Glen Grunwald's Board Blog

Archive of the blog of the former President and CEO of the Toronto Board of Trade.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Sludge Monster Warning in Effect

When Godzilla would threaten Tokyo in those cheap old sci-fi movies, you would see government officials leap into action – ordering evacuations, issuing frantic warnings and calling out those sparking rocket launchers.

So, what will our city’s leaders do over the next few days before the 150,000 tonne Sludge Monster begins to swamp Toronto?

As of July 31, Michigan will no longer accept the sewage sludge we produce here and have been paying to dump in their state. What will we do with the 150,000 tonnes of the stuff created by Torontonians every year? Good question – I wish it had a good answer.

The reality is that ‘some day’ has now arrived and all talk of a ‘looming’ garbage crisis is out-dated because the crisis is here (check out the articles on pages 13-14 and 21-23 of this new OWMA publication). The doors to Michigan start swinging closed on Monday. As of then, it will become more difficult to ship our waste problem away. Over the next couple of years, it will become impossible. Toronto will have more than a million tonnes of waste a year on its hands and no place to put it.

Our provincial and city governments still don’t have a realistic plan to deal with the situation. The well-intentioned and partly successful programs for diversion are simply not going to solve the problem. Even if we reach some magic diversion number like 75% (and good luck with that, by the way, since City Hall says it doesn’t have the money and no other cities have been able to do it), we’d still have 250,000 tonnes a year to deal with.

So, what do we do? We could hide our heads in the compost and continue to follow what one expert has dubbed the Blanche Dubois School of Waste Management – relying on the kindness of strangers. Of course, we should expect them to charge us $200 to $500 a tonne for their help, not the $57 a tonne we’ve been paying to Michiganders. If you hate your property taxes now …

Or, we could start looking at how other cities have managed this challenge; with an open mind to all waste disposal processes and technologies, and with an attitude that waste can be a resource instead of a problem. Toronto is being given the authority now to search for a mix of solutions, but we won't find them with eyes closed.

Safe, clean alternatives are being touted and widely used that derive energy from waste. Would any of them make sense for a city that is also facing an energy shortage? Since there is no single solution for all our waste, what mix of alternatives is the most sensible for Toronto?

We’ll never know the best answers until we have an open, honest debate about our options, one free of fear mongering, politically correct thought and NIMBYism. It may be more likely that I, and anyone else who proposes taking the blinkers off, will be pilloried.

There will be a lot of talk about this over the next few months, as the arrival of the long-anticipated garbage crisis coincides with this fall’s municipal election in Toronto. I’m saying it needs to be honest talk without prescribed limits.

By the time our Board hosts Councillor Jane Pitfield (September 21) and Mayor Miller (September 29) for election campaign speeches, I’m hoping that they will come prepared with some realistic solutions.

Environment Canada may not have issued a Sludge Monster Warning for the Toronto region yet, but our time to deal with this issue must now be measured in days, not years.