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< Playground Maintenance | Problems 2007 | Rink house header trench repair >

Description: Parks Supervisor indicates that fire ash is a prohibited substance and cannot be picked up by City; it turns out that it could be picked up by Green Bin program, but that is not yet implemented at the park.
Status: Open
Categories: Waste, Enforcement

started May 15, 2007

Illegal wood oven and campfire ash disposal

From Recreation staff Mayssan Shuja to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, May 14 2007

It would be great if we could get a pick up of ash next to the ash pit in front of the big oven. There is quite a lot and more to come, so the sooner the better. Ash was placed in many recycling boxes for easy pick up.

From Parks supervisor Peter Leiss to Recreation staff Mayssan Shuja, cc to others including Jutta Mason May 14 2007

Parks can longer pickup the ashes from the Wood Burning ovens as this is a prohibited substance for disposal.(Please see the attached Document - law0746.pdf)

I would suggest that you look for alternatives to disposal. The ashes could be used in the gardens in the Park. (Please see the attached (UsesForFireplaceAshes.pdf))

From Jutta Mason to Parks supervsior Peter Leiss, cc'd to others including the park list, May 14 2007

Re: no more ash pickup from Dufferin Grove bake ovens, City says wood ash is a PROHIBITED SUBSTANCE

Peter, what you've uncovered here about wood ashes being a prohibited substance is quite a revelation -- just the tip of the iceberg, as I see from reading the attached bylaw. Park trash mixed with pop cans and paper is also prohibited, even dusty trash! When I consider that this by-law is from 2004 and the City only just began offering recycling in parks in 2006, the number of times that Parks Maintenance must have had to break the City's own bylaw, just by hauling the park litter bags to the dump, must have been very alarming for your staff! And it still goes on. I can can imagine that you must be alarmed by this by-law too, since you as the supervisor are ultimately responsible for all these violations.

I am cc'ing this to our neighbourhood list and a few media people, with the idea that the more people who consider the problem of illegal trash in parks, the more good solutions we may collectively come up with.

Just to clarify: other prohibited substances in the municipal by-law you attached here are

- pieces of wood, greater than 4 feet long (e.g. all those pieces of wrecked picnic tables, rotted-out bench slats etc., in most parks including Dufferin Grove, can't be dumped) -- City of Toronto By-law No. 746-2004 Section (P)

- trash mixed with dog feces (in every garbage bag in the park) -- Section Q)

- trash mixed with recyclables (every garbage bag in the park) -- Section (T)

-- Incinerator ash, red ash and "any other type of ash" -- Section (X) -- campfires and wood oven ashes (from tree branches) are lumped with trash burned in incinerators

-- Dusty materials -- Section (Y)

Focusing only on ash for a moment -- you have attached some material suggesting alternative uses for wood ash. We could "use the ash as fertilizer" in the park gardens (but your material mentions it will kill the plants in any large amounts). Or it can be "used as an inspect repellent or to make soap, or to wash woodstove windows or to improve traction on slippery sidewalks."

Possible specific applications at the park:

1. Mix the ash in with the other mixed park trash -- the existing mixed bags are already prohibited, so it should make no difference -- additional benefit is it may absorb some of the dog poo smell in the trash bags

2. Scatter the ashes all over the park to fertilize the grass -- the only problem is that the wood-oven ash is often mixed with nails so that might be tricky for the park lawnmowers

3. save the ashes for winter and use them on slippery sidewalks all around the park -- that would be less toxic than the large amounts of salt currently used by Parks Maintenance -- not as attractive, though, if the sidewalks look gray-ish and people track ashes into their houses.

Neighbours -- do you have any other ideas, now that Parks supervisor Peter Leiss says his park maintenance staff won't pick up ashes anymore?

Peter, of all the many regulations you have proposed over the last four months, to stop people from cooking food with fire in parks, this by-law seems the most far-ranging. If you want to comply with the whole by-law, though, you'll need to figure out how your staff can separate all the rest of the prohibited trash before they take it to the dump. Tricky -- and expensive -- at a moment when the parks and rec general manager is calling for 10% internal spending cuts. Maybe there's another solution for the park's wood ash? People already separate it out, so that's one less step. Where does the City takes its own incinerator ash?

From anonymous Dufferingrovefriends listserv post (handle: "it's just me") to listserv, May 14 2007

You could stop producing the ash.

From Jutta Mason to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, May 15 2007

Suggestions about where to put park ashes have begun to flow in. The regular anonymous correspondent from the listserv ("it's just me") gives her regular solution -- just quit producing ash, i.e. stop using the bake ovens or having campfires. On a different note, a park friend sent an interesting link this morning:

The suggestion in this link about using park oven/campfire ash to build up paths is particularly interesting in the case of Dufferin Grove. It's the only park of its size in the city to still have a dirt path as its main thoroughfare (although paving the path was first recommended in 1923). So in our case, until the day when the two major dirt paths actually make it onto the capital projects list, spreading the ash on the paths could top up the ruts.

