Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mayoralty Candidates on Garbage

The other day I wrote about my vision of what kind of city I want to live in. Today, I start writing about specific issues within the context of that vision.

Garbage is a top issue for Torontonians, although I'm sure Mayor David Miller would wish it would go away. Yesterday he unveiled his vision for Toronto, and today I visited his website to see what his policy is for dealing with garbage. Nada. I found a nice-sounding blurb that tells me nothing about what how he intends to improve our garbage disposal. And so I'll rely on the article in The Star's Wednesday GTA section and my own memory from the Citytv debate.

Miller's one active idea is to get manufacturers to reduce their packaging. I'm pretty sure though he and the NDP have talked about this idea before, and so far nothing has happened. Furthermore I wonder how much clout Toronto has in making this happen. If we cannot get the Federal government behind us in an Expo bid, even though they supported Vancouver's Olympic bid, nor support us in bringing our infrastructure up to levels that meet our needs, what chance does Miller have in getting them to lean on the manufacturers to reduce their packaging?

Otherwise Miller is against incineration (and all other high-tech solutions it seems) even though the more enviromentally and socially conscious Europeans have been using it for years; he's for landfills even though it has made our neighbours hate us even more and even though Toronto lets the methane from its old landfills pollute the air (ever come across a pip sticking out of the grass?) and does not siphon it off for energy or other uses.

Jane Pitfield is also for leaning on the manufacturers to reduce packaging. But she talks about rejoining the Association of Municipalities, one assumes in order to lean on the Feds as a block as she knows Toronto cannot make this happen alone. Unfortunately, I do not know if the AMO is a worthwhile organization to rejoin and will leave it to others to decide if a good move or a non-move.

Unlike Miller, she has outlined concrete steps. However, though many of the steps are good, there are possibly two that do not take into account the needs of the disabled and elderly. I heard recently of a woman who has trouble walking. Every step she takes in the kitchen, she risks a fall, yet she is functional enough to live independently with once a week help. This is what we want as a society as they remain healthier and are less expensive to support when they can live in their own homes. However garbage disposal has become a nightmare for her. Instead of taking one step to chuck all the garbage at once into one container, she must now repeat for each type of garbage -- paper and plastics, compostible, and the rest. So the city has increased her risk of a fall by forcing her to take 3 steps to sort the garbage so that they don't have to build a waste-sorting facility. In addition, because the city has reduced pick-up frequency, she now has to find a place to store the 3 containers; space is limited and storage requires more steps, more risk. Her help has to take the garbage out for her, but she does not come on garbage eve -- she comes several days before, which means the garbage sits out there for days, animals spreading it all over, the sun rotting it. Hopefully the sanitation workers will pick it all up. She then relies on her neighbours to bring her bins back, otherwise they sit out there for a few more days, scattered wherever the workers threw them. During a tough week, one would not blame her for chucking all her waste into one bag. And I wonder whether that would make any difference anyway. A few of us have seen sanitation workers throw green garbage bags and compost into the same truck. Why are we sorting it if they are either sorting it on the sly or not doing with it what they claim?

Pifield wishes to make this nightmare worse by penalizing large garbage producers, one would assume those with large households or small children. We have no control over the packaging we bring in. If I buy a frozen pizza, I have no control over the fact that it comes in a box and that it's wrapped in plastic. Penalizing me for the manufacturer's decisions smacks of puritanism. Our parks will start to overflow with garbage, and the rats, who already think life has become good, will feel that they've entered nirvana, and their population will explode. The raccoon population has already exploded, and the effects will only get worse. This is old school thinking on Pitfield's part that no longer applies with what we can do with our garbage today.

But at leats she, unlike Miller, is willing to entertain the idea of using modern technology to dispose of our garbage. However, she talks about it as if it's still untried and is only willing to build a small-scale facility. This is ridiculous. We're in the middle of a crisis, the people are screaming to fix it, and she's talking baby steps as if a dozen other countries and Canadian cities aren't ahead of us already?

Everyone is still talking about recycling as if that's far more important than burning it for energy production. In the old days when all plastics came from oil -- a finite resource -- I believed recycling was necessary in order to maintain a good supply of plastic. However, there isn't enough demand to use all the material we put out for recycling and good old inventors have figured out how to make plastic from corn, a renewable resource. In addition, our energy needs have changed. We have become a society highly dependent on reliable electricity. We will have serious problems if our electricity is cut off. Yet our traditional sources of electricity are coming to the end of their lifetimes, our demand is much higher (due to increasing numbers of gizmos, such as computers, and population), and our changing weather patterns threaten our transmission lines. It's critical Toronto produce its own energy.

Why is recycling plastic into plastic pellets considered morally superior to recycling it for energy use? Tossing it into a landfill is, of course, really bad, but only Miller and the NDP still want to pollute our soil, damage our already fragile relationship with our neighbours, pollute our air through the resulting methane, and pollute our water from possible leachates. The rest of us want nothing more to do with landfill.

Stephen LeDrew
has not much to say, except in a vid promo on garbage. He recommends the city sorting the garbage instead of individuals, and he wants 80% of our garbage recycled and the rest incinerated. He has the charisma and contacts to make things happen and just a tad more substance than Miller.

But only Pitfield seems to take this issue seriously enough to address it in detail.

None of these candidates meet my vision of a city, but it seems Pitfield comes the closest as she would repaire the relationship with London over the landfill and will at least entertain the idea of incineration or plasma arc technologies. Unfortunately, she would make garbage day even more of a nightmare for those who already find it difficult. As the woman's advocate said to me, for 70 years she had no trouble with the one-bag, twice-a-week system. With new sorting and disposal technologies, we can return to those days and still deal with our garbage responsibly and in our own backyard.

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