The people of Zorra Township have spent years worrying their picturesque country landscape will soon become a literal dumping ground for the Greater Toronto Area.

Just 165 kilometres southwest of Toronto, the small town has been pegged as a potential future home of a new landfill that could see 850,000 tonnes of trash trucked in annually.

The landfill will mostly take waste from businesses and institutions in the GTA, not from the local community.

“It becomes really hard to swallow that on top of [our] efforts, we are now potentially an unwilling host for someone else’s waste — a dump that could be much larger than our own,” said Zorra Coun. Marcus Ryan.

No control over commercial waste

While cities across the province have set strict rules to encourage household recycling and minimize the amount of residential garbage going to landfill, most waste in Ontario comes from the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) sector — and cities have virtually no say in where all that garbage ends up.

That means Zorra isn’t alone. Without further recycling efforts, the Ministry of the Environment projects Ontario will need 16 new or expanded landfills in the next 30 years, and local residents will have little to no control over whether the next one ends up in their neighbourhood.

In April, Ottawa city councillors were forced to approve the zoning for a new landfill in the city’s rural east end.

But handing too much power over Ontario’s garbage over to towns and cities could create a confusing patchwork of rules across the province, according to Jo-Anne St. Godard, executive director of the Recycling Council of Ontario.

75% of IC&I waste goes to landfill

It could also leave towns with weaker rules vulnerable.

Right now, Ontario is so far behind, it’s not even clear how much garbage is heading to landfills, she said. Any data is based on best guesses and estimates from the companies themselves.

According to the estimates available, about 75 per cent of waste generated by businesses and institutions ends up in landfills, St. Godard said.

“I think fundamentally it comes down to political will,” she said.

Ottawa city council already has that will, Blais said. He said the city wouldn’t shy away from penalties and incentives to encourage business owners, restaurant owners, schools and hospitals to recycle their waste.

“Maybe then we won’t need 16 more [landfills] across the province,” he said.

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