CANDY WRAPPERS, newspapers and cigarette packages cartwheeling through neighbourhoods. Maggot-ridden piles of garbage bags oozing across sidewalks, emitting a nauseating stench. That was Toronto’s face to the world during a 16-day strike until the province legislated garbage collectors back to work on July 11. Did the sights and smells make Torontonians uneasy about their wasteful ways? Not likely-most just wanted someone to get rid of the mess. But city planners understand-better late than never-that the days of extravagant garbage production are gone. The reason: as of January, Canada’s largest city won’t have anywhere nearby to dump its refuse.
At the 20-year-old Keele Valley Landfill Site, just north of Toronto, heaps of garbage tower 10 storeys above the ground. It’s full, and the province is shutting it down. A plan to solve the dilemma by shipping the city’s dreck 600 km north by rail to an abandoned iron-ore mine near Kirkland Lake derailed when the city and the dump’s prospective operator couldn’t reach agreement. So starting next year, Toronto will truck its garbage, about a million tonnes a year, to a dump in Michigan. That’s about 120 packed transport trucks making the 11-hour round trip down busy Highway 401, through populous Southwestern Ontario, each day. It’s a stopgap, in place until 2005, while more creative solutions are in the making. The dump closure, says Geoff Rathbone, director of policy and planning with Toronto’s division of solidwaste management, “is causing us to rethink how we manage garbage.”
In September, the city will start phasing in a curbside recycling program for organic materials, including food scraps, diapers and animal waste and litter. Also under consideration are more limits on the number of bags a household can put out for collection each week-perhaps even a charge for every bag. It’s all part of an ambitious program to completely eliminate shipments to landfill sites by 2010. But Toronto has taken too long to react, says Jack Layton, a city councillor on the verge of announcing his candidacy this week for the leadership of the federal New Democrats. “It’s as though we have this attitude that our people are either really stupid,” he says, “or the system is so
complicated because it’s such a big city.” Edmonton already composts extensively. And Halifax, where workers screen garbage heading for the landfill to remove what they can, provides what Layton calls the best model for reducing waste in the world. Toronto can also look to Montreal for an example of resale centres, where residents
can take unwanted furniture, appliances, electronic and sports equipment, clothing and more, for sale at a nominal fee.
The Ontario government has stepped in, too, collecting fees from manufacturers to pay for half the recycling costs. And Toronto is touting new technologies, possibly gasification-heating waste to liberate com-
bustible gases, which can then be used as energy. But no matter how high-tech, that would likely raise a powerful stink—politically, at least-wherever it was located.
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