End in Sight

After years of acrimony and sabre-rattling by politicians, the Toronto-Michigan trash saga appears to be ending not with a bang, but with something of a whimper.

Toronto officials released a report in early February showing that the amount of trash the city sends each day to a Michigan landfill has been slashed by half since 2003. At that time, the city sent 140 tractor-trailer loads of trash each day to Republic Services' Carleton Farms landfill in Sumpter Township, Mich., according to a summary of the report in the Toronto Star newspaper. Now that figure is down to 70 tractor-trailer loads each day. The city plans to eliminate its trash exports to Michigan altogether by 2011.

To those who haven't followed the story or who are new to the industry, it would be hard to overstate the brouhaha these exports have caused over the years. Michigan residents have understandably been concerned about the resulting truck traffic. But state and federal politicians did their best to stoke the passions, sometimes hinting darkly (and inaccurately) that Toronto's trash was somehow especially toxic or dangerous (actually, if the shipments contained discarded albums by Canadian rock groups BTO and The Guess Who, then they might have a point). Legislators have made repeated attempts to ban or limit the imports. Several years ago, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., introduced such a bill and claimed the shipments were creating a "U.S. border security weakness."

Toronto officials credit the reduction in shipments to the city's expanded recycling and composting programs. However, just to show that no good deed goes unpunished, these expanded programs are now causing the city a bit of a financial headache.

According to another report in the Toronto Sun, with the market for recyclables in the tank, the city is facing a $10 million recycling revenue shortfall. Thankfully, the city appears committed to their diversion programs for the long haul. "We've certainly lived through these kinds of cycles before," Geoff Rathbone, general manager of the city's solid waste management services, told the paper. "I have no doubt the long-term future for recycling is strong."

Toronto officials have consistently handled the Michigan controversy with maturity. They are to be commended for working so hard to bring this issue to a close — and helping the environment in the process.