Toronto has one of the most comprehensive integrated waste management systems in North America and manages over 900,000 tonnes of waste each year. In 2019, a total of 399,824 tonnes of residential waste was diverted from landfill through the following programs:

  • Green Bin organics
  • Blue Bin recycling
  • Yard waste and Christmas trees
  • Backyard composting
  • Grasscycling
  • Large appliance/scrap metal
  • Community Environment Day events
  • Household hazardous waste
  • Electronic waste pickup.

The combined residential diversion rate for single-family homes and multi-residential buildings (with nine or more units) was 53 per cent (compared to 52 per cent in 2018).

This breaks down into a diversion rate of:

  • 64 per cent for single-family homes
  • 28 per cent for multi-residential buildings.

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 2019, the City continued to 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:

  • generation rate by household
  • 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. In 2019, 850 kg of clothing was diverted, 1,500 kg of surplus food was redistributed, and 801 bikes were repaired through the Programs.

Extended Producer Responsibility

In August 2019, the Province of Ontario initiated a process to develop a regulation that will make producers of packaging and paper products 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 they put into the marketplace easier to recycle once they are responsible its end-of-life management.

Residential Waste Diversion – 2019

Program Garbage Collected (tonnes) Waste Diverted (tonnes) Diversion Rate
Single Family Residential 194,155 338,001 64%
Multi-Unit Residential 162,769 61,823 28%
Total Residential 356,925 399,824 53%

Diversion Summary – 2019

Program Tonnes
Blue Bin Program 95,956
Yard Waste/Christmas trees 88,839
Backyard Composting 19,255
Green Bin (Organics) 133,786
Environment Days/Depots/Reuse Centre 3,169
Large Appliances/Scrap Metal 5,830
Grasscycling 14,882
Household Hazardous Waste 1,912
Electronics 838
Deposit Return and Stewardship Program 15,450
Tires 19,908
Diversion in Tonnes 399,824
Garbage 356,925
Diversion and Garbage 756,749
Percentage Diversion 53%

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.