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Toronto takes its trash to Michigan by rail
Published: April 19, 2008
Source: Toronto Sun
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Canadian history was quietly made last month when the first-ever trainload of Toronto's garbage was shipped to landfill, the Sun has learned.

It was a first for Canada and there may be a lot more of it in the future including a day when there are no transport trucks on the highway taking Toronto's waste to a Michigan landfill.

It's a fledgling idea but this technology by First Waste Transload Inc. could lead in that direction thanks to enormous cost savings and drastic reductions in pollution levels.

Currently they are moving industrial and construction waste. One day they'd love to move all of the GTA's household garbage. "It is our dream," First Waste chairman Joel Wagman said in his first interview since gaining his ministry of environment certificate to ship waste by rail March 14. "We are really excited about this."


It has been five weeks since they opened their newly built waste transfer centre on CN Rail property in the Jane and Highway 7 area of Vaughan and an official opening is set for June 11 when the media, politicians and waste industry people will be invited to celebrate the latest innovation in green waste management. "It has been a quiet, soft launch so we can iron the bugs out," said CEO Allen Shully, who says First Waste Transload Inc. is the first Canadian company to move garbage out of a municipality by rail.

The company has invested an estimated $30 million in a modern drop off centre and in more than 150 water-tight rail cars, built at National Steel Car in Hamilton.

"It is exciting," said Wagman, a waste management lifer, who at 75 years old has come up with a plan he believes will eventually be the way things are done. "Everybody is always talking about doing something about helping the environment so I thought we might as well do something."

This is a good news story on all levels and feel free to check out photographer Michael Peake's and my video on The train cars are sealed so there will be no leakage along the route and the wear and tear on the highways will be lessened thanks to a reduction of truck trips on the road. There may be some truck-driving livelihoods affected but some of that will be offset by shorter transport trips to the main centre in Vaughan to be put on rail.

For Wagman the idea was sealed in his mind because of the hundreds of thousands of truck trips along Highway 401 each year. "In southern Ontario there is about 12 million tonnes a year of construction waste and we hope to move about one million in our first year," he said. "If we do, that would cut down 31,000 truck trips. We should be concerned about air quality."

Just that small percentage of trip reductions will cut down CO2 emissions by 56% But there are other considerations for firms or eventually municipalities considering shipping by rail. "It is the same price to ship one rail car with 100 tonnes of garbage as it is to send one truck carrying 30 tonnes," said Shully.

You don't have to be in business to do the math. Already construction firms are lining up at the First Waste Transload Inc. Facility and the place has been operating 24 hours a day.


For Toronto this might be the most significant private enterprise business story of 2008 -- and perhaps a catalyst and inspiration to corporate and industrial Canada.

The sky is the limit for this project. Who knows how big it will become once Toronto starts to ship its residential waste to the Green Lane landfill near St. Thomas? "With the train we will be able to ship anywhere," said Wagman.

If it becomes the standard perhaps other waste transfer companies will follow suit and compete. Wagman sees a day when no city's garbage is treated as refuse but is instead used as a renewable resource for energy.

Wagman has actually wanted to get involved in trains for a long time. Since he was a kid he was always a model trains guy and has one running through the garden at his home.

"But moving garbage by train from municipalities was not cost effective in the past," he said. "In the early days the highway systems were being built and gas was 10 cents a gallon. That meant trucks."

But times are changing. Fuel costs are ridiculous and the toxic soup from the trucks is mounting. For Wagman it was so obvious. The train lines are already there so it's back to the future and he has negotiated a business partner ship with CN. "We are going back to 1880 technology and it works," said Wagman. "We are completing Sir John A. Macdonald's dream."

Anybody who has ever driven toward Windsor along the 401 in recent years and had to deal with all of those trucks will drink to that!


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