While the whole country watched in disbelief, Toronto City Council voted 32-24 earlier this month to rail-haul millions of tonnes of garbage 587 kilometres north to the Adams Mine near Kirkland Lake, Ontario. Opponents of the unpopular 20-year scheme vowed to carry on the fight in the upcoming Toronto municipal election and to seek federal government intervention to overrule the decision.
Toronto residents know it’s wrong for the City to dump its garbage in the north, especially since northern citizens, native and non-native alike, have made it abundantly clear that they do not want our garbage. Toronto’s decision to rail-haul makes no sense, environmentally, or from a purely economic perspective. As to acceptable municipal planning, it simply cannot be logically explained or supported.
CUPE is the major Canadian union representing municipal employees across the country. As part of our broader servicing mandate, we regularly deal with waste issues. We have routinely met with Toronto City officials to discuss waste matters and have submitted dozens of submissions and investigative studies on the subject. Some of our ideas and suggestions for collecting, treating and recycling waste have been adopted in Toronto, but always in a piecemeal, too limited and reactive way.
The amount of garbage we now recycle and divert from landfill in Toronto is grossly inadequate and falls well short of acceptable standards. Toronto politicians, despite being forewarned, have allowed themselves to be held hostage and bullied by outside forces whose self interest is linked to dumping Toronto’s untreated waste and avoiding saner alternatives.
Below we summarize our perspective on Toronto’s garbage crisis. First we look at what lurks behind the headlines – the major company connected to the Adams Mine deal and the main policy issue shaping the debate. Next we briefly look at Toronto’s current waste management system, the amounts of garbage handled, and how. Finally, we outline the component parts of an alternative, comprehensive waste plan for Toronto
TORONTO’S GARBAGE CRISES – WHAT LURKS BEHIND THE HEADLINES?
The Adams Mine, a huge open-pit, will be operated by a wholly owned Canadian subsidiary of Waste Management Inc.(WMI) of Houston, Texas. This is not the first time Toronto has been held hostage by this aggressive American waste company. In 1983, Metro Toronto officials successfully fought off WMI’s last attempt to control Toronto’s garbage.
WMI is the continent’s largest waste conglomerate/holding company, and is well known amongst waste industry analysts for its unscrupulous environmental and business practices. It is the Microsoft of garbage, if you will, but it produces nothing of lasting value and is regularly entangled in illegal and harmful activities.
In June of this year (2000), the company was charged with fraud by the U.S. Security Exchange Commission for misrepresenting and artificially inflating the value of its stock. Senior company executives cashed-out millions of dollars in stock before revised financial information was made public and the stock plummeted.
In October, 1998 WMI and three related companies were indicted in California on 23 counts of criminal fraud. The charges stemmed from another WMI rail-haul scheme which would have moved trash from California’s Orange and San Diego counties to a landfill in the Mojave Desert.
In a national price fixing class action against Waste Management Inc., the plaintiffs showed that WMI (in collaboration with the second largest waste company on the continent, Browning Ferris Industries) had developed a sophisticated accounting program to engage in predatory, monopolistic pricing in many different locations.
Closer to home, in Stouffville, Ontario, WMI broke one of the oldest taboos known to civilization: don’t dispose of hazardous wastes where people eat or drink. An estimated 60 million gallons of industrial wastes were dumped into a WMI landfill site sitting on top of two underground water supplies. Miscarriages, birth deformities and cancers were documented before the company was forced to close the site.
It is simply inexcusable that Toronto would now consider sending its garbage to the Adams Mine. In the early 1980s, following a campaign by our union and public revelations about WMI, Metro Toronto politicians were persuaded to navigate around and turn down WMI’s last attempt to gain control of Toronto’s garbage.
Employing an aggressive acquisition strategy and political pay-outs to local and provincial politicians, WMI had managed to acquire control of the Keele Valley Landfill Site, the continents largest landfill site, located just north of Toronto. Metro Toronto was quickly running out of landfill space and WMI had thought it finally had sufficient political support to gain control of Toronto’s garbage. The company miscalculated. Applying strong negotiating tactics, in 1983 Metro Toronto’s Chair and Chief Executive Officer successfully persuaded WMI that it was in its own best interest to alter its plans and sell the Keele Valley Landfill to Metropolitan Toronto. The landfill was purchased for $40 million. As a result, Metro area taxpayers saved literally hundreds of millions of dollars in foregone tax revenues during the past two decades. This has been well documented.
Many other cities across the continent have not been as fortunate. Waste Management Inc. has drained hundreds of billions of precious tax revenues from cities by taking control of lucrative landfill sites, and then promoting the use of its landfills as the best way to dispose of municipal solid waste. Landfills are like oil wells in reverse – the more garbage you put in, the more money you make. The profit margins from collecting the tipping fees paid for dumping garbage in a landfill site are exceptionally high, oftentimes in the 80-90 per cent range.
