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.
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 (Keele Valley Landfill site).
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.
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 that 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, BFI) 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.
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 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.
Approximately 25 per cent of residential waste is currently diverted from landfill through blue box recycling, leaf and yard waste composting, backyard composting and other small recycling programs.
Toronto has 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.
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 by Local 416. 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. The cities of Guelph, Halifax and Edmonton are currently using this technology with great success.