Municipalities are often squeezed between the imperative of waste diversion, and the immense practical and legal obstacles that can plague it. Last week, waste diversion pioneer, the City of Guelph, was fined $40,000, plus a 25% Victim Fine Surcharge. Charges against the waste manager, personally, were dropped. In addition, the MOE imposed stringent odour control and monitoring conditions on the City’s remaining certificates of approval.
In 2003, the City installed a much-heralded, multi-million dollar “Wet /Dry” system to compost organics instead of landfilling them. Unfortunately, while it produced good compost, the “wet” side of the system also produced strong odours, resulting in numerous neighbourhood complaints. Planned odour controls were overwhelmed by high volumes, i.e. high diversion rates. As a result, the Ministry of the Environment forced the City to shut the facility in 2005; negotiations for its reopening are continuing.
The $40,000 fine imposed on Guelph is nearly double the $25,000 fine imposed, in April, on the Region of Niagara. Niagara had also experienced frequent odours when attempting to divert organics from landfill to compost, as the MOE demanded. (Guelph’s attempt to pioneer Super Blue Box recycling also collapsed, due to technical difficulties and delays; see the earlier Subbor post.)
Meanwhile, the MOE has successfully appealed the mistrial and $85,000 costs award won by the City of Sault St. Marie in a similar case, and will now be starting its trial all over again.
These three prosecutions, of municipalities genuinely attempting to implement the MOE’s waste diversion directive, illustrate a serious problem with MOE enforcement policy. We urgently need municipalities to innovate, including in the waste management area. But it’s difficult to persuade organizations (or individuals) to innovate if they are liable to serious punishment when the inevitable problems occur. The rigidity that came from making people afraid to innovate was one of the undoings of the Soviet Union. The MOE’s hyper-enforcement of municipalities is perhaps the most poisonous legacy of the Walkerton water tragedy.