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2006 10 30
3.1 Billion Pounds Of Air Pollution To Bury 1.5 Billion Pounds of Trash

Dump image from York University's Environmental Studies web site

Mayoralty candidates Stephen LeDrew, Rod Muir, and Jane Pitfield joined the Alphabet City Trash Festival crew Saturday night at the MaRS Centre on College Street to discuss the city's garbage crisis (Mayor Miller declined the invitation to attend). In spite of what many people in our city seem to think about political candidates in general, those people who came to listen and ask questions found that the three performed well - they had ideas that might even work to reduce our city's ecological footprint.

While researching my preamble to the evening's discussion - I moderated the event - it occurred to me that the real cost in environmental impact terms of shipping tons of garbage hundreds of kilometers was never made public. I wanted to know how much air pollution a truck creates when carrying one ton of cargo one kilometer. With that information in hand it would be easy to determine how much invisible damage our NIMBYism was inflicting on the environment.

According to a study sighted by the Victoria Transit Policy Institute, in 2002 transport trucks produced on average 12.7 pounds of pollution emissions per ton per mile (or roughly 8 pounds per kilometer).

The Michigan dump site is about 260 miles from Toronto or 418 kilometers.

In 2005 we sent 86 trucks a day 365 days of the year to Michigan. They carried a total of 750,000 tons of Toronto garbage. That is 1.5 billion pounds of solid waste.

So, let's do the math. For the sake of fairness, we will reduce the pollution generated on the empty return trip to Toronto to one-quarter. To do that we will say the trucks travelled only 100 kilometers on the way back.

Total trip length 418 + 100 = 518 kilometers

Total pollution per kilometer = 8 pounds

Total Tons shipped = 750,000

Then 518 x 8 x 750,000 = 3,108,000,000 pounds of tailpipe pollution.

There it is folks. To move 1.5 billion pounds of garbage so we don't have to face our local responsibilities for waste reduction and management, we create at minimum 3.1 billion pounds of "Invisible" waste not to mention the other physical problems having those trucks on the roads produces (this does not factor in the pollution created by the truck drivers in turn driving to their jobs, manufacturing the trucks, producing diesel fuel, etc.,). The purchase of a new dump in Ontario reduces the amount of pollution but is still unconscionable. Toronto has to deal with its local waste issues locally.

To the panelists' credit, that was their position. Each offered different approaches. Given Rod Muir's experience as founder of Waste Diversion Toronto, it was not surprising that he had probably the best practical solutions to reducing Toronto's waste. Jane Pitfield was a close second given her long experience on City Council and as Chair of the Works Committee, she knew the issues from the perspective of an involved politician. Stephen LeDrew was a contender in spirit but seemed - and this is from the awkward perspective of the moderator who cannot be as objective as an audience member - passionate about the issue but not as informed.

Incineration, or more accurately gasification, was discussed and all three agreed that it could be used if, and only if, pollutants we rigorously controlled. Rod Muir was least in favour of the option saying only 5% of the city's waste need be dealt with this way. Still, when faced with the fact of how much air pollution we generate trucking garbage to Michigan, it is hard to imagine even the most inefficient system would be worse.

What do you think? How should we handle the city's waste? Also, are my numbers right? Can someone else look into this? I'd appreciate it if only to be proven wrong.
[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 10/30 at 12:03 PM

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