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Community Environmental Assessment Team (CEAT) Meeting at the Fire Academy on October 16th

By David Windrim

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The City of Toronto must carry out an Environmental Assessment (EA) to decide a plan for managing its leftover garbage (residual waste). This is the waste remaining after making the most of efforts to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost.

The first phase of the EA involves preparing the Terms of Reference (ToR). By participating in the upcoming rounds of public consultation, we will have the opportunity to learn more, ask questions, offer comments, voice concerns, and help Toronto decide the plan for the EA.

The ToR process offers three rounds of public consultation:

At the Round One public consultation held at the Fire Academy on October 16th, questions were posed and discussion groups reported back under three topics:

  1. Need and Purpose:
    1. From what geographic area (“Service Area”) should the waste come; i.e., Toronto only or Toronto plus a partner or partners and/or a municipality or municipalities? Under what circumstances should partnership to manage residual waste be made?
    2. What waste should the City manage and why?
    3. What should the planning period be (i.e., the length of time of this study)?
    4. Over time, what diversion rate should Toronto achieve?
  2. Study Area:
  3. What is the study area (i.e., where should waste management facilities/system components be located)?
  4. Public Consultation Process
  5. How should public contact for the EA be made?

    Regarding Need and Purpose, Toronto currently sends approximately 725,000 metric tonnes of residual waste to Michigan landfill annually. It takes about 80-85 trucks daily to transport the City's waste across the border. Toronto has made a commitment to stop sending waste to Michigan by 2010.

    The City has faced criticism from within Canada and the United States for exporting its waste to Michigan, which has caused various levels of American government to draft and, in some instances, pass legislation that could close the border to Canadian waste. At the moment, Toronto is only able to store its waste locally for two days before facing what could quickly become a health and safety crisis, but has an approved landfill option under development near London, Ontario*. Toronto needs some alternative processing management systems.

    Regarding Service Area (SA), the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act stipulates that including other partners within the SA as part of the ToR requires that they become part of the EA. It may also be that Toronto leaves open the potential for the SA to be expanded to include waste generated in other areas, if proven beneficial in the EA Study (e.g., taking waste from a host community where a processing or disposal site is located).

    Certainly Toronto generates enough of its own waste and has sufficient resources to undertake an EA on its own, but is this the best option? Adding partners could complicate the EA and currently no other municipalities have indicated an interest in partnering with Toronto. Yet, certain efficiencies could be gained by collaboration. Should Toronto keep its options open for partners during the EA process?

    Regarding waste composition, the EA needs to resolve what the residual waste is made up of. Even with diversion programs in place, a significant amount of recyclable and compostable material still ends up in our residual waste. If all of these items were captured in existing diversion programs like the Blue Box and Green Bin Program, the composition of our residual waste would change.

    Should we only consider dealing with waste generated by single-family residences? Or should Toronto deal, as it currently does, with all residential waste plus waste from its agencies, boards, commissions and divisions, material collected via the Yellow Bag Program from Toronto businesses, and waste from public spaces and schools, in addition to the industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) waste that's delivered to Toronto transfer stations? What about dealing with all the waste produced within the City of Toronto, including biosolids?

    Other viable cost-effective options exist for ICI waste. Private sector operators could absorb the amount of ICI waste Toronto currently accepts at its transfer stations. The City's Toronto Water Business Unit is also exploring options for 100 per cent beneficial uses of biosolids.

    Regarding Planning Period, we also need to think about the time period for which we should be planning. The range is typically 10-30 years, and the typical timeframe for waste planning processes like this EA is 25 years. The planning period begins once the facility or processing system starts operating.

    When we think about the span of time, it's necessary to factor in population increases, changes in per capita waste generation (generally increasing in North America), improved diversion programs, increase in multi-unit residential development and any other fundamental changes in our consumer society or environment.

    Regarding Projection of Residuals, although Torontonians enthusiastically embrace the Blue Box and Green Bin Programs, it appears that even after maximizing all the feasible composting, recycling and diversion programs, Toronto will have up to 40% of residual waste remaining. How should Toronto manage its waste in the future? Should Toronto secure even more landfill space, continue to expand diversion programs, explore new processing methods and/or develop new and emerging technologies as effective solutions to its solid waste management needs?

    Toronto has set its own ambitious recycling targets, the Province has set recycling goals and timelines, and very recently letters of agreement were signed that commit Toronto and other Ontario communities to stop exporting residual municipal solid waste to Michigan by 2010. This will include a phased-in decrease of tonnage reduced by prescribed amounts in the years leading up to 2010, mitigated by access to the new Green Lane landfill site*.

    While many do their best to recycle and compost, some portion of each of the current components of the waste stream still remain, and require attention for the foreseeable future. Can we accurately project the percentage of residual waste? Will Toronto be able to manage the expected 40% of residual waste, more or less?

    Regarding the Study Area, what geographical area should Toronto study when it comes to choosing a site or facility to dispose or process its residual waste? Do we only look within City of Toronto boundaries and/or Toronto owned land? Should the study area include all of Ontario or go beyond the province's borders when either the private or public sector puts sites forward? If a site is located in an area regulated by a two-tier level of government, should both levels of government need to agree on any required decisions?

    Toronto currently has agreements with several processing facilities in Quebec. At times, Toronto's reliance on exporting material to another jurisdiction for disposal or processing has exposed the City to a high degree of vulnerability. What are the implications of sending our waste to jurisdictions that have different environmental laws in place?

    Regarding Public Consultation Process, this particular EA is rather unique, in that the City of Toronto has established the citizen-based group called the Community Environmental Assessment Team to assist it in determining the elements and content. This was done to help maximize the potential for public input and participation in all aspects of the EA process, above and beyond what is mandated by the EA Act. This hard working group of 18 members is working in collaboration with City of Toronto staff and all interested stakeholders.

    The City plans on using a variety of outreach vehicles to communicate with the numerous public audiences and stakeholders interested in this EA. These communication tools will include effective use of advertising, web site, direct mail notices, email, dedicated project telephone lines, mail-in comment opportunities, presentations, public consultations sessions and open houses.

    Do these methods work for you? Do you have any ideas on how the City of Toronto can best reach you to engage in an informed dialogue on this subject? Visit the CEAT web site at

    *The text in this article was based on a handout at the meeting. This handout was obviously produced prior to the purchase by the City of Toronto of the Green Lane landfill site near London, Ontario. The author of this article has taken the liberty of adding this information.