The former Northern Plastic Lumber plant in Lindsay was sold in 2014 to a U.S. company but its corporate legacy lives on – in the form of what may be up to 40,000 tonnes of abandoned plastic waste still to be disposed of.
Almost six years ago the plant was bought by a U.S. firm and all the equipment was moved to Pennsylvania. All the plastic raw material was left behind for disposal by the new owners.
Khan sent his associate, Harry Leung, to appear before Kawartha Lakes City Council to request the waiving of dumping fees – right now set at $110 per tonne for plastic waste. Council didn’t seem overly sympathetic to the cause at a recent meeting.
Mayor Andy Letham pointed out that “tipping fees aren’t high enough” as it is, when compared to other municipalities. Director of Public Works Bryan Robinson said waiving the fees could set a precedent. In the end, the advice to the new owner was that he should take all the plastic waste to the landfill, pay for it, collect the receipts, and then come back to council to request relief.
The precise amount of remaining plastic waste is unclear. “It’s very hard to estimate,” admitted Leung, who was retained by Khan to clean-up the site. In his deputation to council Leung first stated the amount was 40 tonnes, but later said he’d misspoken and that the amount was 40,000 tonnes.
Khan says if he can get rid of the garbage and use the building he will create at least 40-50 full-time jobs – but he would not say what kind of jobs. He did not return the Advocate’s calls or emails on this matter by publishing time.
The Advocate visited the 77 St. David St. site, accompanied by Leung.
Three tractor-trailers were parked outside the building. Leung opened up one which was full of shaggy, compressed cubes of single-use plastics, the raw material once used for the plastic lumber produced by the original owners, Northern Plastic Lumber. Leung said each of the three tractor-trailers held 60,000 pounds of plastic.
Inside the 50,000 sq. ft building, the sight was shocking. The building has been “sitting full of garbage for three years,” according to Khan. In late May of this year, vandals set fire to the building. There are gaping holes in the roof. The building has no power, but what’s visible in the natural light entering through those holes is the fire’s aftermath: slick, oily puddles, bales of single use plastics, and large cartons of deformed rigid plastic.
Khan said he and Leung had been trying to get rid of it for two years and had sent 10-12 trailers to China, but as has been widely reported across North America, China is no longer accepting Canadian or U.S. waste.
How This Happens – and How You End up Paying
Companies leaving behind their negative externalities – plastic waste in this case — is unfortunately the norm under provincial and federal laws. As long as a company can find another buyer, then that aspect of their business gets pushed on to the next person willing to take on the burden.
In this case, as in many others, that burden will eventually reach citizens. Eventually that local landfill will be filled with more waste and bring it closer to capacity. Afterwards, that plastic waste will sit for about 1,000 years in the ground.
Municipalities are often left to deal with such things, such as in this case being expected to absorb many tonnes of plastic waste into our local landfills – and yet they are the level of government with the least amount of powers, from taxation to regulation.
If City Council helps Khan with his bills for disposal, citizens who pay taxes here are subsidizing that choice. If Council doesn’t help, then Council could be accused of not helping a new business grow. In both cases, it is the corporation that gets away without paying for the full cost of what it produces – including its negative externalities like waste.
The Advocate contacted the provincial Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks about the plastic waste left in the Lindsay plant.
Ministry spokesperson Lindsay Davidson, told the Advocate by email that Ministry staff met with the City of Kawartha Lakes and the owner following the fire in May at the old plastic company’s site.
“We determined that the bales of plastic were contaminated with other wastes and could not be used as a source of plastic fibre. This waste had to be disposed of properly and we learnt at the time that the City of Kawartha Lakes was in the process of issuing orders to the property owner to clean-up and secure the site,” says Davidson.
The site owner (Khan) confirmed that a site restoration company would be working to clean-up wastes found inside and outside the building, Davidson notes.
“On October 29, 2019, ministry staff inspected the site and found that all the entrances to the site were secured and the plastic bales outside the building had been removed,” he says.
Davidson says, though, that “ministry staff could not access the inside of the building at that time.”
“Ministry staff will be following-up with the owner of the property to inspect inside the building and determine if the owner complied with the direction to remove all of the waste material. If the waste has not been removed the ministry may consider other actions including issuing an order to the current owners for the proper disposal of the waste stored at the site.”
The Advocate asked the Ministry spokesperson why it doesn’t consider regulations that would prevent a corporation from being able to leave its waste behind. The Advocate also asked if the Ministry would consider adding such regulations in the public’s best interest.
Davidson would only give the following comment.
“Under the Environmental Protection Act…waste being temporarily stored on a property must not cause or have the potential to cause any adverse environmental or human health impacts. If we believe that the waste being temporarily stored is causing or has the potential to cause adverse effects the ministry can take actions including issuing an order to address the situation.”