As many in the waste industry already or should know, the International Solid Waste Importation and Management Act, 2005 is winding its way through United States Congress. If passed, it will give U.S. states the authority to close the border to Canadian trash. Ontario currently exports three million tonnes of solid waste per year to Michigan.
Opinion is divided as to whether this scenario is likely, but the ongoing threat and the disposal crisis it would trigger has spurred fresh thinking in Ontario. While some dwell on the negative repercussions, there would be a huge opportunity for the waste business in Canada. With only 90 days notice, the rules may very well change in Ontario in such a way that waste treatment and disposal companies will be big winners. A closed border would force the provincial government to take immediate action; it would no longer be able to sit on the sidelines and act solely as a regulator. Garbage piling up at waste transfer stations, public parks and the ends of people’s driveways quickly becomes a health issue.
If it happens, there won’t be time to find solutions under the current legislative framework. A scenario that could occur would be for the province to modify the Certificates of Approval (C of A) for existing landfills to allow for acceptance of municipal waste and temporary expansion. The existing landfills would likely handle this for two to five years. In the meantime, an authority (similar to the Interim Waste Authority in the early 1990s) could be established with the responsibility of finding a solution in the two to five year time frame. Reform of the environmental assessment process could allow the development of much-needed infrastructure over the longer term.
Let’s look at some of the facilities that could (in theory) accept waste from the GTA municipalities.
BFI’s Ridge Landfill
BFI is the owner of the Ridge landfill in southwestern Ontario. It currently accepts only industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) waste from all of Ontario, and municipal solid waste from the adjacent counties. However, it could technically accept more waste if Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment modified its C of A to increase its annual limit.
“There is significant unused capacity at the site,” says Howard Golby of BFI. In the short term (two to five years) the Ridge landfill could accept a portion of the GTA’s waste while other alternatives are pursued.
Green Lane Environmental
The Green Lane landfill near London has a remaining capacity of over five million tonnes and could, with permit changes, accommodate a percentage of the GTA’s waste.
The Leflche landfill in eastern Ontario is currently permitted to accept 200,000 tonnes of waste per year, but has applied for a 100,000 tonne per year increase. The facility could safely handle up to 400,000 tonnes per year.
“We could accept a certain percentage of the GTA’s waste, if needed, but our main focus is meeting the needs of Eastern Ontario,” says company President Andr Leflche.
Waste Management is proposing a major expansion of its Richmond landfill in Eastern Ontario (in the Town of Greater Napanee in the County of Lennox and Addington). The company is needs additional disposal capacity of up to 750,000 tonnes per year of Ontario-generated solid non-hazardous waste over a period of approximately 25-years. The terms of reference, in accordance with the Environmental Assessment Act, was submitted in June 1999. A court challenge has delayed the EA process.
With a two to five year window to find solutions, the GTA municipalities and the province could look at possible technologies and sites. One possible site that could handle the GTA’s waste would be Ontario Power Generation’s Wesleyville, Ontario site. Apparently, the site is well bermed and buffered and had been earmarked for an oil-fired generating station in the 1980s. A biomechanical process could be set up to sort, compost and make alternative fuels. The site would accept waste, mechanically separate it, compost the organics and create alternative fuel for the remainder. Whatever was left over could go to landfills. It may be easier to find a willing host if the waste entering the landfills is void of organics and combustibles.
“Black box” technologies
In the next issues, we will profile some total waste recycling/destruction technology that may be provide the solution to the GTA’s waste woes. We will kick the tires of some of the “black boxes” out there to determine if they might work and estimate the cost per tonne.
John Nicholson is a management consultant with Environmental Business Consultants based in Toronto, Ontario. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org