Waste War Rages On

IN ANOTHER ATTEMPT to keep our northern neighbor's trash in its own backyard, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed an amendment to enforce an agreement that requires Canada to notify the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) each time it exports waste to the United States. According to the bilateral agreement that was signed by both countries in 1992, after the EPA has been notified, the agency has 30 days to accept or reject the Canadian refuse.

Authored by Michigan Reps. John Dingell, Mike Rogers, Bart Stupak and Fred Upton, the amendment to enforce the agreement is the latest political maneuver designed to impede Toronto's 125 truckloads of daily trash from pouring into Michigan landfills. Folded into an Omnibus spending bill, the amendment notes the EPA will reallocate $1 million from its media relations budget to pay for implementation costs.

“The EPA has had the authority to stop the flow of Canadian garbage but has refused to do so,” Rep. John Dingell says. “I'm hopeful that with … this amendment on its way to becoming law, Michiganders will finally begin to see some relief from this flood of Canadian waste.”

A 1986 treaty between the United States and Canada established that when transporting hazardous wastes, the exporting country must notify the importing country. The notification safeguards both countries against the improper management of potentially toxic materials. In 1992, the countries amended the agreement to include municipal solid waste (MSW). While the EPA and Canada's counterpart, Toronto-based Environment Canada, have actively enforced the 1986 treaty concerning hazardous waste (hazwaste), the two agencies have not been vigilant with the 1992 amendment. To enforce the amendment, both countries need to enact additional legislation, which was never completed.

The Canadian government now is developing additional regulations to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act that would allow it to adhere to the amendment. Completion is expected in 2004.

In 2003, Robert Springer, director of the EPA Office of Solid Waste, has stated that before the agency could enforce the agreement, Congress would need to provide the agency with:

  • The authority to receive notice and provide consent concerning MSW imports and exports, similar to hazwaste import and export guidelines as outlined by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

  • Specific requirements for exporters, prohibiting them from sending MSW from the United States to Canada, unless the EPA has been notified. This includes information regarding the types and amounts of waste to be exported; identifying the transporters and facilities that will manage the waste; and documenting that the importing country has consented to waste import.

  • Specific requirements for importers, prohibiting them from receiving MSW from Canada, unless the EPA has received notification of the import and been provided written with consent.

Now that the enforcement requirement has been passed by the House, it is awaiting Senate approval. The EPA's timeframe for implementing the agreement would be soon after it passes in the Senate, according to Springer.

However, whether these measures would stop the free flow of refuse between the two countries is debatable. To date, 90 percent of the United States' waste exports are sent to Canada, which also includes hazwaste materials. Almost all of Canada's waste exports are destined to cross U.S. borders.

“Without passage of the bills that are now in committee and without implementing regulations, the appropriation itself isn't going to do much to further the objectives of the Michigan House proponents” says Barry Shanoff, general counsel for the Silver Spring, Md.-based Solid Waste Association of North America.


  • During fiscal year 2002, Canada contributed 11.5% of all waste disposed in Michigan, an increase of 9.8% from fiscal year 2001.
  • Michigan exports approximately five times as much hazardous waste to Canada as Canada exports to Michigan.
  • Approximately 125 to 150 trash trucks per day from Toronto venture into Michigan. Approximately 30 more trucks per day from other Canadian municipalities also deliver trash to Michigan.
  • Michigan landfill inspections have confirmed that waste received from Toronto is typical municipal solid waste and is suitable for disposal.

Source: Energy and Commerce Committee Hearing, July 23, 2003