Citizens pay in other ways as well. Dumping and burying waste is incompatible with the introduction of environmentally sensitive and economically sustainable waste reduction and recycling programs. And so as a result, water systems are polluted, air is fouled, and global warming increases. In other words, our quality of life deteriorates.
While consultants specializing in waste systems tend to use a lot of technical jargon, it is not that difficult to understand the basic workings of the industry. Ultimately, you arrive at the need to make a simple, yet profoundly important choice. You either dump the garbage (or worse yet incinerate it), or you collect, process, reduce, recycle and market it, as a resource or public good.
If a city is paying to dump its garbage into someone else’s landfill site, it loses the leverage to control where garbage will go and how it will be treated. In the jargon of the industry, flow control is lost. Moreover, if the city pays tipping fees to dump its garbage, it does not have the
revenue (or the incentive) required to implement an integrated waste management plan to reduce, recycle and market garbage as an environmentally sustainable resource. Rather than view garbage as a public good with revenue potential, it becomes a burden to be imposed on vulnerable citizens.
And so WMI is once again trying to control and dump Toronto’s garbage. It and the consortium it is part of have the active support of the provincial government. Premier Harris personally supports the use of the Adams Mine. He says concerns about potential environmental problems are ridiculous. The Harris government has seriously weakened the province’s solid waste environmental assessment legislation, making it easier to establish the landfill site. The provincial government pushed cities to privatize waste management and relinquish responsibility for this core municipal service.
And finally, the Harris government imposed a 2002 deadline on Toronto for the closure of the Keele Valley Landfill site, hoping to remove the flexibility required by Toronto to adopt an environmental solution to its garbage crisis. This also precipitated the call for a quick, risky decision on rail haul by a few powerful municipal politicians.
It’s hard not to think of Walkerton.
If our garbage indeed begins to be rail-hauled to the Adams Mine, now scheduled for 2002, WMI will have won. Like night follows day, WMI will take full control of the Adams Mine. Waste from other jurisdictions will inevitably be dumped in the cavernous pits. An ominous precedent for more northern dumping will exist. WMI will profit handsomely. Northern citizens will lose. And Toronto will have turned its back on its own self-interest.
The Green alternative
There is, however, an achievable alternative.
The newly-elected City Council can refuse to send garbage north and it can quickly put in place a comprehensive, integrated public waste management plan which reduces and recycles our waste. It can eliminate the need for rail-haul. The studies have been done. The plan is affordable.
The technology is available. All that is lacking is the civic and political will required for its adoption and implementation. Toronto can do what it should have done more than a decade ago – get really serious about safely and intelligently reducing and recycling its waste, and break with its dependence on harmful disposal options.
TORONTO’S EXISTING WASTE SYSTEM
Toronto produces a huge amount of garbage. City residents generate just over 1 million tonnes of municipal waste a year. Just about an equal amount of waste is collected by private contractors from Toronto’s industrial and commercial sectors. In addition, the City is responsible for waste from city agencies, boards, commissions and departments, which represents another 200,000 tonnes of waste.
Most of Toronto’s garbage, as well as that from the Regions of York and Durham, is buried in the City owned and operated Keele Valley Landfill Site. In 1999, 1,497,414 tonnes of garbage
were deposited in Keele Valley. The remainder (322,626 tonnes) - primarily industrial and
commercial waste-was trucked under a City of Toronto contract to a landfill site in Michigan. The City adopted this policy to extend the life of Keele Valley while it evaluated future options. In total, 1,820,039 tonnes of waste were landfilled in 1999.
Toronto, with the help of its citizens, has introduced important recycling programs in the residential waste sector. Approximately 25 per cent of residential waste is diverted from landfill through blue box recycling, leaf and yard waste composting, backyard composting and other small recycling programs.
Toronto has, however, consistently missed established waste recycling and diversion targets. In 1991, for example, Metropolitan Toronto’s Waste Division established a target of 30 per cent for 1992 and 60 per cent by the year 2000. Achieving these targets was ultimately undermined as new landfill siting procedures were pursued, jurisdictional wrangles erupted, and Metro did not implement a comprehensive waste reduction program.
Since the formation of the new City of Toronto, the amount of waste diverted from landfill has remained virtually static, hovering around 24-25 per cent of residential waste. Reduction and recycling in the industrial, commercial and institutional sector, now dominated by private collectors, is primitive and much, much lower. The City’s official waste diversion target is now 50 per cent by 2006.
