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2006 Waste

City of Toronto

Integrated Waste Diversion Plan

Population: 2,481,494

Before 2000, Toronto diverted 28 percent of its residential waste, with limited curbside collection programs. In only five years, the City of Toronto's integrated waste reduction plan has doubled waste diversion rates to 56 percent. Its collection bylaw was amended to make recycling mandatory throughout the city, and bylaw officers were hired to help educate residents about the need to recycle. Toronto also boasts the largest organics diversion program in North America. More than 500,000 households participate, including 30 multi-unit buildings. Toronto's composting facility receives 25,000 tonnes of organic material annually and the City is now studying how it could use the methane from this composting process to create heat and power. The City's goal is to divert 60 percent of waste from landfill in 2006 and 100 percent by 2012.


In the late 1990s, the City of Toronto faced imminent closure of its only landfill site, the Keele Valley landfill in the adjacent City of Vaughan because the site was reaching capacity. Left with almost no options for other landfill sites in southern Ontario (largely due to strict provincial environmental controls), the City signed a contract to haul non-organic and non-recyclable materials to a landfill in Michigan.

Neither residents nor City Council were happy with this situation. "The one thing that really is untenable as far as Torontonians are concerned is to continue to be trucking to Michigan," says Councillor Shelley Carroll, Chair of the City's Works Committee. The trucks carrying waste disturb residents and the environment along the route, and produce greenhouse gas emissions. The Michigan landfill also charges $60 per tonne for waste disposal, compared with $12 a tonne at the Keele Valley landfill.

Things came to a head when the Keele Valley landfill closed in December 2002. City Council felt that the answer was to reduce the amount of garbage going to landfill sites.


  • The amount of waste hauled to Michigan has been cut from 140 to 150 truckloads per day to 85 to 95 truckloads per day.
  • About 56 percent of single-family waste was diverted in 2005, compared to 28 percent in the 1990s.
  • More than 90 percent of eligible households participate in the Green Bin program. The City believes that the wide range of acceptable organic waste contributed to swift adoption of the program.
  • In 2005, waste collection and disposal, including organics, cost the City $124 per tonne. Today, each tonne of organics diverted from landfill saves the City $56 in haulage and disposal costs.
  • Toronto's organics facility processes 25,000 tonnes of organic material each year, and the City is hoping to add up to four more facilities. The City is also investigating the use of methane gas, a byproduct of the composting process, as a renewable energy source.
  • The mandatory recycling bylaw has resulted in the collection of approximately 3,300 extra tonnes of materials per year.
  • The Multi-Unit Building Waste Reduction Levy is expected to divert 13,890 additional tonnes of recyclable materials per year.

Lessons Learned

  • GRASSROOTS EDUCATION WORKS. City staff and councillors made several public appearances demonstrating the Green Bin program and other waste initiatives. They also provided support to multi-unit building owners and the business sector.
  • WASTE BYLAWS MUST BE ENFORCED. The City made recycling mandatory and followed up with enforcement. Council hired dedicated bylaw officers to educate residents, and for those failing to achieve the desired results, provided the officers with the tools to levy fines.
  • ONE STREAM WORKS FINE. Toronto discovered that there was no need to separate recyclables, such as glass, cans and paper. Councillor Carroll explains that buyers of recycled goods have more sophisticated processes that sift glass shards out of pulp paper, for example. "The biggest cost saving is in the collection. It's faster and cheaper with one stream and you can get so much more in the truck if you just have one big hold."
  • PEOPLE MAY SURPRISE YOU. The City believed it would be a tough sell to convince apartment dwellers to take their organic pails to the basement. During the pilot project, however, tenants embraced the program, with 60 percent of tenant households using the green bins from the start.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES ARE POLITICAL ISSUES. "If you've got people on your City Council saying, 'You can't do that in my neighbourhood,' once you point out to them that this will become a highlight that they can take credit for, they stick their big toe in," says Councillor Carroll. "No one ever regrets it."

Partners and Collaboration


  • City of Toronto


  • Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas
  • Greater Toronto Apartment Association, and other tenants' associations
  • Small business community
  • Owners of multi-unit residential buildings
  • Stewardship Ontario
  • Waste Diversion Ontario
  • Toronto District School Board
  • Toronto Catholic District School Board
Page Updated: 21/12/2015