Toronto is full of rubbish. Or at least it soon will be if landfill in the city continues at its current rate.

Presently, 50 per cent of all residential refuse in Toronto ends up at the dump – and conservative estimates predict that this profligacy will leave Canada’s most populous city completely saturated by 2029.

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The impending threat of overflowing rubbish is nothing new in Toronto. During the ‘90s, the city was already filling up its last remaining tip – the deceptively pleasant sounding Keele Valley. Having no sites available on home turf, Toronto then began to outsource its rubbish to Michigan in the US, before returning in 2006 to once more dump on its own doorstep, this time at Green Lane landfill.

With warnings of an overload at the new site – and out of state tipping no longer an option – Toronto finally sought an alternative solution to landfill in 2013. Initially, incineration seemed an inevitability; however, after encouragement from local environmental groups, in 2015 the Toronto Long Term Waste Management Strategy was launched.

Now in its second year of operation, the forward thinking initiative prioritises sustainable living as a means of diverting as much residential waste as possible from ending up in landfill. It is hoped that the scheme will form the basis of a circular economy, wherein resources are repaired or repurposed rather than simply written off as refuse.

In order to achieve this aim, the strategy promotes its vaunted 5Rs. These comprise four genuine Rs – reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery – and then one slightly more tenuous R; residual disposal policies and programmes.

Of course, these new guidelines could prove difficult to embrace for a city that, just over a decade ago, was habitually creating the equivalent of 140 lorry loads of rubbish a day. To speed up the adoption of the scheme therefore, Toronto is attempting to improve local knowledge about waste reduction and recycling with initiatives such as community environment days.

An increase in collaboration between communities, social organisation and local government is also being encouraged as a way of spreading the concept of sustainability throughout the city.

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The grand goal of the project is to achieve a 70 per cent residential diversion rate by 2026, equal to some 200,000 tons of waste saved from the dump. Humans, animals and vegetation will all benefit from the diminished dimensions of the infamously insalubrious Green Lane. Meanwhile, resultant reductions in the release of methane will directly decrease carbon emissions in the city.

Toronto’s economy will also receive a boost. Investment in green industries will provide as many as 10 times the number of employment opportunities for locals as compared to a simple disposal model.

Alongside its sustainable refuse strategy, Toronto is concurrently developing a pilot program to capture natural gases generated by the city’s anaerobic digestion plant. This will facilitate a reduction in CO2 emissions by an additional 100,000 tons a year. The scheme is included in Toronto’s Climate Change Action Plan as the city builds towards a proposed goal of greenhouse gas emission cuts of 80 per cent by 2050.

While Toronto may have a recent past that’s littered with rubbish, it appears the city can at least look forward to a cleaner future.


Cities100 is a mission shared by Sustainia, C40 and Realdania to find the 100 leading city solutions to climate change. Read the 2016 publication here, and follow the conversation online using #Cities100

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