November 07, 2012
Urban Affairs Reporter
Lack of progress in boosting the city's waste-diversion rate is in large part due to the failure to expand the green bin program beyond 25% of apartments.
Belt tightening under Mayor Rob Ford is thwarting Toronto’s efforts to achieve its lofty waste-diversion goals, critics say.
In 2007, city council set a target of diverting 70 per cent of municipal waste from landfill by 2010, chiefly by expanding the green bin program to apartment and condo buildings.
Toronto has about 500,000 ground-level homes and 500,000 apartments and condos. The city-wide diversion rate is currently 49 per cent, thanks to heavy participation from curbside homes, which divert 64 per cent. The diversion rate for apartments is only 25 per cent.
“This is the third budget in a year where we have done nothing to advance recycling,” said Councillor Gord Perks.
“I think from day one this mayor has been doing everything he can to stop us from getting to 70 per cent,” Perks said. “This budget is more of the same. If you believe in recycling, you’re not being well served.”
Ford’s office didn’t respond to the Star’s request for comment.
Perks was commenting on the fact the proposed 2013 solid waste budget holds the line on rates, meaning there’s no extra money available to work on introducing the green bin to apartment buildings.
And the city has been dragging its feet on building a new recovery facility that would comb through trash and pull out items of value before it goes in the landfill, Perks added.
The general manager of solid waste, Jim Harnum, said the city can’t become more aggressive on apartment composting until it finishes building a new composting plant on Disco Rd. in Etobicoke and upgrading the existing Dufferin plant near Finch and Dufferin.
The city will be able to compost more kitchen scraps and other organics when the new facilities come on-stream, likely in 2014, Harnum said.
The solid waste department will release its plan early next year on how to make progress — through meetings and workshops — on bringing the green bin to apartments.
“We want to accelerate that this year, because we should have more capacity,” Harnum said. But he conceded that some people are weary of being told to be patient.
“Some of the frustration that some of the councillors express is that they’ve been hearing this for some time.”
The Toronto Environmental Alliance believes the Disco Rd. facility could have been built much faster, pushing the city closer to the 70 per cent goal.
“There’s been a lot of delays and setbacks over the years,” said Emily Alfred, waste campaigner with the alliance.
In fact, Alfred said, the city should be building yet another plant, because Disco and Dufferin couldn’t handle all the organics once apartments, schools and commercial buildings come online.
“We should be building another one, and we should be looking into that right now,” Alfred said.
Meanwhile, the green bin itself is due for an overhaul, Harnum said.
The city plans to issue a request for proposals soon for a new, larger bin that could be picked up by a truck with a mechanical arm, the way waste and recycling bins already are handled.
The new green bin may be about the same size as the smallest waste bin, he said.
The bin will also need a new lock that will automatically unlatch as the mechanical arm picks up and empties it.
“We’re going to challenge the industry to make a better bin,” he said. “The upside is the homeowner can put more stuff into it and we can pick it up automatically, which not only reduces injuries to our staff but increases our productivity.”
If all goes well, the city could begin distributing a new green bin by late next year or early 2014, Harnum said, estimating the roll-out could take at least a year.
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