CANADIANS HAVE THE REPUTATION of being relentlessly genial and easy-going, but Michgan's endless attempts to keep their trash out of the state's landfills have our neighbors to the north primed for a fight. According to recent news reports, Canadian International Trade Minister Jim Peterson has stated that his federal government would consider any ban on Canadian trash imports a violation of trade agreements.
In a letter to Toronto officials that was quoted recently in The Detroit News, Peterson wrote, “Should the state of Michigan close its border to shipments of municipal solid waste from Canada, the government would vigorously defend our rights under [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and the World Trade Organization.”
Toronto began sending all of its trash to the Carleton Farm landfill in Sumpter Township, Mich., in early 2003, and the shipments immediately encountered a tidal wave of resistance from Michigan residents and politicians, who voice environmental concerns about the waste. Michigan lawmakers have made repeated attempts, on both the state and federal levels, to pass legislation that would impede or altogether stop the imports.
Canada's notice that it has no intention of rolling over in this dispute comes after the U.S. House's Energy and Commerce Committee passed a bill that would allow states to limit the amount of Canadian solid waste disposed of in their landfills. Dubbed “The International Solid Waste Importation and Management Act of 2005” (HR-2491), the bill can now be considered by the full House, although it's unclear when or if that will happen.
To many in the waste industry, the intensity of the whole battle is a little perplexing. It's certainly understandable that Michigan residents might be annoyed by the sights and sounds of big, noisy trucks carrying Canadian waste as the vehicles make their way to nearby landfills. However, do they and the state's politicians really believe that trash from cosmopolitan Toronto is in any way substantially different from the waste they themselves generate and landfill? Bruce Parker, president and CEO of the Washington-based National Solid Wastes Management Association, likes to point out that the U.S. EPA has found that the imports present no health or safety concerns.
Meanwhile, according to waste industry officials, Michigan firms ship hazardous waste to facilities in Canada. Yet, we don't hear of people in Michigan upset about that.
Perhaps those in Michigan are simply looking to get back at Canada for foisting the cheesy late 1960s rock group The Guess Who on American audiences. If that's the case, Canadians should point out that Michigan has little room to talk: Flint, Mich., is the hometown of the equally atrocious Grank Funk Railroad. In all seriousness, though, Canada has decided it's not going to let Michigan kick it around anymore, a counterpunch that is probably long overdue.
The author is the editor of Waste Age