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1. Dig Conservation, Not Holes

Executive Summary

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is literally made of stone, sand and gravel, collectively known as aggregate. Aggregate is in the cement we use to make sidewalks, bridges, large buildings, sewers, the foundations of our homes, and the underground tunnels for subways, cars, and pedestrian walkways.  Large amounts of aggregate are also used to make our roads, both the beds on which they sit and the asphalt we use to pave them. Put simply, aggregate is everywhere.

For a material so vital to our cities, it’s strange there is so little publicly available information about how much aggregate we use to build the various types of urban infrastructure we rely on.

The aggregate industry has revealed that, each year, the GTA consumes 40%[1] of the aggregate produced in Ontario. Over the next 25 years, the GTA will continue to use large amounts of aggregate as urban infrastructure is renewed and as new urban infrastructure is built. According to industry estimates, the GTA will use about 1,500,000,000 tonnes (1.5 billion) of aggregate over the next 25 years.[2]

Most of the aggregate will come from pits or quarries marking the countryside around the GTA, hidden from most of us until we fly over them. To date, the pits and quarries that have largely “fed” the GTA are right in the middle of some of the most precious ecological and agricultural land in Ontario: the world-renowned Greenbelt. For example, Canada’s largest aggregate quarry is in the middle of the Niagara Escarpment, designated by the United Nations as a World Biosphere Reserve.

If the future imitates the past, the GTA will get this 1.5 billion tonnes of aggregate from environmentally sensitive lands in the Greenbelt, like the Niagara Escarpment. To put this in context, the land disturbed to get 1.5 billion tonnes of aggregate is about the same size as a 60 foot deep (20 metre) hole from Toronto’s Bloor Street to the waterfront between Greenwood Avenue and the Kingsway.

If we don’t change our current aggregate usage, renewing and building the GTA’s infrastructure will destroy precious agricultural land and world-renowned natural spaces in the Greenbelt.

The key recommendations of this report call for GTA municipalities to individually and collectively adopt a 3Rs approach -- reduce, reuse and recycle -- to aggregate consumption in order to ensure GTA infrastructure does not destroy the ecological integrity and agricultural livelihood of the Greenbelt. It also recommends that municipalities urge the Province of Ontario to develop new aggregate policies that mandate the 3Rs and promote the production of “sustainable” aggregate.  


[1]Ontario Stone Sand and Gravel Association (OSSGA) Website http://www.theholestory.ca/inhtw.php

[2]OSSGA’s About Aggregates #5 publication – Importance of Aggregate. “The projected consumption of aggregate in Ontario for the next 25 years is 4 billion tonnes.” 40% of 4 billion is 1.6 billion; to be conservative this report uses 1.5 billion tonnes as the GTA’s 25 year projected aggregate demand. 


Dig Conservation Not Holes.pdf8.55 MB