.
See www.solidwastemag.com for the full report and further updates.
Connie Vitello is editor of this magazine.