Ontario's new organic waste plan puts focus on composting in highrises

Ontario's got a new plan to tackle organic waste in condos, apartments, co-ops and other multi-residential buildings.

Just over a quarter of highrise dwellers compost organics - and the city says that has to change

Toronto is hoping that new provincial rules can keep organic waste from the city's growing number of highrises and condo buildings out of landfills. (Jacy Schindel/CBC)

Toronto is hoping that new provincial rules will stop residents of the city's apartment buildings, condos and other multi-residential buildings from throwing food scraps in the garbage. 

Almost half of Toronto residents live in condos, apartment buildings or co-operatives, but they recycle and compost much less than single-family homes. 

Highrise residents divert 27 per cent of their waste, compared to 65 per cent for those who live in houses. 

Ontario's new Food and Organic Waste Framework looks to tackle that by changing building codes to require all highrises to have green bin infrastructure, as well as by eventually imposing an outright ban on any food scraps or other organics ending up in landfills.

Emily Alfred says that a lack the infrastructure can prevent green-minded highrise dwellers who want to keep organic waste out of landfills from doing so. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

Emily Alfred, who works as a waste campaigner for the Toronto Environmental Alliance, says it's often harder for people in multi-residential buildings to keep food and organic waste out of the trash, both because buildings lack infrastructure and because the practice isn't encouraged. 

"So that means they're just bundling up all their food scraps and organic waste, putting it in the garbage chute and it's just going to landfill," says Alfred.

The danger there, she explained, is that organics both take up space in landfills and create methane — a greenhouse gas. 

Collection varies building to building

There's also a patchwork of collection services for apartments, condos and townhouses.

About 65 per cent of multi-residential buildings are part of the City of Toronto's waste collection network. For those approximately 400,000 units, recycling and organics collection is mandatory.

The rest of units have private waste collection, so there's no recycling requirements and the waste ends up in private facilities.

Organic materials, if added to a landfill, could create harmful pockets of methane gas. (Amanda Margison/CBC)

In addition to changes to building codes, the new Food and Organic Waste Framework also looks to ban all waste that can be diverted from landfill beginning in 2022.

"Basically this mean organics won't be in the garbage anymore, at home, at work, or in the mall," says Alfred. 

Though she says she's not sure how the enforcement of the policy will work, she says the changes conform to what condo-dwellers already want. 

"Food doesn't belong in landfills," said Alfred. 

Expanding city facilities

Vincent Sferrazza, director of policy, planning and support for the City of Toronto, says a ban to keep organic waste out of landfills would also impact the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors. 

But first, the city needs to get ready to deal with a whole lot more organic waste. 

"We recognize that for a ban there needs to be the necessary processing infrastructure," he said. 

Sferrazza says the city's Disco Road transfer station is capable of processing 75,000 tonnes of green bin material a year.

The Dufferin organics processing facility on Vanley Crescent, meanwhile, can process 25 to 30,000 tonnes a year, but it is being expanded to accept more.

"By the end of the year we should be able to process 130,000 tones of organics and food waste," said Sferrazza. 

Though the six-year project to expand the Dufferin facility will cost a total of $76.8 million, Sferrazza says that extending the life of Toronto's Green Lane landfill will ultimately save money. 

"Sending less material to landfill will save money in the long run. Finding another landfill is a very costly and uncertain process," he said. 

'Short-term pain for long-term gain' 

Coun. Jaye Robinson, chair person of the city's public works and infrastructure committee, says the city is ready to make upfront investments to help the environment long-term. 

"If we have to invest in additional equipment in order to do that, I think it's short-term pain for long-term gain," she said. 

Coun. Jaye Robinson believes the city's investment in composting facilities will pay off in the long run. (CBC)

Robinson said changing the building code is coming at exactly the right time, given the number of new condos set to be built in the city. 

"This is very good, to force the hand of developers to design and construct buildings that support that," she said. "It's better to do it up front because it's difficult to retrofit afterwards." 

About the Author

Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for CBC Toronto on television, radio and online. He is also a National Reporter for The World This Weekend on Radio One. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.