Solid Waste & Recycling


Toronto's 70 Per Cent Solution

Municipal waste managers across Canada could benefit from studying a new plan from City of Toronto staff that Council will deliberate on June 19. The plan -- if approved -- could set Toronto on the pa...

Municipal waste managers across Canada could benefit from studying a new plan from City of Toronto staff that Council will deliberate on June 19. The plan — if approved — could set Toronto on the path toward becoming the North American leader in waste diversion among large cities.

Staff advocate a volume/container-based “pay as you throw” program for residual garbage and a plethora of waste diversion schemes that cover everything from increased recycling and composting to an expanded network of reuse centres, and even potential municipal bans on difficult-to-recycle packaging (such as plastic clam shells).

The plan calls for public education programs and the establishment of working groups for in-store packaging, multi-family waste diversion and 3Rs. New requests for proposals will be solicited for such things as larger recycling containers and new processing plants to sort more recyclables and compostables from waste before landfilling.

It’s interesting stuff and, if approved, will fulfill a multi-year plan that Council approved in March, 2005 that aims to increase Toronto’s waste diversion rate from the current 42 per cent to 70 per cent, or approximately 250,000 tonnes per year of new diversion — a major challenge.

Council has denied or delayed staff recommendations in the past, so we’ll have to cross our fingers. For instance, Council rejected garbage bag limits and tags. Other ideas put over to the 2008 budget process have included: a waste reduction levy for multi-unit dwellings; a reuse centre at the Ingram Transfer Station; the addition of plastic film and polystyrene to the blue box; and a program to enhance door-to-door collection at townhouses.

However, some major developments have occurred, including the city’s savvy purchase of GreenLane’s landfill near St. Thomas (to allow phase out of Michigan waste exports). The city has tested different recycling and source-separated organics (SSO) programs in multi-unit buildings. It’s implemented single-stream recycling and expanded a cart-based SSO program to single-family homes across the city. No small feat.

Last year, more than 375,000 tonnes of residential waste was diverted from landfill, representing an overall diversion rate of 42 per cent (58 per cent for single homes and 13 per cent for multi-rez). The new plan would attain 70 per cent levels, some of it from multi-rez. The plan’s centrepiece is the volume-based rate structure (commencing around July 1, 2008) modeled on similar waste management programs in cities such as Vancouver, Quebec City, Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles. The rate structure would be applied to residual waste containers only, paying for disposal and also all the other waste diversion services.

The city doesn’t want to charge twice for these services, but lacks the legal power to simply remove the charges from the property tax, which is a provincial matter. So, staff are asking that a $183.5 million grant — equivalent to 2007’s solid waste costs — be rebated to residents, pending legal changes from the province. This seems fair.

But there are new costs. In order to fund aggressive waste diversion, staff are asking for an additional $54 million in 2007, some of which will pay for the new residue containers. This amount adds $62 to the $209 cost of waste services incurred by the average single-family home in 2007, and $46 to the average $157 for multi-residential dwellings. If simply left on the property tax for single family homes, this would equate to a 2.8 per cent tax increase (and 0.9 per cent for the IC&I and multi-rez sectors).

Even someone who uses the smallest volume waste container will still pay the budgeted 2007 cost per household ($209 for single family and $157 for multi-rez). At the curb, this means that only households that limit their waste to the equivalent of one bag every two weeks will be spared a hike. Families that choose the bin-equivalent of 1.5 garbage bags every two weeks pay an additional $41 per year; the three-bag equivalent bin will cost an extra $101 and the 4.5-equivalent bin will cost an additional $151. (Condo and apartment dwellers will pay less — their costs will rise an average of $46 annually.)

Public relations around the new plan was poorly managed and empowered critics to write that the program is a hidden tax grab, since the overall budget for waste services is increasing and the cost for some households will go up substantially. Some people will simply pay for a larger container and not reduce waste at all. However, people will at least see their waste costs separately, and the polluter pays principle will apply.

The new plan doesn’t follow the pure “utility” model, in which bureaucrats could potentially create a gold-plated system for themselves to administer, costs be damned. The new waste business unit — similar to the one used for water — will still be held accountable by elected officials who will oversee rate hikes.

No whining is allowed about having to source-separate all this stuff! This is the system people for which people have been clamoring, whether they realize it or not, and the hassle may change their shopping habits and lead to calls for less packaging. The waste diversion energy of roughly 2.5 million people is about to be harnessed; it’ll be interesting to watch it unfold.

Note: The next edition of this magazine will feature an in-depth look at Toronto’s plan and a report on the city’s experiments in diversion in the multi-residential sector.

Guy Crittenden is editor of this magazine. Contact Guy at

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