Solid waste removal disruption

With a population of nearly 2 million people, the City of Toronto experienced a disruption in residential garbage and recyclable collection for 39 days this summer as part of a municipal worker strike.

To learn more about how Toronto dealt with the disruption, American Recycler interviewed Geoff Rathbone, the city’s general manager of solid waste.

Municipal solid waste collection was disrupted for several weeks. Knowing that a strike was looming, did Toronto have a plan to deal with the situation in the event of strike and how important is it for cities to develop such plans?

Rathbone: Service was disrupted for 39 days. Yes, we developed a plan many months in advance of the strike as permits and other items which required long lead times had to be dealt with in advance.

Residents were asked to bring their trash to central points such as parks and other municipal sites. Looking back, was this the only option and how long did it take for the city to set up the collection centers and for citizens to get used to the idea of transporting trash in their personal vehicles?

Rathbone: Based on our situation the temporary drop off sites met the needs of our citizens. We urged residents to store waste at home, but if necessary, to bring it in to one of the sites. Based on our criteria, which was to use only management staff to operate the sites, the storage concept was the only option.

How much trash was collected in these temporary sites and what steps were taken in terms of vector control? Was some of that trash collected and sent to landfills during the strike?

Rathbone: About 20,000 tons were collected and stored at our 26 temporary sites and our 7 transfer station drop off points. All waste stayed on site for the duration of the strike.

All sites were sprayed daily for pest control and had rodent bait stations.

What technologies were employed to minimize the odor from the trash collection points? Were there some that were more effective?

Rathbone: We requested that all waste be double bagged. All sites were sprayed daily with odor control by a professional pest/odor control company.

Once the strike ended, how long did it take to remove the trash that was deposited at the collection points?

Rathbone: All waste was removed within 2.5 days of the strike ending. Final site remediation took an extra few days.

How did the strike affect the collection of recyclables? Is there any evidence that more recyclables were set aside because of the strike?

Rathbone: Residents were asked to store recyclables at home. Our first collection of recyclables after the strike collected about twice the normal amount. However, it is likely some recycling was lost with the waste brought to the sites – we will not know this final number for some time.

While nobody appreciates a disruption in solid waste collection, was there a silver lining in terms of citizens learning more about the contents of what goes into a garbage bag and a desire to divert even more recyclables?

Rathbone: Yes. We did hear from some residents that it woke them up to the sheer volume of waste we produce as a society and their contribution. It also made people realize how much material we normally can divert through the recycle and Green Bin programs – both of which were suspended during the strike.