Ottawa

City's waste diversion rate stagnates as long-term plan launched

More than a decade after the green bin was introduced in Ottawa — and even longer since paper and plastic recycling became a reality  — the city's residents still divert less than half the waste they produce from the landfill.

Residents still diverting less than half of their waste from the landfill

Ottawa failed to improve its waste diversion rate in 2019, with statistics showing the city is one of the poorest performers among major Canadian municipalities. (Alistair Steele/CBC)

More than a decade after the green bin was introduced in Ottawa — and even longer since paper and plastic recycling became a reality  — the city's residents still divert less than half the waste they produce from the landfill.

The city's curbside waste diversion rate in 2019 was 49 per cent, only marginally better than past years, according to an update provided during a virtual technical briefing Thursday morning that laid out the city's long-term plan to deal with solid waste.

With the rate in multi-unit residences even worse, only 43 per cent of waste ended up being kept out of the landfill overall, city statistics show.

That makes Ottawa one of the poorest performers among many Canadian municipalities when it comes to diversion, faring worse than Halifax, Vancouver, Guelph and even Toronto.

Well over half of what residents threw away last year could have been recycled.

Residents in Ottawa diverted just 49 per cent of their waste in 2019. More than half of what we threw in the trash could have been recycled. (City of Ottawa)

The Trail Road waste facility is expected to reach full capacity by 2042. Finding a new site and building a new facility would cost well over a quarter-billion dollars, based on the experience of other cities.

"The last option for the city would be a new landfill," said Coun. Scott Moffatt, the chair of the city's environment committee.

He told reporters that he's personally not in favour of Ottawa buying an incinerator like one in Durham, Ont., which cost about $1 billion and, according to Moffatt, isn't great for the environment.

"Every other option that could come up — including diversion and other technologies — they all come ahead of those two options," he said.

Moffatt is helping lead the multi-year plan to come up with a new strategy that would make it easier for people to reduce their waste, especially in places like condo towers and other multi-unit residential complexes that were not originally built to accommodate recycling.

WATCH: Chair explains those multi-unit challenges

Over a decade after its launch, the city’s green bin program is still diverting less than half of the total waste produced from landfills. Coun. Scott Moffatt says the stagnant stat might have to do with a lack of program access for people living in multi-residential buildings. 1:11

City staff have completed the first phase of the plan, which includes collecting data on what residents in Ottawa are doing with their trash and laying out measures other municipalities have undertaken.

Over the next year, staff will be consulting with the public and developing a wide range of options for councillors, who are expected to approve a new garbage plan in 2022.

While last year's diversion rate was below 50 per cent, there have been improvements during the 2020 pandemic when it comes to the amount of waste being thrown into green bins. (Roger Dubois/CBC)

Diversion rate jumps during pandemic

Although Ottawa's overall diversion rate hasn't improved much, there have been improvements in the amounts of organic waste being put into the green bins, according to some city measurements.

March alone saw a 44.6 per cent jump in green bin tonnage over the same period last year.

When it comes to waste diversion, the week-to-week stats during the COVID-19 pandemic are even more impressive. Although residents are producing more of all kinds of waste — paper, plastics, food and trash — the biggest jump in tonnage has been in organics recycling.

Ottawa residents have literally thrown out tonnes more garbage since being urged to stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic. (City of Ottawa)

That could be because residents have been allowed to use plastic bags in green bins since last July. As well, with so many people at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, they're likely producing more organic waste.

The city's manager of long-term waste planning, Nichole Hoover-Bienasz, told councillors it's impossible to tell if the increase was a result of more households using the organics program, or simply that existing users were putting more into their green bins.

Hoover-Bienasz said the city will be conducting a survey of green-bin use later this year.

Past surveys have shown that about half of residential homes participate in the organics recycling program.

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