Toronto’s existing solid waste management division is responsible for collecting, transporting, processing, composting and disposing of municipal and private sector waste, as well as household hazardous waste. The division, unfortunately, has been hobbled by external political pressures and the lack of resources needed to properly fulfill its mandate.
Toronto’s overall budget is $5.6 billion. The annual operating budget for the City’s waste management program is approximately $135 million. Of this total, $59 million represents incoming revenues (derived mainly from the Keele Valley Landfill Site), resulting in a $79
million net outlay for existing waste programs. For a city the size of Toronto, this is too low.
Toronto solid waste personnel have supported a more systemic approach to waste reduction. Their studies indicate that the City could achieve a 50 per cent diversion target at a cost of between 8.4 and 28 million, depending on what system is adopted. Their analysis shows that the
annual cost of achieving 75 per cent diversion would be $19.7 to $53.7 million. Both sets of figures are less costly than those associated with rail-haul. Toronto Works Division officials know, however, that these targets will never be met if rail-haul goes ahead. The money needed
to achieve the targets will have been drained out of the City.
And the incentive for moving decisively will have been lost. This helps explain why in its most recent report the City Works Committee is merely recommending a few small, contracted pilot projects and further reviews and consultations.
Significantly, Toronto’s Works Committee and solid waste technical staff had recommended against the use of the Adams Mine. While limited to look for and access market-driven options for disposing of Toronto’s garbage, they recommended extending the life of Keele Valley and having a mix of small disposal contracts as Toronto’s best option. In their opinion this option provided Toronto with the “most flexibility in waste management options in the short term, thereby making available significant volumes of waste that can be removed from disposal and managed through diversion and new and emerging technologies.”
This provides Toronto, they wrote, “with the most favourable financial impact of the four options considered.”
The majority of city council members have rejected the advice of their own advisors. We believe that these same politicians are also well aware of the potential harmful environmental consequences of the Adams Mine option. The City was offered an equity position in the company that now owns the Adams Mine. The City declined since it would place the city in a position of liability and a board of directors member “would be subject to personal liability…to prevent an unlawful discharge of contaminant and could be named personally under a clean-up order. The liability for conviction would exist.”
COMPONENTS OF A COMPREHENSIVE WASTE REDUCTION PROGRAM
Toronto can achieve a 75 per cent waste reduction/diversion rate quickly and say no to northern rail-haul. Reaching this goal requires sound public policy, responsible economics and a genuine environmental commitment.
The most important single component needed to resolve Toronto’s garbage crisis is public leadership by elected politicians committed to an integrated, comprehensive, public sector waste management plan.
A comprehensive waste management plan is the only way to proceed.
Normal competitive pressures are largely absent in the private waste sector. Because of the unique characteristics of the waste industry, it is what economists refer to as a natural monopoly. The City of Toronto will be in control, or it will be the garbage conglomerates.
The piecemeal planning of individual components of the waste cycle does not work because the components are integrally connected. Reduction impacts on the need for disposal facilities. Disposal options are linked to the collection, reduction, reuse, recycling, recovery and marketing of the constituent parts of the waste stream.
Public sector leadership means viewing solid waste as a public good belonging to citizens and avoiding the use of unnecessary and unhealthy private sector landfills. It means treating waste so it is rendered as harmless as possible and using recycled materials to help earn the revenues needed for high quality municipal waste programs and services.
Retain Disposal Flexibility
Sufficient landfill capacity (without using the Adams Mine) has been identified by the City’s recently completed Solid Waste Resource Process. Landfill capacity exists as well to receive the solid wastes produced by the Greater Toronto Area while the City implements its improved waste reduction/diversion system. The City needs to retain disposal flexibility so it has capacity and time to move ahead decisively and strategically.
Strengthen Residential Sector Programs
Toronto’s existing (and successful) blue box recycling program needs to be strengthened. Items now by-passed, such as polycoat containers, empty paint cans and aerosol cans, should be added to City recycling programs. In addition, leaf and yard waste operations should be significantly strengthened, and the City should begin recycling organic kitchen waste. Collection of recyclable materials from multi-family dwellings represents the most underdeveloped segment of the City’s residential recycling program. Collecting recyclables from multi-family dwellings (including apartments) should be treated as an immediate priority.
Introduce City Container Pick-Up in the Commercial, Industrial and Institutional Sector
Container pick-up is the most highly mechanized form of waste collection. The city has allowed the private sector to totally dominate this sector, although it is the most profitable of all major waste collection services, with private companies achieving income/revenue ratios in the 20 per cent to 40 per cent range. Waste in these sectors (which composes at least half of all the solid waste generated in the City) is also far more homogeneous than residential waste and offers greater financial rewards from recycling and marketing.
