Michael Skaljin and Jedrick So work with The City’s Solid Waste Management Services. They speak to us on why the Canadian Waste Reduction Week matters, on circular economy and the challenges and opportunities we face as a city in waste management. The Corner @240 is funded by the Solid Waste Management Services.
1. Waste Reduction Week celebrates current efforts to combat our “take, make, dispose of” attitude towards everyday items by promoting and educating Canadian citizens on key sustainability themes. One of the key themes is a “circular economy”, can you explain what this means and how it can be practiced in everyday life?
As part of the Long Term Waste Management Strategy, the City of Toronto is working towards an aspirational goal of zero waste and a circular economy. A circular economy aims to reduce waste and maximize resources by moving away from the linear take-make-and-dispose approach to an innovative system that focuses on product longevity, renewability, reuse and repair.
A circular economy is based on three core principles:
- Limiting our reliance on non-renewable resources
- Maximizing the useful life of products and materials
- Designing out waste and regenerating natural systems
With only a few small changes in your daily routine, you can participate in a circular economy too. Here are some examples:
- Choose Reusable Products Over Single-Use Items
- Give Products a Second Life
- Borrow Instead of Buy
2. One of the aims of Toronto’s Long Term Waste Management Strategy is to divert 70% of Toronto’s waste away from landfill by 2026. What challenges does Toronto face in meeting this target? How do you plan on overcoming these issues?
The City’s diversion rate continues to be impacted by contamination as it relates to both improperly sorted materials entering the recycling stream as well as materials that are contaminated with food residue. The City continues to redirect small quantities of recycling to landfill that are too contaminated to process at the material recovery facility and would not be accepted by recycling markets.
It is also worth noting that while waste diversion (i.e. participation in Blue Bin recycling and Green Bin organics programs) in multi-residential buildings has increased over the last several years, it is still considerably lower than it could be. Multi-residential buildings only divert about 28% of waste from landfill, but they could divert over 70% of waste from landfill.
3. What particular difficulties does Toronto face in their waste management? Has Toronto’s Waste Management Strategy been impeded by coronavirus or have any new opportunities arisen out of the pandemic?
Contamination of the recycling (Blue Bin) continues to be a significant challenge. Approximately 30% of what is put in the Blue Bin doesn’t belong there. This includes items like clothing and other textiles, hoses, chains and containers with food. These contaminants can damage equipment, cause workplace injuries at the recycling facility and ruin otherwise perfectly good recyclables. Contaminated recycling costs the City millions annually.
It can be confusing for consumers to know how to properly dispose of products or packaging that indicate they can be placed in recycling (Blue Bin) or organics (Green Bin) program, when in fact they are not accepted in the City’s waste diversion programs. Please refer to the City of Toronto’s, know before you throw “Waste Wizard” app to find out what waste items go where at toronto.ca/wastewizard or on the TOwaste app
The objectives of Toronto’s Waste Strategy haven’t changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, however some changes have taken place as a result of the pandemic. For example, there has been a significant increase in litter with more people gathering in public spaces. This includes PPE items such as masks and gloves, among other general litter items and bags of garbage being dumped beside or stuffed into public waste bins.
4. What benefits can following the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Repair) have for residents in Toronto?
Reducing, reusing and repairing have many environmental, economic and social benefits for individual residents and society. Individuals can reduce waste and save money by buying secondhand items or borrowing/sharing items with neighbours or friends. Investing in good quality items can also result in cost savings in the long run and these items may be more easily repaired. Repairing offers an opportunity for residents to learn new skills and be more self-sufficient. By reusing leftover foods, residents can save money on groceries. Overall, the less garbage residents produce, the less their building will pay for garbage to be collected. The building can then invest these savings into building improvements.
5. In high-rise neighbourhoods such as St. James Town, are there any distinct challenges faced in waste management?
There are several waste management challenges specific to high-rise multi-residential buildings. It is difficult to monitor and enforce behaviour around proper waste sorting in multi-residential buildings. Older buildings typically have only one chute for garbage and residents need to bring down their recycling and organics to bins on the main floor, basement or outside. The lack of disposing of recycling and organics as conveniently as garbage is a significant barrier. Those who live in houses pay their waste management fees directly (based on the size of their garbage bin), whereas those who reside in multi-residential buildings contribute to their buildings’ waste management costs through their rent or maintenance fees, so there is a lack of a direct financial incentive for individual residents to reduce and divert their waste.
6. As residents, is there anything we can do to help make a difference?
There are many things residents can do to make a difference, including:
- Talking to their property manager or superintendent to find out who collects their building’s waste (the City or a private company) and then learning about the programs (e.g. recycling rules) and services offered. Residents can also contact 311 to obtain this information.
- Learning about all of the City of Toronto’s waste management programs and services by reviewing the annual Waste Management Guide that is mailed to all residents in December and/or reviewing the information found on toronto.ca/waste
- Making an effort to reduce their waste and divert as much waste as possible from landfill by participating in the Blue Bin recycling and Green Bin organics programs. Those in buildings that receive City waste collection service can check the Waste Wizard at toronto.ca/wastewizard or on the TOwaste app
7. The Corner @ 240 is a community hub aligned with the Reduce, Reuse, Repair goals. What role do hubs like ours play in the city?
The Community Reduce Reuse Program (CRRP) hubs were created to build a culture of waste reduction, reuse, sharing and repairing in Toronto. Focusing on five CRRP’s; bicycle, sewing, community composting, urban harvest and share reuse; our CRRP hubs acts as community connectors by creating a social infrastructure to effectively engage Toronto residents at a grassroots level in training and education and volunteer and employment opportunities. Generally speaking, for the City of Toronto, community hubs offer services such as health care, newcomer support to immigrants, senior and youth programming, employment opportunities. Many hubs are located in neighbourhoods facing high rates of poverty and marginalization. Hubs have also played a key role in COVID-19 response in their communities. Hubs have played a critical role in assessing and responding to local resident needs, delivering emergency food and supplies, organizing neighbour-to-neighbour support and mutual networks and launching new online supports to help isolated residents.
8. Do you think we will see more such community-based initiatives across GTA in the near future? How do you see hubs such as The Corner @ 240 developing in the future?
Hubs such as The Corner @ 240, help build sustainable communities by reducing the amount of waste going to landfill. Each day focuses on environmental efforts with new innovative ideas and solutions to help reduce waste. Since our CRRP’s offer education on waste reduction, skills training, opportunities for sharing and repairing, this will provide economic opportunities and encourage others to replicate such community-based initiatives. In addition to the current benefits, in the future community hubs will be required to provide an important role in building low-carbon neighbourhoods. Some CRRP hubs are already modelling climate-friendly practices including identifying community priorities connected to climate such as waste reduction activities but also including food security, active transportation and green space engagement.