Comiskey: Municipalities deserve a say in dump sites

 Ted Comiskey, Special to Postmedia News

(File photo)

(File photo)

If your neighbour dumps their trash over your fence, that would be against the law. If someone from a hundred miles away did the same thing, that too would be against the law.

But as the law stands today, if a private waste contractor wants to develop and operate a new landfill site in any municipality, anywhere in Ontario, pretty much all the company needs is the approval of the provincial government and its environmental assessment approval process.

Because of this, communities such as Ingersoll and our neighbours in Zorra Township and Oxford County may soon be on the receiving end of 18-million tonnes of garbage from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

There is nothing within the environmental assessment process that requires the owner/operator of this proposed dump to do anything other than demonstrate stakeholder consultation.

While a municipality can decide if we want a casino operating in our community, or even a nuclear waste dump, for whatever reason new garbage dumps appear at the discretion of the private sector and the provincial government.

That is not right. Municipal authority must be re-established.

Ontarians support this. In a recent poll by Public Square Research, nearly eight out of 10 agreed municipalities should have the right to approve new landfill sites.

Of particular concern is what the government and private waste operators call industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) waste.

Most municipalities aren’t responsible for its collection and management. We’re primarily responsible for residential waste. Ontario municipalities divert about 50 per cent of residential waste away from landfill and into recycling and reuse programs. For the ICI waste sector run by private operators, the diversion rate is less than 15 per cent.

Why is that?

It means the private sector has little incentive to divert. For a business, it costs much less to dump all waste into one large metal bin than to sort the garbage from the recyclables from the organics, like we do in our homes.

Plus, for a private waste management company, picking up more garbage means more revenue per customer. Better to take more garbage, not less.

How much ICI waste are we talking about? Ontario’s environmental commissioner tells us it’s 6.7-million tonnes a year (filling Toronto Rogers Centre 24 times over).

That means private waste companies manage about 70 per cent of waste in Ontario and only 15 per cent of that waste is diverted from landfill.

The ability of these companies to build new landfill sites and expand current ones is unimpeded by any need to get the approval of the municipalities in which they operate.

The only way for the province to get a handle on this issue is to provide impacted municipalities with the right to approve new landfills. This will have several positive effects.

First, the price of landfilling is likely to rise as communities that choose to have new landfills can negotiate a better revenue-sharing program with private waste operators. This will increase the cost of landfill and therefore provide a financial incentive for the customers of these companies to develop more aggressive reduce, recycle, and reusing strategies. It may even provide enough funding to create more critically required recycling infrastructure for ICI waste — infrastructure that the private sector long regarded as a barrier to better diversion practices.

Second, municipalities that choose to have landfill sites in their communities will have more power to protect the environment in which landfills are sited and operated. The outcome will be increased environmental protection. The new revenues could also help a local community fund its own infrastructure as well.

And third, while one might think there would be no new landfills in Ontario with this change, that would be incorrect. Our recent poll showed that one out of four Ontarians would accept waste from outside their municipality. We are only asking that private waste companies treat municipalities and their communities like equals, not some stakeholder that only needs to be heard and not listened to.

The right to approve new landfill sites will be not only recognition of municipal authority, but also an important cog in Ontario’s long-term vision of a waste-free province.

It will also, my colleagues and I hope, influence the ICI waste generators in the GTA and the private waste management companies that serve them to focus more of their resources on reducing, recycling, and reusing rather than casting their gaze on rural Ontario for new places to dump their garbage.

Yes, Ontario must stop shipping its garbage to Michigan and New York. But the answer is not to dump that problem onto rural communities; at least not without our approval.

Ted Comiskey is the mayor of Ingersoll and chair of the Demand the Right Coalition of Municipalities in Ontario.