The City of Toronto has purchased the Green Lane landfill facility near London and St. Thomas in Southwestern Ontario. The deal will provide a secure disposal site for the city’s post-diversion garbage for the foreseeable future. The landfill has been operated by well-known waste industry professional Bob McCaig and his brother and family since 1978.
Details of the deal will not be known disclosed until a 90-day due diligence period ends. The negotiations occurred quickly and behind closed doors, to avoid media leaks. But media reports suggest that the city paid upwards of $250 million for the landfill and as much as $500 million when disposal costs are factored in.
Such numbers must be treated cautiously until more is known. For example, newspaper reports (e.g., Toronto Star) suggest Mayor David Miller overpaid and balked at an offer last year to enter into a long-term disposal contract with Green Lane that would have seen the city pay just a dollar more per tonne than the current $63 for disposal at a Republic Waste landfill Michigan. But the true cost per tonne to the city, as owner, is difficult to calculate without factoring in such things as long-term closure costs and also revenues from waste tonnages from other cities like St. Thomas and Guelph, which will continue to send waste to Green Lane and will effectively become Toronto’s customers. City staff have been quoted as saying they intend to continue sending garbage to Michigan until 2010, after which they will use the Green Lane facility. They also believe that with proper management, the lifespan of the landfill could be extended beyond the current projection of 2018. Local politicians in London are furious over the deal, but there’s nothing they can do about it, and their concern about “safety” rings hollow given that the landfill was recently granted provincial permission to expand and would have filled with waste from elsewhere in any event.
Even if the cost per tonne is higher than current prices that Toronto pays, peace of mind has a certain value. Toronto has sought a long-term disposal option for decades. For a time, Toronto had an option to purchase the Adams Mine when its Keele Valley Landfill was slated to close. When that option was killed for political reasons, the city relied on waste export as the only option, but legal maneuvers in Michigan and at the federal level, plus hassles at the border (including security concerns, aggressive inspections and delays) caused Toronto to seek in-province solutions. Plans to consider incineration (which is surprisingly popular and even received support in a Toronto Star editorial from September 21) have gone no nowhere, especially since Toronto Mayor David Miller is opposed to incineration.
Toronto is engaged in an aggressive program to divert waste from landfill. With its expanded blue box curbside recycling program and its green bin organics composting program the city is poised to become a leader in North America in waste diversion. Indeed, the city had pledged to divert “100 per cent” of municipal waste from landfill disposal by 2012. Recognizing that recycling and composting max out at about 60 to 65 per cent diversion, the city is engaged in a planning process to evaluate other options, including waste-to-energy and “new and emerging technologies” (e.g., gasification, water separation systems, etc.). So it’s a bit ironic that the city has bought a landfill, which clearly signals that it does not expect to get anywhere near 100 per cent diversion in the foreseeable future. In the end, the politicians knew something they were reluctant to tell the public, which is that the city had to either build an incinerator or buy a landfill for its post-diversion waste residue. Now that “actions have spoken louder than words” the city may be poised to achieve the Holy Grail of waste management: an integrated waste management system.
The next edition of Solid Waste & Recycling magazine (October/November) will provide detailed analysis of the Toronto/Green Lane deal.