Toronto’s garbage issue, 100 per cent essential

With the city of Toronto shelving the idea of labelling garbage disposal as an essential service earlier this month, we beg to ask: what then, if anything, is important enough to be labeled a 100-percent essential service?

The stench left by the summer’s garbage strike still lingers in some Scarborough neighborhoods that have been trying to get rid of the summer’s waste in time to prepare for the natural waste produced in the fall. And that stench could have been much worse had the summer not been unseasonably cool.

In fact, had the summer been warmer, Toronto could have faced serious public health and environmental issues as the trash built up. Not only would there have been even more rodents and animals drawn to the garbage, but the number of diseases that these animals routinely carry would be higher as well. The city had a contingency plan for this, which included spraying pesticides on garbage sites and that some protesting communities claimed as trading one hazard with another. Our public safety should be reason enough to consider garbage disposal as an essential service.

In 2008, Toronto collected 494,539 tonnes of waste. This doesn’t include the 388,188 tonnes of diverted waste (that is, recyclables). That means that the city relied on our waste management workers to deal with 882,727 tonnes of waste last year. It’s hard to imagine that kind of amount of waste being produced, let alone having this trash being left on our curbs in the event of a strike.

But the strike did happen, and Scarborough residents dealt with it as best as we could. As the garbage piled up, so did the problems. Trash built up in our homes, as well as on the streets, putting large-scale functions such as Caribana, which attracts over a million people during its three weeks of celebration, at risk of cancellation. This influx of people and partying usually increases spending in the city, which helps to boost our economy. Though the need for Caribana alone is not great enough to justify waste disposal as an essential service, it does prove a very strong and basic point that the ramifications of a garbage strike, should it last more than five weeks, have the potential to be detrimental to our economy.

And what of the future? Much of our trash ends up in the Carlton Farms Landfill in Michigan. This has been a great arrangement for Torontonians since we don’t have to deal with a large portion of the waste we produce each year. But there is a catch: Toronto’s waste disposal contract with Michigan expires at the end of 2010.

After that, worrying about who is going to pick up our trash won’t be our only concern. We’ll also be worrying about where to put it.