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Could Apartment Buildings be the Answer to Toronto’s 70 Percent Diversion Rate Goal?

According to the city, apartment dwellers recycle and compost less than 30 percent of their waste.

Across North America, solid waste diversion targets and zero waste plans are popping up all over North America and the city of Toronto is no different. In fact, the city has had waste diversion in its sights for decades. Most recently, the city has set a diversion from landfill goal of 70 percent by 2026, a seemingly reasonable target, as the city already celebrates an overall rate of 52 percent.

However, taking a closer look at the numbers the city has found some work to do with a significant portion of its residents—apartment, condo and similar multi-unit dwellers. Nearly half of Toronto residents live in apartments, condos and co-ops. According to the city, those residents recycle and compost less than 30 percent of their waste.

In Toronto, multi-unit dwellings are defined as residences with nine or more units, and include apartments, condominiums, co-ops and some townhouses.

All is not lost. The city provides those residents—representing approximately 414,000 units across the city—in-unit recycling containers, kitchen catchers for organic material, educational materials and other support, including presentations and site visits to assist buildings with their waste diversion efforts. And it seems to be helping. Multifamily units are gradually improving their diversion rates. In 2011, those dwellings were diverting just 20 percent of waste, according to the city. In 2015, the rate was 27 percent—still far below residents in single-family homes, who are diverting 65 percent.

Much has been happening in Toronto to work toward waste management goals. In June, the city adopted a Long Term Waste Strategy recommending waste reduction, reuse, recycling, recovery and residual disposal policies and programs that are cost-effective, socially acceptable and environmentally sustainable for the long term. 

The strategy specifically identifies options for the multi-residential customers for improving participation and ensuring proper utilization of existing programs and services. This is especially important in the multifamilyl sector where opportunities for greater participation and decreased contamination exist.

“Most new households constructed in City of Toronto consists of low and high rise multi-residential buildings with condominium ownership as well as rental units, which makes this sector increasingly important in achieving waste reduction and diversion goals,” according to the waste strategy document.

Among the options targeting the apartment dwellers include organics management; waste collection methods; and planning, policies and enforcement. The waste strategy recommends extensive promotion, education and enforcement to the residents, property managers and superintendents to ensure program comprehension and compliance.

Waste from multifamily buildings will be the primary source of material for a mixed waste processing facility with organics recovery, should the city deem it necessary.

Toronto Mayor John Tory also is working to encourage apartment and condo residents to improve their waste diversion with a waste contest—Towering Challenge. All multi-residential buildings in Toronto can register to participate in the challenge. Over a six-month period starting in September, multi-residential building property managers, superintendents, owners and boards will work to increase diversion and reduce garbage volume. The city will recognize the building demonstrating the biggest changes in waste volume, blue bin recycling and green bin organics next spring.

Participants will be evaluated on a number of criteria, including efforts taken to identify and implement areas for improvement to the building’s existing waste management system, development of a plan to sustain waste diversion efforts in the long-term and the reduction of garbage volume over the challenge period.

“There are simple things buildings can do to save money and change behaviors by encouraging residents to recycle and compost more,” said Tory in a press release announcing the challenge. “It is time for the City of Toronto to once again be recognized as a leader in environmental issues. We need to get the whole city engaged in this work.” 

Participating buildings will pay for their garbage pickup but not waste diversion, which will save money and have a positive impact on the environment, he said. 

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