No green bin in your building? Ontario's plan to fix that may be off-track, experts say

CBC News

By Sarah MacMillan

For many people it's a daily routine: putting paper and cans in their recycling bin, and making sure vegetable peels and kitty litter end up in the green bin. But some Torontonians don't have the option to make the eco-conscious choices they'd like to. 

Despite a green bin program that's been running for two decades in Toronto, thousands of residents have no choice but to put food scraps and other organic waste directly in their garbage bin. 

Multi-unit residential buildings — which include condos, apartment buildings and co-ops — are not currently required to offer organics collection to residents. That's set to change in 2025 thanks to new provincial rules, but some environmental advocates worry the province may not be on track to properly enforce those rules. 

Among them is Emily Alfred, the waste campaigner with the non-profit advocacy group Toronto Environmental Alliance. 

"Right now I just have to say I'm disappointed. We're not really seeing the move that we wanted to see, and everyone knows that we need to get organics out of the garbage," said Alfred.

New policy coming, but no guidelines for businesses

Currently in Ontario, multi-unit residential buildings have the choice between municipal waste collection — which includes trash, recycling and organics — or going with a private company, which may or may not include organics collection.

In 2018, the province put out a policy statement related to food and organic waste, which included a plan to require multi-unit residential buildings with six units or more to offer organic waste collection by 2025.

Five years later, Alfred said it's concerning that the province has yet to release details about the specifics of the new rules, and how they will be measured and enforced. 

"The problem is it's just a policy statement at this point," Alfred said.

"It's not really clear that it's actually influencing the industry to shift how they do things, and there's no real clear direction or guidelines from the government on if and how they'll actually enforce it... It's a move in the right direction on paper, but we'll have to wait and see if it actually has an impact." 

Environmental policy consultant Peter Hargreave agrees, and said he would have expected more public information on implementation plans by this point.

"I think there is going to be need for assistance for some of these buildings, some of these building operators, owners, to ensure they understand what exactly are the rules, what is sort of layman's language around what I'm required to do in my facility, and what are the resources to help me to understand how I might implement," said Hargreave, who is president of the firm Policy Integrity. 

The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks declined CBC's request for an interview, but said in a statement that when it comes to enforcement of the rules, the ministry "may request" businesses and building owners "to review their activities, provide information and prepare a report about meeting their responsibilities under the policy statement." 

Spokesperson Lindsay Davidson said while it may be considered an offence for a business to not provide requested information, there are currently no penalties associated with failing to meet targets.

He said the release date for guidance for those affected by the new rules "is yet to be determined." 

'Get organics out of the garbage' 

According to the Toronto Environmental Alliance,  organic waste — including food scraps, food waste, pet waste and other compostable material — makes up more than a third of the waste produced by an average household. 

"When all of that material is going to a landfill, it's creating methane as it breaks down, and that's a really potent greenhouse gas."

According to the city, the Toronto green bin program diverted more than 140,000 tonnes of waste in 2021. 

However for multi-unit buildings, it's unclear just how much compostable waste is ending up in landfills. Overall, a much higher percentage of waste from multi-residential units ends up in landfills, compared with single-family homes. 

According to the Toronto Environmental Alliance, close to half of Toronto families live in multi-residential building.

Alfred says about two thirds of buildings use municipal collection. Of the remaining third, she said some do offer residents organics collection through the private collection, but it's unclear how many do as it's not tracked. 

What she does know is that many residents are frustrated. 

"We regularly hear from residents in condos or in apartment buildings that don't have organics collection, because you know they're really disappointed," she said.

"If we want to meet Toronto's climate goals, we want to reduce waste going to landfill, we really need to get organics out of the garbage."

This article was reposted from CBC News

It was originally published April 28, 2023