Toronto has one of the most comprehensive integrated waste management systems in North America and manages more than 786,000 tonnes of residential waste each year. In 2020, a total of 413,673 tonnes of residential waste was diverted from landfill through the following programs:

  • Green Bin organics
  • Blue Bin recycling
  • Yard waste and Christmas trees
  • Large appliance/scrap metal
  • Community Environment Day events
  • Household hazardous waste
  • Electronic waste pickup
  • Activities done by households such as backyard composting and grasscycling.

2020 Residential Diversion Rates

  • The 2020 combined residential diversion rate for single-family homes and multi-residential buildings (with nine or more units) was 53 per cent (the same as 2019)
  • The 2020 diversion rate for single-family homes was 63 per cent
  • The 2020 diversion rate for multi-residential buildings was 26 per cent.
Program Garbage Collected (tonnes) Waste Diverted (tonnes) Diversion Rate
Single-Family Residential 203,964 353,082 63%
Multi-Unit Residential 168,652 60,591 26%
Total Residential 372,616 413,673 53%

Material Breakdown for 2020 Residential Waste Diversion Rates

The City follows the methodology for diversion reporting as set out by the Resource Productivity & Recovery Authority (RPRA) Datacall. The Datacall is guided by the Generally Accepted Principles (GAP) for municipal waste measurement, which was established in 1999 to develop a standardized reporting framework that could be used by municipalities across Canada to report waste generation, diversion and disposal. The City’s overall diversion numbers include tonnes collected and processed by the City as well as additional tonnes diverted through other means and calculated based on the Generally Accepted Principles (GAP) for municipal waste measurement.

Program City Collected & Processed Items (tonnes) City Items +  Provincial Allowances for Other Diversion (tonnes)
Blue Bin Recycling 101,612 343,273
Yard Waste/Christmas trees 92,395
Green Bin Organics 140,051
Environment Days/Drop-Off Depots 3,264
Electronics 673
Large Appliances/Scrap Metal 3,643
Household Hazardous Waste 1,636
*Backyard Composting 19,255
**Grasscycling 15,477
***Deposit Return and Stewardship Program 15,585
****Tires 159 20,082
Diversion in Tonnes 343,432 413,673
Garbage 372,616 372,616
Diversion and Garbage 716,049 786,290
Percentage Diversion 48% 53%

*Calculated using Generally Accepted Principles (GAP) default of 100 kg/backyard composting/year.
** Calculated using Generally Accepted Principles (GAP) as a percentage of the leaf and yard waste tonnes collected based on relevant waste management policies the City has in place (e.g. user-pay system).
***Calculated using Generally Accepted Principles (GAP) default of 5.51 kg/per capita by total population converted to tonnes for metal and glass beer containers sold through the beer store and all types of wine and spirit containers sold through the LCBO.
****Calculated using Generally Accepted Principles (GAP) default of 7.1 kg/per capita by total population converted to tonnes for passenger and light truck tires diverted through the Used Tires Program.

Factors Impacting Diversion Rates

One of the factors impacting the diversion rate over the last several years is the changing nature of packaging. As the diversion rate is a weight-based metric, it has been impacted by the shift from heavier packaging materials, such as glass and metal, to lighter ones such as plastic as well as a reduction in the amount of packaging used. Laundry detergent, for example, is now sold in a concentrated form and packaged in smaller plastic jugs.

Other factors impacting the diversion rate include:

  • changes in consumer behaviour
  • increase in online shopping (which generates additional cardboard packaging)
  • decrease in print media (e.g. newspapers and magazines)
  • increase in prepared foods, food delivery and meal preparation kits.

Additionally, our 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. Recycling markets also continue to be impacted by international restrictions on acceptable levels of contamination which have resulted in:

  • a market demand for higher quality recyclables
  • less revenue from the sale of recyclables
  • higher recycling processing fees.

In 2020, the City continued to identify and redirect small quantities of recycling to landfill that were too contaminated to process at the material recovery facility and would not have been accepted by recycling markets.

