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Ontario's big cities face looming landfill shortage after change to approvals process

Ontario's big cities face looming landfill shortage after change to approvals process

Managing risk

Critics have raised environmental concerns related to landfills, particularly with respect to possible groundwater contamination. It's a concern that Calvin Lakhan, a waste researcher at York University, can understand.

"There's a lot of safeguards put in place to mitigate or completely avoid a lot of the environmental hazards that landfills could pose. With that being said, there is a very long … history of landfills, actually, despite being built to these standards, for whatever reason, have failed." Lakhan said.

Calvin Lakhan, a waste management researcher at York University, says that modern landfills, while built to high safety standards, still carry inherent risks that have to balanced. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Lakhan said that while unforeseen failures mean landfills are not 100 per cent risk-free, the need for landfills means some amount of risk has to be accepted.

"People just have to recognize there's an inherent risk to any sort of environmental facility, whether that be a landfill or a tire site, that could cause damage. But that whole concept of, 'I don't want it at all because of the infinitesimally small risk,' it just puts you at a gridlock or deadlock, because we need to put it somewhere."

But rules that on paper appear to help municipalities may have unintended consequences, according to Myra Hird, a waste management expert at Queen's University. Hird's research includes studying how solving one problem in the complex waste management system can lead to different problems in another part of the system.

"Some communities very much need that source of revenue. And so they, for financial reasons, are willing to take other communities' waste. And communities only do that when they are under financial stress, and they need that revenue," Hird said.

"It could very much lead to a two-tier system where affluent communities will be able to say no and poorer communities will not have the financial luxury to say no."

With files from See full article here.