Talking Trash Around the County

The news that Simcoe County is moving to a ‘user-pay’ system for garbage collection caused some consternation lately. The letters of outrage were quick to hit the local papers:

Recyclers Will Be Punished with Garbage Fee, March 4

County Should Go Back to the Drawing Board, March 6

User Fee for Trash Hurts Pensioners, March 7

The Innisfil Scope weighed in too: “By implementing this program, the county also shifts the blame away from its own inability to find new ways of dealing with trash. Several years ago, councillors received a report on the lack of remaining capacity available at county landfill sites. While there have been measures taken to reduce waste, little has been done to expand capacity or find feasible solutions… Garbage collection is an essential service, on par with public education and health care.” [my emphasis added]

This is the kind of knee-jerk reaction that made Rob Ford mayor of Toronto. It shows how poorly the County communicated its message. Many people just don’t get it. The County of Simcoe wants to implement a policy of Zero Waste. In other words it wants to get out of the “dig-dump-and-bury” business. Residents will be able to recycle an unlimited amount of materials but our throw-away society is coming to an end!

County residents currently produce 392 kg. per person per year. That’s 115,000 tonnes of residential waste annually. The county municipalities that are adopting a Zero Waste policy are the same 16 municipalities that are fighting for more growth. Innisfil initially wanted another 26,000 residents – that’s an additional 10,000 tonnes of garbage from one municipality. It is being allocated 13,000 more residents – that’s 5,000 more tonnes of garbage per year.

Keep your toonies, folks. We can’t casually buy our way out of this one, even if you want to. No, a tag fee for every bag of garbage is being introduced with the sincere hope that residents will change their consuming habits instead of paying it. If you expect to push just as much to the curb after July 2012, the Zero Waste initiative will be a bust.

It’s surprising that some people still think we can continue to dump and bury. Notice that the Innisfil Scope thinks [unlimited?] garbage collection is an essential service. The County endured a long and bitter battle to kill the Site 41 dumpsite and there is no alternative available. Site 41 consisted of 69.7 hectares with a permitted landfill area of 20.6 acres. The total volume of waste and daily cover expected for the whole life of the site was 1.6 million cubic metres. The lifespan was estimated at 34 years.

That project consumed 13.7 million tax dollars in site preparation without ever opening. Why? Landfills are a nasty business. A special, supposedly impermeable, synthetic liner is laid over a compressed base to contain a chemical leachate created by water inevitably mixing with rotting garbage. The plastic liner contracted to be used in the site included a two-year warranty against leakage on the seams. Special venting has to be added at a landfill to capture methane gas, which is typically burned off. And the whole thing has to be regularly monitored for years.

How about finding new ways of dealing with trash as the Scope suggested? Hey, look what’s going on in Europe! Denmark has an answer: build a ski resort on top of a garbage incinerator…

“Copenhagen’s Amagerforbraending plant will cost $575-million (U.S.) and will burn up to 560,000 tons of trash annually, generating enough energy to heat 400,000 households, Mr. Zahle said. It will also be the largest building in the capital, as visible from Copenhagen’s harbour as the national opera house… And in case you forget about the mountains of waste churning beneath the slopes: the plant’s smokestack will puff out a 30-metre ring every time it emits one ton of carbon dioxide. At night, heat-tracking lights will position lasers on the smoke rings to turn them into “works of art.”

(Under a ski hill, something’s rotten in state of Denmark, Globe and Mail, February 10, 2011)

On second thought, how about if I take a closer look at this bag-tag thing in my next article?