As weight-based diversion rates do not accurately reflect the overall picture of waste management success, the City has developed additional metrics to better measure performance. These additional metrics were recommended by the Long Term Waste Management Strategy and include:

  • waste generation rate by household
  • waste disposal rate by household
  • total tonnes managed
  • food waste reduction (organics diverted from landfill)
  • greenhouse gas avoidance from tonnes diverted from landfill.

Putting Reduce and Reuse First

In addition to educating residents about proper participation in its waste diversion programs, the City also strongly promotes the first two R’s of the waste hierarchy – reduce and reuse. To support and promote a culture of reduction and reuse, the City initiated Community Reduce & Reuse Programs across Toronto. These Programs are delivered in neighbourhood hubs and educate residents on ways to reduce and reuse through activities such as bike repair, canning and preserving to reduce food waste, clothing repair, community composting, and the sharing and repairing of household items. As of the end of 2020, more than 1,379 kg of clothing and other textiles had been diverted, 3,432 pounds of surplus food redistributed, and 3,501 bikes repaired/refurbished through the Programs.

Potential Impact of Extended Producer Responsibility

The Province of Ontario has developed a regulation that will make producers of packaging and paper products fully financially and operationally responsible for the end-of-life management of materials that they introduce into the marketplace. This is known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). A potential benefit of EPR is innovation in packaging, as producers will be driven to make the packaging that they put into the marketplace easier to recycle once they are responsible for its end-of-life management. All municipalities are expected to be transitioned to the new EPR model by 2026.

In September 2020, the City of Toronto contracted an environmental consultancy firm to conduct litter audits at 300 pre-selected locations across the city.

The purpose of the audits was to assess the composition and amount of litter present on Toronto streets. The methodology used in the 2020 audit was consistent with those of previous years.

2020 Audit Results

Litter is classified into two size categories. Large litter is equal to or larger than four square inches (25.8 cm²) and includes items such as newspapers, beverage containers and different types of packaging. Small litter items are smaller than four square inches (25.8 cm²) and include items such as gum, cigarette butts and napkins.

Key findings from the large litter audits:
• The average amount of large litter has decreased by 59.7% since the first audit in 2002.
• The total number of large litter items decreased by 21.2% from 3,835 items in 2016 to 3,024 items in 2020.
• The most commonly found item in the large litter audit was non-branded towels/napkins, representing nearly 9.5% of all large items audited.

Key findings from the small litter audits:
• The average amount of small litter has increased from an average of 12 items per site in 2016 to 13 items per site in 2020.
• The total number of small litter items increased by nearly 8.1% from 3,509 items in 2016 to 3,794 items in 2020.
• The most commonly found small litter item was chewing gum, accounting for 22.5% of all small litter audited, followed by cigarette butts at 18.1%.

More information is available in the 2020 Toronto Litter Audit Report. 

 

In 2014, the City of Toronto engaged an independent consultant (Ernst & Young LLP) to review Solid Waste Management Services current collection and operational practices, to identify potential areas for improvement and provide recommendations in a final report for additional safeguards to public safety.

Ernst & Young reviewed four business practice areas to enhance public safety:

  • Waste collection operations provided by City staff and contracted staff
  • Routing of collection vehicles and equipment
  • Operator training
  • Vehicles and equipment design

Final Report

In November 2018, Solid Waste Management Services, in partnership with Civic Hall Toronto, hosted a human-centred Design Sprint to get insights into the problem of contamination in recycling, which is costing the City millions of dollars annually.

The main objectives of the event were to:

  • Better understand the challenges around recycling, from a resident perspective
  • Gather ideas around how to address these challenges
  • Generate insights on how design can improve the Blue Bin recycling program to reduce contamination.

The Blue Bin Design Sprint-Final Report provides analysis based on the comments of participants who came to the Design Sprint event and how they navigate and experience the Toronto Blue Bin recycling system on a day-to-day basis.