March 18, 2016
Leah Wong, NRU Publishing
A final round of public consultations begin later this month on new tactics to encourage Toronto residents and businesses
to recycle and reduce the volume of garbage sent to the landfill—seen as key to successful city waste diversion efforts over the long term.
Promoting diversion-conscious practices by homeowners, high-rise dwellers and businesses is a central theme of the city’s draft waste management strategy presented to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on March 1.
A third, and final, round of public consultations is scheduled for late March and April.
“Through the development of the strategy we realized that Torontonians already have a lot of the tools [needed] to reduce the amount of waste that is sent to the landfill now,” Solid Waste Management Services policy, planning and support acting director Annette Synowiec told NRU.
City council identified the need for an updated long-term waste management plan in 2013, directing staff to develop a strategy that now is in draft form.
Toronto Environmental Alliance waste campaigner Emily Alfred praised the city’s diversion focus, noting that so much of what ends up in the garbage doesn’t belong there. Th e alliance’s Zero Waste Toronto report found that about 71 per cent of what is put out as garbage by house residents—and 86 per cent of what comes from apartment renters and condo dwellers—is either compostable, recyclable, reusable or repairable.
“We’ve got a great system in Toronto. [The city’s] waste management tools and diversion programs actually cover about 85 per cent of the waste that comes out of the average household,” Alfred told NRU. “If we used it properly we would cut the amount of waste ending up in the landfill at least by half… Any long-term waste strategy should be looking at getting that divertible waste out of the garbage bag.”
One strategy to change resident behaviour is to make it as easy, if not easier, to compost, recycle or give away things than to throw them in the garbage. Multi-residential dwellers, in particular, lag behind residents in ground-related units in their commitment to diversion.
Toronto waste management planning acting manager Charlotte Ueta said the draft strategy off ers several options to encourage diversion, including mobile drop-off depots that collect small household items, textiles and household hazardous waste as well as other recyclable or reusable materials. For people living in densely populated areas and who may not own a car, the drop-off depot or transfer station would come to them.
The more that residents and businesses divert waste the less the city will need to invest in new capital infrastructure for handling garbage. Th e draft strategy recommends the city consider a mixed-waste processing facility in Toronto, but only after efforts have been exhausted to maximum reuse and recycling by residents and businesses.
“The business case for the [mixed-waste processing] technology still has to be determined, because there is a new potential waste management landscape coming to Ontario,” said Synowiec.
The city is unsure about the implications of Bill 151: Waste-Free Ontario Act, introduced by Ontario Environment and Climate Change minister Glenn Murray, for the city’s integrated waste management system. The bill, currently in second reading, seeks to create a circular economy, holding producers accountable for recovering resources and reducing waste associated with their products and packaging.
What’s unclear in the legislation, say city officials, is who would be responsible for the cost of items diverted under city programs, such as blue bin recycling.
“If the city is no longer responsible provincially to manage that waste it becomes a private sector or industry challenge to deal with. It doesn’t make sense for the city to put all this capital into trying to get this waste out of the waste stream if [its] not going to be financially compensated,” said Synowiec.
City staff are monitoring the bill’s progress and have outlined some of its potential implications for Toronto’s future waste management system. Even if the bill becomes law, regulations may take years to come into eff ect. Ueta notes that five-year reviews will be built into the city’s waste strategy, allowing the city to update its strategy to reflect provincial legislative changes.
The final round of the city’s consultation starts on March 29 and runs until April 27, the last day for the public to participate in an online survey on the draft strategy. During the final consultation phase, the city plans to host four events that focus on top challenges in waste diversion and possible solutions.
All of the events are open to the general public. However, three of the events examine specific issues: residential diversion; waste from businesses and small-scale renovators; and recovery of materials and disposal of residual waste.
While supportive of the city’s strategy, Alfred hopes the final version will include more aggressive timelines than currently exist as well as other measures to track the strategy’s success. She’s concerned that there are no timelines at present for beefing up promotion and education about Toronto’s existing programs.
“We also need to measure how well the education and communication tools work,” said Alfred, noting that the city tracks waste diversion but not the effectiveness of promotion efforts and education campaigns. “We think there needs to be better measurement and transparency at how well the communication tools we’re using are, so we can constantly improve them.”
Once the consultation wraps up, staff will consider the feedback and develop a final waste strategy that is expected to be considered by the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in June and by council in July.