Toronto’s garbage is about to get greener. Our city’s waste currently generates 2.27 million tonnes of CO2eq GHG emissions annually. In order to achieve Toronto’s city-wide GHG targets, we’ll need to significantly reduce emissions from the waste system. Unfortunately, after many years of steady improvement, progress on increasing waste diversion and reducing emissions has stalled in recent years.
That’s why we’re excited about the city’s new Long-Term Waste Management Strategy. Developed over the course of three years, including an extensive public and stakeholder consultation process which engaged thousands of Torontonians, the strategy was approved by City Council in July. The plan targets achieving a 70% waste diversion rate by 2026 (from 52% today).
Here are three great things we’re seeing in the plan:
1) Towards zero waste: embracing the circular economy
City Council endorsed an aspirational goal to work towards a zero waste future and a circular economy. This aligns with the Provincial goals set as part of the new Waste Free Ontario Act, legislation that passed in June to divert waste from landfills and encourage recycling and compost innovation. In simple terms, a circular economy aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems and business models, such as a factory manufacturing engine parts completely out of recycled materials and reusing any waste that remains. Council assigned a cross-divisional Circular Economy Working Group to develop a strategy which would make the City of Toronto the first municipality in Ontario with a circular economy.
2) Focus on organics
The plan will tackle institutional, commercial, and industrial organics, which is important because organic waste that is not recovered for diversion from landfill not only contributes to GHG emissions from transport to landfill, but is also responsible for almost all of the methane emissions from landfills. Staff will report back next year on the feasibility of achieving 100% organic waste diversion in the residential sector, and requiring all non-residential buildings to participate in organic waste diversion programs.
3) Waste diversion over waste disposal
The strategy rightly prioritizes waste reduction, reuse, recycling, and resource recovery in a stepwise fashion that will reduce GHG emissions while deferring the need for new capital investments in waste disposal facilities. The City’s primary landfill (Green Lane) was projected to run out of space in 2029, but the strategy aims to extend its life to at least 2040 by focusing on diversion. The avoided cost of expanding or replacing the Green Lane landfill can thereby offset the investments needed to increase waste diversion. If new capital infrastructure is required, the first priority is a mixed waste processing facility which would mechanically separate recyclables and organics from garbage to further increase diversion.
We’re glad to see that many of the recommendations from residents, community groups, and stakeholders were considered as part of this process, and looking forward to seeing how implementation of the plan can contribute to a low carbon future.
Image credit: Globe and Mail