TORONTO, Ont. – Cottagers returning to the city after the long weekend will be pleased to see – and smell – less evidence of Toronto’s 39-day strike.
As soon as city council approved a three-year contract with the union Friday, hundreds of workers began the cleanup, working into the early morning hours on a holiday weekend.
“Within literally minutes of that approval, we had our trucks on the way to the various sites,” said Geoff Rathbone, the city’s general manager of Solid Waste.
Over the long weeks of the strike, 25,000 tonnes of rotting waste mounted as residents lugged bags to 26 temporary drop-off sites and seven transfer stations.
At 1 a.m. Sunday, crews finished the arduous task of removing waste from the final temporary site.
As many as 670 city workers from the waste, water and transportation departments tackled the trash mainly by hand, tossing the leaking bags into garbage trucks.
In some cases, they scooped up squishy bags using loaders and sucked up debris with vacuum trucks and sweepers.
“It was very difficult working conditions, without a doubt,” Rathbone said. “We had a lot of odour occurring during the cleanup.”
Rathbone downplayed the nastiness of the job, however. He said the crews are used to working around garbage and the odour is more of a nuisance than a health hazard.
This week, workers will power-sweep and power-wash each site, then collect the wash water for purification at a water treatment centre.
Crews can’t let wash water seep into the ground because the sites have been sprayed with permithium, a common pesticide for fly control.
Permithium is sometimes used to treat head lice, Rathbone said. “It’s safe to be around humans but from an environmental standpoint, we don’t want it to go into storm sewers.”
The cost of overtime pay hasn’t been calculated yet. Had the city hired private contractors instead of using city staff, Rathbone estimated the cost would have been 70 per cent higher.
Private staff would have been paid overtime, too, on the holiday weekend. The city would have also had to pay for the contractor’s equipment instead of using city-owned equipment.
Even so, after the first day of cleanup, some private contractors joined city crews when they realized they didn’t have enough trucks.
Workers also fished garbage out of about 5,000 litter bins lining Toronto streets. Crammed with paper cups, cans and fast-food wrappers, they had become sticky, overfilled eyesores.
By noon Saturday, the bins were empty and back in service. They still need to be powerwashed inside and out – a job that the city says will be completed this week.
Regular curb-side garbage and recycling collection resumes Tuesday according to the schedules residential neighbourhoods followed prior to the strike.
City-run child care centres also open Tuesday, as do museums and galleries, most splash pads, conservatories and greenhouses and some shelters and drop-in centres.
Outdoor pools are expected to open sometime between Wednesday and Saturday.