The City of Toronto should find out today whether its waste can pass tough new standards set by Michigan for landfill disposal.
City officials such as Geoff Rathbone, director of policy and planning in waste management, believe Toronto can.
Michigan recently passed rules that ban refuse like medical and yard waste, pop cans and tires from garbage trucks crossing the border.
But Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality might disagree. Still, the city will have until the end of October because a U.S. federal judge postponed imposition of the law for 30 days to determine if Michigan’s rules are constitutional.
The city ships all its non-recycled garbage — one million tonnes a year — to a landfill in Michigan, and this doesn’t include another two million tonnes of IC&I waste that crosses the border to various destinations.
Toronto only has two days of storage capacity in its transfer stations and has not other approved destination for its waste other than Michigan. The surrounding regions of Peel, York and Durham together also ship half a million tonnes of garbage to Michigan.
Last week Toronto began looking for an alternative, in case of a worst-case scenario. Over the next two months consultants from Gartner Lee Ltd. will look for alternative disposal sites within Ontario and other provinces. Currently, no landfills in Ontario are legally permitted to take Toronto’s garbage. Gartner Lee will examine what changes might be needed to provincial permits to open up a landfill on an emergency or temporary basis.
Some options such as Toronto’s old Keele Valley landfill, or the distant Adams Mine in Kirkland Lake, might be technically feasible, but not viable in political terms, according to Jane Pitfield, the councilor who chairs the public works committee responsible for waste.
Republic Services has the contract for Toronto’s garbage; it has an alternative landfill in Michigan if the Carlton Farms landfill were to close to Toronto’s waste. If the entire state was closed to Toronto garbage, the city would work with the company to locate a landfill in another state.
If the U.S. border closed entirely to Canadian garbage, the last remaining option would be for the province to modify permits so Ontario landfills could take the waste. But provincial officials, including Premier Dalton McGuinty and also Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky, have said that waste is a municipal matter and it’s up to Toronto to have a plan in place to get rid of its garbage.
An angry Pitfield was quoted saying that the city doesn’t have the power to put a contingency plan into action and that Minister Dombrowsky has powers in an emergency to change permits and force landfills in other Ontario municipalities to take Toronto’s garbage.
Industry observers say that it’s unlikely that the U.S. border will close completely to Toronto garbage and that instead Michigan will send inspectors to examine shipments with the goal of making the cost, the harassment and the overall slow downs just too expensive for Toronto to send garbage there.
In a Toronto Star article, Councilor Pitfield is quoted saying, "We need to use this as a catalyst to accelerate our plans with our recycling, our composting and looking at new and emerging technologies. None of us should feel it is okay to just send it to landfill."
Toronto is implementing plans such as the Green Bin and aggressive recycling with the long-term goal of diverting all garbage from landfill by 2010. The city wants to compost and recycle 60 per cent of its waste and find a new technology to handle the rest.