Hume: Are Toronto’s garbage bins half full, or half empty? - Toronto Star

November 9, 2012
Christopher Hume

Urban Issues, Architecture

Toronto is rich when it comes to creating garbage; poor when it comes to collecting it.

Twelve years after setting a goal of 100 per cent waste diversion by 2010, we're barely half way there. And as the city's latest budget makes clear, there are no plans or money to close that gap any time soon.

“The city has delayed capital investment yet again,” explains Emily Alfred of the Toronto Environmental Alliance. “It's really disappointing.”

The biggest obstacle is the lack of collection facilities in the hundreds and hundreds of apartment and condo buildings throughout the city. Incredibly, that means about half of Toronto residents don't have access to green bins or blue bins.

It's the same for most schools and shopping malls. As a TEA report released this week points out, “at the workplace (including offices, manufacturing and construction) most waste ends up going straight to landfill.”

“The provincial diversion rate for the industrial, commercial and institutional sector,” the study informs us, “is a shameful 13 per cent.”

The alliance suggests the city could reach a 70 per cent diversion rate simply by enforcing existing regulations. The fact is that many Torontonians live in residential towers and other buildings that don't meet basic municipal standards, this in the city that has been transformed, no, defined, by the condo.

“Getting green bins into apartments is easy,” Alfred insists. “Almost 90 per cent of what goes out in the garbage from multi-residential buildings could be recycled or composted.”

And, she argues, “Torontonians really do want to recycle. They know it's the right thing to do. But the first round of enforcement should be education.”

She wants the city to hire 22 new staff — one employee for every 200 buildings — to teach landlords and tenants about diversion.

The chances this will happen under Mayor Rob Ford are minimal to say the least. His is not a regime that accepts responsibility for waste other than to privatize its collection. With the corporate sector in control, the city can wash its hands of the matter.

But collection is only part of the story; garbage that isn't recycled is trucked to Green Lane, Toronto's landfill site near London. The city plans to construct a processing facility there that would remove 65 per cent of waste, but work has yet to begin.

At the same time, council's impulsive decision to outlaw plastic bags, though admirable, shows the extent to which waste has been politicized. Incineration is another victim of politics. The Scandinavians simply burn what they don't recycle and use the heat to generate energy and keep warm. They claim emissions are so low as to be non-existent. Though Ontarians remain wary of incineration, they have yet to come up with an alternative.

And in an era of official poverty, deferring expenditure on waste facilities goes down well with voters. You get what you pay for, of course, and in Toronto that means we are now known as an environmental laggard, as is the country.

Not only has the city missed its goals, those goals had already been lowered. In 2007, council revised diversion rates from 100 to 70 per cent. This year, Toronto is expected to hit 51 per cent. The target for 2015 is only 53 per cent.

“That's really poor,” Alfred laments. “Other municipalities across Ontario are doing better. We should at least be aiming for 70 per cent.”

A city that doesn't clean up after itself is not one you’d want to live next to; as any Torontonians will tell you; it’s bad for property values.

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