March 29 - April 5, 2004

Toronto faces added pressure to reduce waste with passage of new Michigan laws

Toronto is facing added pressure to reduce, re-use and recycle its municipal solid waste, following the signing into law of 11 new solid waste bills by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. The signing took place near the Carlton Farms landfill, which currently accepts Toronto's residual waste for disposal. The bills were signed with "immediate effect;" consequently, they were expected to become law by March 29, 2004. The city of Toronto understands, however, that there may be legal challenges to this bill package from some U.S. organizations.

The legislative package is designed to restrict the import of waste into Michigan regardless of its origin, whether from neighbouring states or from Canada. Trans-boundary movement of waste is part of the solid waste management industry. Not only do other municipalities in Ontario export waste to Michigan, American states such as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina and Wisconsin do so as well. Moreover, Michigan itself is a major exporter of hazardous waste, sending as much as 55,000 tonnes to Ontario annually.

One bill (Senate Bill 57) authorizes the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) director to stop the shipment of waste from outside Michigan for 30 to 60 days, where there is a "substantial threat" to public health, safety or the environment and it is deemed that such a measure would minimize or eliminate the threat.

Another crucial bill expands the list of materials prohibited from landfill to include tires and beverage containers. Senate Bill 497 defines beverage containers as carbonated soft drink, water, beer and wine coolers consistent with Michigan Beverage Container Deposit Return System.

Senate Bill 498 adds beverage containers (as defined by Bill 497) and whole tires to items banned from landfills. De minimis amounts of these items, as well as yard waste, are allowed.

The new laws will prohibit all oil, lead acid batteries, low level radioactive waste, hazardous waste, asbestos, PCBs, cathode ray tubes. Transfer stations will have to provide documentation to prove that they have removed items prohibited in Michigan landfills. Alternatively, the generating jurisdiction must prove that it has the same landfill prohibitions as Michigan.

Senate Bill 499 authorizes state police to inspect waste loads. (Another bill allows county officials to assist with inspections, which would be conducted at least quarterly. Random inspections would also be allowed.)

Senate Bill 500 increases fines for a second violation of banned material regulations to $25,000 per day, up from the current $10,000 per day.

Senate Bill 502 requires the DEQ to notify other states and countries of items banned from Michigan landfills and to notify Michigan landfill operators which states and countries have equivalent bans and qualify to send waste to Michigan.

Senate Bill 506 imposes a moratorium on landfill expansion until January 1, 2006.

Senate Bill 557 requires landfill operators to file annual reports on their remaining landfill capacity.

House Bill 5234 stipulates that waste must meet Michigan standards, be a singular type of waste or have been processed at a transfer station to remove banned items.

House Bill 5235 requires solid waste haulers to provide their customers annual notification concerning items banned from landfills. It also requires the DEQ to post banned item information on its Web site.

Since the closure of the Keele Valley landfill at the end of 2002, Toronto has sent all of its residual waste for disposal to the Carlton Farms landfill, which is owned and operated by Republic Services. An ambitious plan detailed in the Task Force 2010 Report, approved by Toronto city council in 2001, is expected to eliminate Toronto's dependence on Michigan landfills by 2010.

Councillor Jane Pitfield, head of Toronto's Works Committee, said the number of trucks hauling Toronto waste to Michigan is already decreasing. The city surpassed its 30% waste diversion goal for 2003, achieving 32%, which translates into a diversion of 287,000 tonnes of residential waste annually. "If this material had not been diverted, more than 8,000 more transport trucks would have made that round-trip to Michigan," she said.

Toronto exports only non-hazardous, residual solid waste; municipal waste transfer stations do not accept medical waste consisting of pathological, bio-hazardous or infectious materials. The city has installed radiation detectors at its seven waste transfer stations to detect potentially radioactive items before they are loaded for export to landfills. This was done quickly following some Michigan reports of radioactive waste in Toronto's exported waste shipments.

These findings were the result of extremely sensitive testing equipment at the border, which detected minute quantities of radioactive waste coming from non-hazardous items such as discarded smoke detectors, used fluorescent lamps or diaper waste set out by residents undergoing radiation treatments.

"We are confident that Toronto's waste is 'cleaner' than Michigan waste," said Angelos Bacopoulos, head of solid waste management services in Toronto's Works and Emergency Services department. "Any diversion plan takes time to fully implement and we are asking for patience from the Michigan lawmakers. At the same time, we urge Toronto residents and businesses to continue with their best efforts to fully participate in our current recycling programs as well as any new waste reduction programs and services," he added.

City staff will be reporting to the next Works Committee meeting on the details of how to achieve the goal of 60% diversion by 2006 and how the implementation of appropriate New and Emerging Technologies will help reach diversion targets.

More information is available from Geoff Rathbone, director of policy and planning for solid waste management services, 416/392-4715. Details of the new state legislative package may be viewed on the Michigan legislature Web site, www.michiganlegislature.org. (The bill number must be entered to gain access to details on the Web site.)

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