Working with ashes could be an interesting project for the many school classes who book the pizza oven for their class trips. Their teachers say that they love having the kids make food in an oven of the same kind that was traditional in the cultures their parents and grandparents came from. We could add spreading ashes on path ruts as part of their school outing experience. We have a big magnet and the kids could pick out the nails that way -- like in the fairy tale of Cinderella picking the peas out of the hearth ashes!

Soap-making is another traditional activity, mentioned in the material you sent yesterday. I have ordered 20 lbs of organic suet from Beretta's at the farmers' market, and maybe we can set a big pot of lye boiling and the kids can all go home with soap at the end of the day.

Since you agreed last year (when the problem by-law had been in place for two years already) that your maintenance staff would pick up the ashes 4-5 times a year, (, the park program staff may have to set out the bins by the main trash pick-up corner for now. Re-orienting the park programming to include path paving and soap-making takes a little prep time.

However, from an ecological point of view, I am grateful that you've raised this important bylaw issue. If you like, we could talk to the teachers about having the kids sort through the park trash bags too, to remove the prohibited materials from them. This could help you with your larger maintenance-staff-by-law-violation troubles, although there are some safety issues that may have to be considered. Would you be able to help out by supplying the park with a few boxes of child-size protective gloves?

From Prof.Gerda Wekerle, Environmental Studies, York University, to Jutta Mason, May 15 2007

Just saw your note re ashes. My mom used to make her own soap as we had a coal-burning stove. She used lye. It is very caustic and if it gets into an eye it can blind you and take off the skin if it spatters on skin. While it's a great idea, the level of supervision you'd need is really high. And the final product doesn't look and smell like the soap we buy. It's very strong smelling laundry soap.

Why can't the city just collect it with the composting?

From Jutta Mason to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, May 15 2007

A well-known professor from York U. Environmental Studies, Prof.Wekerle, has sent a strong caution (below) about using the ash for soap-making with children. So that takes away one possible use for our wood ashes. I admit that I did have some doubts myself, despite the upbeat tone of the suggestion-list you sent us.

What's more, the staff at Dufferin Grove have looked high and low for the magnet we used to have, for separating the nails from the ash. They can't find it anywhere. Until that magnet turns up, we can't really spread the ash on park paths because people would be unhappy about stepping on nails, or riding over them with their bikes. (Plus park users would get pretty sooty.)

Spreading the ash on the grass might fertilize the grass. But again, if we can't find the magnet, I wouldn't want to be standing anywhere near the mower when the grass-cutters come, if the mower blades are spitting out the nails that are still mixed in with the ash.

Sigh. Our possibilities are shrinking. I'm hoping you can help by answering my two questions:

1. where did your staff take the ashes last year, when you were still removing them during your park cleanup? 2. what does the City do with all its incinerator ash?

I'm hoping that the answers you give will lead us to a solution. Much of the wood that's burned in the park ovens is clean, certified skid-wood (hence the nails left over after burning). The wood is a waste byproduct of consumerism (big ships bring skid-loads of Nike shoes from China, etc.) If we didn't burn the waste skids in the ovens to make bread and pizza and Friday Night Supper (at temperatures so high that combustion produces very little smoke once the fire is well-started) -- then there would be lots more (unwanted) volume for the landfills.

So despite the smoke and the ashes, there is some environmental good that comes from the cooking and ash-producing activities. And then there's the social and emotional good that comes from the beauty of fire and how it transforms food.

So I do hope you will help find a solution to the problem you have brought to our attention.

From Chris Gallop, assistant to City Councillor Adam Giambrone, to the Dufferingrovefriends list, cc to directors, managers, and media, May 15 2007

Councillor Giambrone and I are deeply troubled to learn about all of the many trash disposal violations noted in the emails, that are taking place at Dufferin Grove Park. Recycling and doggy doo-doo mixed in with the trash; oversized pieces of wood; ashes; and dusty materials; all being disposed of illegally---it's quite a list!

I'd like to thank Jutta for her research and creative suggestions on how the illegal ash disposal issue can be resolved.

Councillor Giambrone trusts that the Parks and Recreation management team will work together, with their usual professionalism and spirit of cooperation, to rectify all of these illegal waste disposal issues at Dufferin Grove Park without ANY further disruptions to park programming or the community's enjoyment of the park.

I will follow up with the management team to discuss these issues and ensure that the appropriate actions are taken to resolve the situation.

Auto-reply from Don Boyle, City of Toronto Director of Recreation, May 15 2007

I will be away from the office until May 22, 2007.

From Parks supervisor Peter Leiss to Jutta Mason, May 15 2007

It would be useful to work out a solution.

Dedicated load(s) of material would be the target of the bylaws. Mixed loads of material are picked up during the normal pickup process. Unfortunately there is little that can be done with mixed waste.

Parks is working very hard to to divert the maximum amounts of materials that are removed from Parks. Parks is providing recycling containers and attempting to educate to encourage the public to pitch in.

If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me directly.

