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Speeding through the Green Lane

Speeding through the Green Lane

An excellent story in this morning’s Globe and Mail warns that Toronto’s purchase of the Green Lane landfill near St. Thomas, Ontario might not work out quite the way the city had hoped. The reason: the Americans are still making noises about closing the border to our trash.

Quick summary: Toronto is set to stop shipping trash south of the border in 2010, at which point they’ll start shipping to Green Lane, which has capacity for a couple of decades’ worth of our waste. But Washington is once again considering a bill that would shut the border to waste shipments early. And if that happens, not only will Toronto have to start filling up Green Lane ahead of schedule, but Queen’s Park could force Green Lane to accept waste from other Ontario municipalities that also currently ship south.

Though Public Works Committee Glenn de Baeremaeker (Ward 38 – Scarborough Centre) loves to say that Green Lane pays for itself and solves Toronto’s trash worries for decades to come, I think the scenario painted by the Globe’s story is a likely one, for two reasons:

1. Michigan hates, hates, hates accepting Ontario trash. It’s a major political issue down there, and even though the province has negotiated with them to reduce waste shipments, they’re still intent on closing the border. Some observers say other states have no incentive to support Michigan in its fight, but they do: many of them ship waste to Michigan as well.

2. Ontario has a drastic shortage of landfill space. So no matter when the border closes, the province will be faced with a glut of trash.

Meanwhile, John Barber is once again poo-pooing trash incineration in his column today (available to paid subscribers only, since John spins his words from gold filament) on the basis that it’s more expensive than landfilling. How to say this nicely? No shit, Sherlock. It’s always been cheaper to dump waste in a hole. And in Canada, where we have lots of land, we landfill. In Europe, where population densities are much higher, landfilling isn’t viable, so they incinerate, and they’ve made great technological strides when it comes to cleaner emissions and producing energy.

I’m not totally sold on the idea of incineration, but I do think it has its merits—most prominently energy production and recovery—and I long for an informed debate that’s not overshadowed by fear-mongering. Allow me to make the following circuitous argument in support of a key principle:

A. During the debate over the West Queen West Triangle and the fate of the old lamp factory at 48 Abell, those who argued in favour of the building’s preservation brought forward this argument: there is a great deal of energy stored in its building materials (bricks, beams, concrete, steel), and it is a environmental travesty to tear it all down and rebuild with new materials. We would be throwing away perfectly good stored energy. This type of energy-equation thinking has gained a lot of credence lately, and it makes sense to me.

B. The same logic must surely apply to waste. Styrofoam cups and everything else we toss in the trash contains stored energy from the manufacturing process. In this sense, every day, we throw away perfectly good stored energy. Converting waste back into energy makes environmental sense, provided you can do it cleanly.

Why do I digress about incineration, which is a hot-button issue only in the 905 region right now? Because it’s a fair bet that the Green Lane landfill won’t last as long as city hall says it will, and the debate will find its way into the 416 sooner than anyone hoped.

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