Toronto keeps trying to burn its garbage

Toronto keeps trying to burn its garbage, but TEA, along with our allies, keep coming together to prevent that from happening. This is a toxic, unnecessary and reckless move which can be prevented with stronger action to reduce the amount of waste we produce in Toronto.

What just happened:

Last month, the City of Toronto’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee was presented with a proposal to give City of Toronto staff the ability to start sending mixed garbage to energy-from-waste incinerators in neighbouring communities. These facilities burn mixed garbage (including plastics and other items that produce toxic emissions when burned), and even with emissions control technologies, they produce significant pollution which harms our health.  City staff also asked to start the process of building an incinerator for the long term, with no information about where this incinerator would be located. 

In response, TEA’s Waste Campaigner Emily Alfred spoke to the Infrastructure and Environment committee about our concerns. She explained to the committee that incineration, even with energy recovery, is a toxic and expensive way to deal with waste, and one of the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive forms of electricity generation.

Burning garbage works directly against our zero waste and climate goals. Toxic emissions and ash generated from incineration pollutes our air and the surrounding communities. 

When this has happened before:

Sadly, just two years ago Council faced a similar proposal to burn Torornto’s garbage. At that time, Council rejected the request and asked for more details on:

  • how incineration might affect the City’s climate goals, 
  • the location of incinerators and communities that would receive Toronto's garbage;
  • and the pollution controls at those facilities. 

TEA pointed this out when we spoke to the committee in June. City Council agreed that the same level of information is needed now: they once again asked City staff to provide this information.

This proposal on how to deal with Toronto’s garbage wasn’t presented to the public or for community consultation. This is important to note because in the past Torontonians participated in record numbers on consultations of how to manage our waste, how to improve recycling and, how to reduce waste in the first place. Toronto wants to have a say in what happens to our garbage and should get one.

What happens now:

We were happy to see that Councillors at the committee heard our concerns and responded. 

Motions made by Councillor Dianne Saxe require that City staff provide more information, and more detail on how this will impact Toronto’s climate goals, and ensure that the Long Term Waste Strategy efforts to reduce and divert waste are up to date before Toronto makes major commitments to polluting disposal. City staff will have to report back and hold public consultations before moving forward on incineration.

What began as an attempt to burn Toronto’s garbage has turned into a win in the shift to zero waste. Not only did we stop incineration in the short term, but the changes we secured at Council mean the City must step up its waste diversion efforts and integrate them with their climate plan and 2040 net zero goals. 

TEA will be watching progress on this carefully and mobilizing our supporters as staff update and improve the City's Long Term Waste Strategy. We continue to push for stronger action, TEA has been pushing back on repeated efforts to burn Toronto's garbage for decades and we'll continue to alert our supporters and allies to ensure Toronto focuses on reduction, not incineration.

You can read our letter to the Infrastructure and Environment Committee here.