Follow-up on Ontario garbage exports to Michigan
by Irwin Rapoport
Michigan Governor Jennifer M.
Granholm has signed a bill that will ban imports of solid and
biosolid waste from Canada, but the legislation can only come
into effect once the United States Congress passes legislation
to give Michigan and other states the authority to do so.
Should the federal legislators pass Bill HR2491, shipments of
trash from the Canadian province of Ontario would stop after a
60-day warning period.
Of the 63,927,564 cubic yards
of solid waste dumped in Michigan landfills in 2005, imports from
Ontario accounted for 18.1 percent. Imports from other states
accounted for 10.3 percent.
With no serious expectation that
Washington, D.C. will pass the bill, the Democratic governor,
when signing her state’s bill into law, said: “We
need to implement policies at the state level that will have an
impact on the amount of waste being brought in.”
Republicans, who control both
levels of the State House, have not acted upon a Democratic initiative
to raise the state’s dumping fee of $.21 per ton to $7.50.
“At this point,”
said Robert McCann, the press secretary with the state’s
Department of Environmental Quality, “they’ve indicated
that increasing the tipping fee is not a way that they want to
The plan is to use the funds
raised from the tipping fee increase to create recycling programs
that would reduce the amount of waste going to landfills. A recent
DEQ report states the existing landfill system will reach maximum
capacity in 17 years.
A moratorium on the creation
of new landfills expired on January 1 and thus far there are no
signs that it will be renewed by the state.
The governor does not have the
authority to re-implement the moratorium on a temporary basis
and should the applications meet all the requirements in the state’s
legislation, the new landfills and expansions have to be approved.
“There has been some suggestion
in the legislative leadership that people who are concerned about
landfills expanding,” said McCann, “to tell the DEQ
not to expand them. The reality is that if an application meets
all of the requirements, then we simply don’t have the option
to deny it.”
The Democrats continue to make
garbage imports from Canada and other states and increasing the
tipping fee issues for the upcoming November 2 general election.
“Some of the members, especially
on the House side, are continuing to hold a number of public hearings
in their districts,” said McCann. “You do hear a growing
concern from people, especially those that live near landfills
People have expressed serious
concerns about garbage-hauling trucks, whether they come from
other states or Canada, traveling on local roads on a daily basis.
They are concerned about the real possibility of spills. A truck
from Ontario recently spilled human waste en route to a Michigan
But even if Michigan should increase
its tipping fee, Rob Cook, president of the Ontario Waste Management
Association (OWMA) – the association responsible for the
collection of about 85 percent of the province’s waste (industrial,
commercial and institutional), says that it may have no effect
on the level of trash exported to Michigan.
“We have a disposal capacity
shortage of 3.6 million tons,” he said. “We ship to
Michigan because we have no choice. We are not sending it there
because of economics. It’s not that Michigan is cheaper
or closer, it’s that we’ve allowed our own domestic
landfill capacity to decrease and not be replaced. In another
4 years, 4 of our 11 major landfills will close and that capacity
will drop again.
“Michigan could put a $25
per ton tipping fee and it won’t make a difference,”
he added, noting that landfills in Ontario would be pleased with
a $7.50 increase by Michigan. “It will make a lot of people
happy because tipping fees can go up another $7.50 in Ontario.”
Ontario waste exports to Michigan
began 30 years ago based on geographic convenience, but now the
situation has changed dramatically. While the majority of municipal
waste being transported to Michigan comes from the Greater Toronto
Region – the City of Toronto and regions of Peel, York and
Durham, the majority of waste exported is from the ICI sector.
Municipalities contract out ICI
waste collection to private companies, which comprise the OWMA’s
In 2005, Ontario produced just
over 12 million metric tons of waste, with about 4.4 million tons
being recycled. Of the remainder, domestic landfills accommodated
about 5.7 million tons and the remainder went to Michigan, save
for about 500,000 tons shipped to landfills in New York State.
According to Cooke, Ontario is
grappling with many waste-related issues.
The approval system of new landfills
or expansion of exiting ones is dealt with by the Environmental
“It is essentially broken
and it’s admitted by all parties, environmental groups,
industry and the provincial government itself,” said Cook.
“We have six landfill expansion applications in progress,
a number of them have been in over seven years and they haven’t
had a public hearing yet. And even after the public hearing, the
decision is not made by an independent tribunal, but by the minister
of the environment. It’s a very risky process – long,
costly and unpredictable.”
Because no new landfill space
has been created, Michigan serves as Ontario’s “safety
Cook says that Ontario’s
landfill system has between seven to eight years of capacity at
existing fill rates, which includes the diversions to Michigan.
A consultant hired by Toronto
and other municipalities found that if the Michigan border was
closed to trash exports, all of the constructed cell capacity
in Ontario would be used up in six months “and probably
our overall capacity would be gone in two years.”
Cook is looking to the province
for action to help resolve the problem.
“But the provincial government
hasn’t shown leadership in coming to grips with this issue,”
he said. “They’ve put the onus on municipalities to
sort out contingency options if the border ever closes. They have
taken sort of the same approach with the private sector. We’re
saying ‘this is an unsustainable solution … we’re
relying on the disposal capacity of a foreign country and that’s
not the right position in which you should have an essential service.’
“Ontario needs to have
a goal for self-sufficiency that is a combination of recycling,
diversion and new disposal capacity,” he added, “but
in the meantime, we should be going to Michigan with a plan that
is clear, measurable and accountable. We should be trying to buy
time from Michigan.”
What troubles Cook is that he
has not heard of any top-to-top discussions between Michigan and
Ontario given the seriousness of the issue.
However, Cook is the first to
admit that Ontario itself has created the problem of having insufficient
landfill capacity. Ontario is taking steps to increase recycling
rates by residents via the 3R program - reduce, re-use and recycle.
Key elements in this goal are the blue box program and the green
bin program for the collection of organic waste. The province’s
goal is a 50 percent diversion rate.
To Cook, the ultimate goal is
that “waste exports to Michigan either stop or they will
only happen out of some sort of convenience, not necessity.”
There is one incinerator in the
GTA and that handles about 350,000 tons of waste annually. Incineration
does not appear to be an immediate solution to reducing exports.
“The approval system has
tended to be skewed against incineration and energy from waste,”
said Cook, “but because of the situation involving Michigan
and our lack of disposal capacity, energy from waste is getting
a second look here.” To reduce waste generated by the private
sector in Ontario, Cook stresses that provincial government must
require them to recycle.
The OWMA has been working with
the Canada’s federal government on the issue, which Cook
says is “very concerned and interested in the waste export
issue and what is happening in Washington with Bill HR2491. The
government is looking at it as a trade issue. It is continuing
to engage issue and in some ways, trying to broker a dialogue
between Michigan and Ontario and some better dialogue between
our provincial government, municipalities and the industries we
represent because we haven’t got to the point where we are
on the same page.”