How York Region could help solve Ottawa's waste diversion woes
Toronto-area municipality diverts up to 90 per cent of its waste — including by burning it
It's not all trash talk, but one Toronto-area municipality does have some pointers for the City of Ottawa on how to handle its waste diversion program.
The Regional Municipality of York, made up of nine towns and cities north of Toronto, has good reason to — its waste diversion rate is significantly higher than the capital's rate.
A recent report from Waste Watch Ottawa (WWO) showed only 42.5 per cent of Ottawa's residential waste was diverted from a landfill, whereas the province's top performers diverted more than 60 per cent.
And when it comes to large municipalities in Ontario, York Region is at the top of the list. Once the energy produced from burned leftover waste is factored in, the municipality diverts nearly 90 per cent of its waste from the landfill.
Convenience is key
The reason? It's about making it easier, said Laura McDowell, director of environmental promotion and protection with the Regional Municipality of York.
"We found that convenience really does drive diversion," McDowell told CBC Radio's All In A Day.
York Region, along with Toronto, allows pet waste, diapers, sanitary products and even compostable plastic liners in the green bin. Ottawa does not.
McDowell said the plastic liners are especially important to help residents deal with the "yuck factor."
York Region and Ottawa also differ when it comes to recycling. Instead of alternating weeks for paper and plastic recycling and requiring colour-coded bins, York Region has a single blue box for all recyclables — and it's picked up every week.
York Region focuses on extra 'R'
And while most people are likely familiar with the three 'Rs' – reduce, reuse and recycle, York Region added a fourth R, "recover," back in 2009.
Using a waste processing facility jointly owned with a neighbouring region, the Durham York Energy Centre processes around 140,000 tonnes of waste annually, turning it to energy. However, the facility remains controversial because it burns trash.
Earlier this decade, Ottawa had hoped to incinerate its waste as well — but a long-term plan with waste company Plasco to convert garbage into electricity never came to fruition.
"We're also focusing through our SM4RT Living Plan efforts to actually reduce waste — so [we] try to eliminate it from the curb in the first place," McDowell said.
The region has introduced repair cafes, so that instead of throwing out that bike or tool when it breaks and buying a new one, people can learn how to fix them.
They've also held curb swap events, such as a big yard sale in all nine municipalities within York Region, where anyone can put stuff they don't want on the curb so their trash can become someone else's treasure.
And for people in apartment buildings, they can put their items on a table in a common area.
It is a different way of thinking. I have to say we owe our success to our residents. Our residents are very engaged.- Laura McDowell
"It is a different way of thinking. I have to say we owe our success to our residents. Our residents are very engaged," McDowell said.
In an effort to divert even more waste, the region introduced a pilot project for getting rid of textiles like clothing.
"It's small steps," McDowell said. "But a bunch of small steps can get you there as well."