Very little recycling is taking place in this sector. Indeed, the City is paying a private company approximately $50/tonne to haul in excess of 250,000 tonnes a year from this sector to a landfill site in Michigan. Canadian municipalities that have entered the commercial, industrial, and institutional sector have earned profits while achieving full recovery for direct costs, fixed operating costs and administrative and overhead costs. Experience indicates that container customers are looking for reliable service at a competitive price. They want “hassle free” service.
The City should be providing this service to facilitate waste reduction, save money on landfilling, offer businesses a choice they are now denied, and help offset the costs of other components of the waste system.
Adopt Two-Stream, Wet-Dry Recycling to Achieve 75 Per Cent Reduction
CUPE has proposed a two-stream, wet-dry recycling system for the City of Toronto. Comprehensive cost and technical documentation has been given to the City. The Toronto Environmental Alliance supports the proposal. It is a model that keeps control of our waste stream in public hands – where it belongs.
The wet-dry system has been designed to accept all of the waste from the existing municipal collection system, as well as the waste from City agencies, boards, commissions and departments. Seven wet-dry facilities will process approximately 750,000 tonnes of dry waste (for example, paper, cardboard, plastic and aluminum) and 350,000 tonnes of wet waste (for example, yard waste and food waste) a year.
The system can accommodate additional waste from the industrial, commercial and industrial sectors and the municipal waste from the Greater Toronto Area by increasing facility operating hours, or building more facilities. Wet and dry waste is efficiently collected by vehicles containing two separate compartments.
We chose the system because of its simplicity, convenience for residents and businesses, and because it maximizes waste diversion and recovery. It also creates socially useful jobs in Toronto.
In comparison to rail-hauling garbage north, this system will save the city over $600 million during the next 20 year planning period. The overall diversion rate for the wet-dry facilities is 72 per cent. When combined with the City’s existing backyard composting and yard waste composting programs, the City will achieve an overall diversion rate of 75 per cent.
The City commissioned outside analyses of our proposal. Most of what we presented was considered accurate. The City Works Committee agreed that a high level of waste diversion can be achieved with this system. The most serious concerns raised were: other jurisdictions have not used the system for multi-family and commercial waste (we believe the system can handle this waste); in the City of Guelph, where the system is used, the population is less diverse in terms of ethnic mix and language (we are convinced that all Toronto residents will willingly participate in the program); and, that until the system is adopted in Toronto it will not be possible to determine if the revenue projections for recycled products are accurate (This is an inherent limitation of all projects. We used current market data).
Public Education and Involvement
Public education and participation is important to the success of any municipal waste program. The City’s existing program should incorporate information on our wet-dry system and other new components of Toronto’s waste management system. Toronto citizens have demonstrated their willingness to help. Citizen participation in convenient recycling programs
will increase dramatically in response to a Toronto-based resolution to our waste crisis.
Create a Toronto Waste Marketing System
Active marketing is an essential part of a modern waste management system. The marketing of recycled products will assure that revenue targets are achieved and that the City of Toronto takes full advantage of its economies of scale. The City should employ in-house economists and marketing specialists.
Establish a Centre of Waste Management Excellence
With a population of 2.4 million people, Toronto is Canada’s largest city. The proper management of our waste is essential if Canada’s domestic and international environmental commitments are to be met. Ongoing research and development and keeping abreast of new and emerging methods for reducing and recycling waste should be part of the mandate of Toronto’s waste management program.
Creating a centre of waste management excellence, which can tap into the best minds and ideas available, will help Toronto achieve its environmental goals. The City will also become a positive example for cities across the country and around the world.
Available costing information (prepared by City staff and others) shows that a systematic approach to municipal waste reduction and recycling is less costly than rail-haul and dumping. There will be increased short-term costs, but over Toronto’s mid and long-range planning cycle, savings will be achieved. Diminishing Toronto’s dependence on private sector landfill and marketing recycled materials will offset much of the new costs.
Toronto will need to increase the budget of its waste division, but the Federal and Provincial governments can immediately be approached for infrastructure and other funding. The monies are available and we are convinced that at least one (perhaps both) levels of government will support Toronto’s requests. To do so would represent the right political decision.
It’s been long known that there is no quick-fix to the waste disposal problem. Incineration produces deadly toxins, and impacts harshly on the environment. And there is no such thing as a safe landfill site. Common sense dictates that we look after our own garbage, and not burden others with our waste.
The answer resides in a responsible waste reduction program, with all materials that are reusable and recyclable being diverted from the waste stream. On November 13 we have an opportunity to elect city councillors who will say no to northern rail-haul and yes to an integrated, waste management plan.
By doing so we will be voting for a plan that benefits Toronto citizens and promotes our City’s reputation.