[…] “Toronto is deceptive,” says Myra Hird, who teaches at the Queen’s University school of environmental studies in Kingston, Ont., where she is a specialist in waste management. “It tends to deal with its municipal waste so efficiently that the average person doesn’t see how much of it there is, or where it goes. Out of sight, out of mind, sort of thing.”
The last time Torontonians glimpsed the realities of their garbage habit was during the five-week municipal workers’ strike in 2009, when many of the city’s parks and outdoor rinks (devoid of ice in July) were buried up to four metres deep in stinking refuse. The previous glimpse came after 9/11, when U.S. border authorities temporarily stopped shipments of about a thousand tonnes per day of Toronto’s garbage to the Carleton Farms landfill in Michigan. At the time, another 4,000 tons of the city’s trash was being deposited daily in the Keele Valley landfill, Canada’s largest garbage dump, just north of Toronto in Vaughan — a site that was itself under pressure and about to close its drawbridge on Toronto’s daily outpouring of rubbish.
Any outsider granted a behind-the-scenes peek at that outpouring is likely to be struck by its volume and variety and cost – more than a million dollars a day to keep it all moving. But what really hits the uninitiated, and hits hard, is the flow of it all, the river — the nightmarish relentlessness with which the waste keeps coming, keeps needing a place to go, to hide, to die, sometimes to be reborn. All of which echoes the relentlessness of the country’s garbage production as a whole. Despite what anyone might believe about the country’s oft-cited ecological values and its liberal ambitions for the planet, Canada leads the developed world in per capita production of garbage.
“We tend to think that if other countries were more like Canada, the planet could be saved,” says Hird. “But if every country was like Canada in terms of all-out consumerism and waste, the planet would be even more messed up than it is.”
What really hits the uninitiated is the flow of it all — the nightmarish relentlessness with which the waste keeps coming, keeps needing a place to go, to hide, to die, sometimes to be reborn.
The 720 kilos per capita of waste produced annually by every Canadian is about twice what is produced per capita in Japan, and as much as 10 times what is produced by a half-dozen countries in Africa. More alarmingly, our production is seven per cent higher than per capita ouput of waste in the United States, which all but invented consumer excess.
“As our greatest concentration of people,” says Hird, “Toronto is basically garbage central — a pretty fair representation of what’s happening, or not happening, with domestic waste throughout the country.”
Beyond the city’s annual processing of 200,000 tonnes of recyclables, its residents produce household garbage (the stuff we put in green bags) at a rate of 10,000 tonnes a week, or half a million tonnes a year. For maximum efficiency, tractor trailers, each bearing nearly 40 tonnes of compacted garbage, are meticulously clocked out of Toronto so as to arrive at the city’s Green Lane landfill near London, Ont. at a rate of one every 10 minutes, hour by hour, weekday after weekday.