Close but No Cigar

TORONTO WILL NOT BE ABLE to meet its goal of diverting all of its solid waste from landfills by 2010, according to an advisory panel of waste experts and residents that the City Council created to examine Toronto's solid waste issues. The group's report outlines several scenarios in which the city eventually could achieve landfill diversion rates as high as 96 percent. However, a spokesman for Toronto Mayor David Miller says it is possible that the city will continue shipping some trash to a Michigan landfill beyond 2010.

In 2001, the Toronto City Council established its 100 percent landfill diversion goal. The council created the New and Emerging Technologies, Policies and Practices Advisory Group in part to examine the feasibility of the objective.

According to the advisory group, Toronto could reach an 88 percent landfill diversion rate by diverting 60 percent of its solid waste through various recycling, reuse and composting programs, and processing the remaining waste through a thermal technology such as gasification.

If the province's environmental regulations were revised to permit a routine end-use for the ash that is produced by thermal technologies so that it would not have to be landfilled, the diversion rate could reach as high as 96 percent, the report adds. The ash produced could be used to help make cement, says Brian Howieson, a co-chair of the advisory group.

The group's conclusions are not surprising, says Patchen Barss, a spokesman for Toronto Mayor David Miller. “No matter what technology you use and no matter how good your diversion programs are, there will always be a little bit of waste leftover,” he says.

The mayor is opposed to conventional incineration and will examine other thermal technologies such as gasification with “extreme skepticism” because of the high costs of the processes and his concerns about environmental sustainability, Barss says.

Toronto has been steadily increasing its recycling efforts in recent years. In 2003, the city had a landfill diversion rate of about 32 percent, according to Howieson. By the middle of 2005, after Toronto's household organic waste composting program has been installed citywide, that number could rise to more than 40 percent, he says.

The city's landfill diversion efforts have an urgency to them because of the frayed relationship Toronto has with Michigan. In 2003, Toronto began sending its trash to the Carleton Farms landfill in Sumpter Township, Mich. The garbage exports are unpopular with Michigan residents and politicians.

Even if Toronto continues to use the Michigan landfill past 2010, Toronto's increasing diversion efforts mean that the city will have much less waste to dispose of, Barss contends. An environmental impact study the city is conducting on potential waste solutions is looking at landfill sites in Ontario, he says.

The advisory group's reports are available at