From Jutta Mason to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, May 16 2007

I am confused by your response. Do you mean that anything can be dumped into normal park trash bins and that the regular park garbage trucks are not "the target of bylaws" when they show up at the dump with their prohibited loads? So that if we started mixing the ashes in with the dog feces, and the paper and pop cans and whatever else is in the park trash baskets, City of Toronto By-law No. 746-2004 Sections Q and T would not be enforced?

The optics are not good on this. (I've removed the media contacts and the listserv from this thread because this story might have more legs than anyone wants.)

A couple of questions, to see if there's a better way to deal with the wood-ash problem you've raised: 1. what did you do with the ashes your crew picked up from the park last year? 2. what does the City do with its incinerator ashes?

From Parks supervsior Peter Leiss to Jutta Mason, May 17 2007

To answer your questions.

1 The ash was disposed last year at a Transportation Yard. The material would then be hauled away by a private contractor along with other materials to an approved disposal site.

2 The City does not have incinerators so there is no incinerator ash to dispose of.

Parks has made arrangements to move the ash to the City of Toronto Urban Farm to be used as amendment for the soil. Parks will absorb the costs associated with the transportation of the ash to the farm.

Thank you for your input.

From Genevieve Trickey to Jutta Mason, May 17 2007

I've forwarded a biodynamic farmer's suggestions for using ash. Perhaps the Dufferin Grove community would be interested in composting it? Or maybe it would be allowed in the green bins.


In order to make a good compost from kitchen scraps it is good to layer it. The first layer should be something dry like dried up plant debris, or dry leaves, or straw. Then the kitchen scraps. Lime or ash can be sprinkled on top of the scraps. If you use lime you need less, but for say two litres of kitchen scraps, sprinkle on about a cup of ashes. Then it would be good to put a thin layer of either soil or finished compost over that, then cover it with the dry material.

From Jutta Mason to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, May 17 2007

More advice is coming in for the wood-ashes from the park. As you see, a helpful listserv reader has sent word that wood ashes are identified as good for composting kitchen scraps, at a ratio of one cup of ash per two litres of food scraps. Also the Councillor's office has discovered that ashes are accepted in the city's green bins.

Your e-mail this morning says that Parks will have to pay extra to transport our wood ashes to the City of Toronto Urban Farm. (Riverdale Farm?) But is that really necessary if the ashes can be put into the green bins every week? The park ovens don't actually generate that much ash each time there's pizza day or baking. It's just that it's accumulated because the park program staff were told to put all the ashes into recycling bins for pickup by your maintenance crew, and then your crew didn't pick them up for many months -- for reasons we just learned from you last week.

So if your park maintenance crew could remove the accumulated ash containers this time, and take them to the Transportation yard for pickup as they did the other times, park program staff can put the new green bin protocol in place, separating out the nails at the same time. Does that work for you?

From Parks supervisor Peter Leiss to Jutta Mason, May 17 2007

The request to pick the ashes only came late last week from Mayssan. This is not a situation where Parks has not responded for many months as you have characterized.

The ashes will be picked by Parks staff and they will be transported to the Urban Farm for use at that location.

The Parks Waste Diversion Committee is working with Solid Waste Management on many projects including a Green bin program. This program will be operating as a pilot in selected parks until such time as SWM is in a position to accept additional inputs.

In the interim Parks Maintenance staff will continue to pick up the ash on request. It would be useful to have the nails removed form the ash.

From Jutta Mason to Parks supervisor Peter Leiss, May 17 2007

re your comment: "The request to pick the ashes only came late last week from Mayssan. This is not a situation where Parks has not responded for many months as you have characterized."

Last September 13 (2006) when the ash removal issue came up, you wrote, "this is the first I have heard of it." Park program staff Mayssan wrote back describing the arrangement that program staff had with your predecessor. Here is the correspondence, from the dufferinpark web site's "problems and solutions" section:

In that email thread from last September you will note that Mayssan described to you the location of the ash containers, for your staff to pick up the ashes when the buckets were full. This is the accepted way of picking up trash and recyling at the park -- no need to make a special call, the ash boxes were right beside the recycling bins, which are also cleared when they're full. I believe that's why Mayssan did not call you to ask for ash removal until the program staff finally ran out of boxes, last week.

From Recreation staff Mayssan Shuja to Parks Supervisor Peter Leiss, cc Jutta Mason, May 17 2007

Its true I sent the request only last week and thats quite clear in the email thats been sent around (14th of May). But most of the parks staff are well aware that ash in the recycling bins require a pick up. Previously, parks staff have helped us out by picking it up directly from the pit, its been that kind of collegial understanding.

In any case, I see that your saying upon request only - so can you advise me when the pick up will be? There is so much right now that we need to empty the first batch then fill up the bins again, so it will require coordination between the depts.

Also, there is too much ash to go through right now to realistically move nails.

From Parks supervisor Peter Leiss to Jutta Mason, May 18 2007

The ashes will be picked up and transported to the urban Farm on request from Recreation staff as I stated in my previous email.

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