For most of us, garbage goes down the chute or on the curb, and that’s the last we think of it. Easy, right? Well, not so fast. Somebody has to figure out where to take your unwanted stuff.
Two years ago, Canadian garbage was sent to the Philippines, reports the Vancouver Sun. “The Philippines is not a trash bin of the world. Canada should take back their garbage,”said senator Loren Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources in July on her website.
However the owner of Chronic Inc., Jim Makris has said that it would be cheaper to dump the garbage in Canada, and that the 2,500 tonnes in question is less than a day’s worth from Metro Vancouver, where the garbage originated.
The 1992 Basel Convention was designed to control the export of toxic materials from rich nations to developing ones,”write Craig and Marc Kielburger cofounders of Free The Children, adding that Canada is one of four countries blocking an amendment that would ban rich nations from dumping toxic waste on developing nations.
We looked at a few cities to see where our garbage goes.
When asked about the controversy surrounding the waste situation in the Philippines, Albert Shamess, Director of Waste Management for the City of Vancouver, said “It’s a private company that was sending some plastic for recycling to the Philippines …it doesn’t have anything to do with the city or the region or how we’re disposing of our waste, it’s strictly a private sector company.”
Vancouver has its own landfill in Delta in the lower mainland. Opened in 1967, it still has another 20 years or so capacity in it, explains Shamess. The city does some yard waste composting at the landfill, and recycling is all delivered to product markets. In B.C. now it’s controlled by a non-profit stewardship agency called Multi-Material B.C. The Stewards are the ones who are responsible for delivering the services and for making sure products are recycled.
Is garbage sent out of the province? “No,”says Shamess, adding that some commercial garbage does go south of the border, but “those commercial haulers are outside of our sphere of control. It’s a private sector business, some of them have contracts to send commercial waste down to the United States.”
There’s no flow control here for commercial waste like Halifax, where they can force commercial businesses to take their waste to city facilities, Shamess explains. “We don’t have that authority here in B.C.”Private businesses can choose the cheapest service, but with competitive fees in Vancouver and the weak Canadian dollar, there’s not a lot crossing the border.
“We have a comprehensive solid waste management system in Halifax,”Tiffany Chase, Senior Communications Advisor, City of Halifax. “There is provincial and municipal legislation that prohibits recyclable and organic material from being put into landfills. And so we’ve had a robust recycling system in place for over 20 years. And since 1998 we have been collecting organic material curb side.”
Residents must sort their own garbage, she says, adding that the new system of using clear garbage bags, with just one dark privacy bag allowed every pickup, helps keep more waste from entering the system. Garbage bags are opened and checked for hazardous waste and organic materials that shouldn’t be included.
The resulting material from the organic recycling facility can be used in landscaping.
No unsorted garbage leaves the province, but “we have a recycling processing plant here in Halifax that all the of the recyclable containers, bags, paper and cardboard go to and then it’s properly sorted to be prepared for sale on the open market.”Those sellable items include plastic containers, plastic bags, glass containers, corrugated cardboard, different types of paper including boxboard, even milk cartons.
“It’s hard to come up with a list of what’s actually garbage here, because we recycle and compost so much of it.”
“System-wide, including construction and demolition debris, the current diversion rate is just over 60 per cent of waste is diverted away from the landfill.”
“It’s better for the environment and it’s better for taxpayers, because our landfills will last longer and we won’t have to build them as quickly, if we recycle and compost that material,”she says.
“Currently we send kitchen scraps to a place in the Lower Mainland where they’re processed,”says Andy Orr, Director of Corporate Communications.
“In B.C. there’s an organization that does that on a provincial basis. We collect everything and turn it over to them and they have contractors all that material goes to where it has the highest use.”
Their diversion rate is about 55 per cent. Orr says Victoria has had a blue box diversion system for more than 20 years, and has now moved to collecting kitchen scraps as well.
“Vancouver asked to have what they call ‘slow control’which was garbage could not leave the region, and the province wouldn’t agree to that because the garbage haulers saw it as not the cheapest option.”
“We run the landfill but there’s no bylaw that says every piece of garbage from the region must go to the landfill.”
All of the garbage collected and managed by the City of Toronto goes to the Green Lane Landfill in Southwold Township near London, says Annette Synowiec, Acting Director, Policy, Planning and Support for Solid Waste Management Services at the City of Toronto in an email. Toronto bought the current landfill in 2007 and sent increasing amounts of its garbage there each year until the end of 2010, when the disposal contract with the Michigan landfill ended.
“Toronto has various contracts to which it sells its recyclables and the revenue goes toward helping to pay for the waste diversion programs and services the City provides,”she says.
The city says its combined residential diversion rate for single family and multi-unit residential buildings is 53 per cent, and that last year a total of 423,817 tonnes of residential waste was diverted from landfill through various recycling programs which include blue and green bins, electronic waste pick-up and grass cycling.