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Scarborough condo leading way toward ‘zero waste’

One wildly successful Scarborough condo building may be a model for the city in keeping more of our garbage out of the dump.

Toronto’s path to diverting all waste from a rapidly filling landfill might start at a Scarborough condominium.

The 1,000 or so residents of Mayfair on the Green responded to skyrocketing waste fees with a multi-pronged diversion campaign. They turned the garbage chute into an organics collector, tapped city educational tools including multilingual signs and cut trash output to one dumpster every two months from one dumpster every week.

“If you really talk to the people and they really understand, they will help,” says Princely Soundranayagam, the building’s superintendent who has spearheaded the transformation since 2004.

“Also, put a dollar mark (of savings) in front of them. In the beginning it is hard to get people to change but once you explain the benefits, they will co-operate to save money and for the environment.”

The condo used to spend $7,000 to $10,000 a year to get drains cleared. The problem stopped when Soundranayagam gave residents empty containers to bring down used cooking oil. Now they sell the used oil.

Toronto Environmental Alliance is calling Mayfair on the Green an example for the kind of thinking Torontonians — and city staff — urgently need to embrace.

“They are blowing everyone out of the water” by diverting more than 85 per cent, compared with the 26-per-cent highrise average, says Emily Alfred, a senior campaigner at the environmental advocacy group.

“The city should study that building, find out what they did and use it as a model . . . get people thinking differently. The city should invest in people and education to get them excited about reducing consumption and diverting more of their waste.”

Toronto used to be a diversion leader. In 2007, when the residential diversion rate was 42 per cent, the city said it would get to 70 per cent by 2010. More than five years after that target, the rate is stalled at 53 per cent.

As the city consults Torontonians on its solid waste strategy, Toronto Environmental Alliance has released a road map to “zero waste.”

The 27-page report says the city is failing to ask why two-thirds of material in the average Toronto garbage could be diverted to existing waste programs but isn’t.

The report cites models for change and suggests Toronto invest in successful programs such as Second Harvest, which distributes surplus food from restaurants and stores to community agencies.

“If they had twice as many trucks, they could go to twice as many restaurants,” Alfred said. “There is a tool library (for reusing items) that struggles to find space, that has to rent space. The city could easily boost its diversion rate with some smart investments.”

The clock is ticking and big money is at stake. Green Lane landfill, near London, Ont., bought by Toronto a decade ago for $220 million, is expected to be full by 2029.

Alfred warned that it takes years to get environmental approvals for a new landfill. It’s expensive to bury waste, and so are technological answers like incineration. Diversion is the quickest, cheapest and best solution, she said.

The path to zero waste


41%: Amount in a typical house garbage bag that could be diverted
54%: Amount in a typical apartment/condo garbage bag that could be diverted

Green bins are finally starting to be offered to highrise dwellers, but with a city policy change they could be everywhere from offices to restaurants and malls, Toronto Environmental Alliance says. Community groups such as Second Harvest could be expanded and encouraged. Civic examples to follow include San Francisco, where all buildings must collect organic waste for compost.


20%: Amount in a typical house garbage bag that could be diverted
24%: Amount in a typical apartment/condo garbage bag that could be diverted

While Torontonians are pretty good at using blue bins, they send up to 84,000 tonnes of recyclables to landfill every year. Consistent rules ensuring people have the same access to blue bins at home and work would boost the diversion rate. Companies need to reduce packaging. In Vancouver, businesses are forced to collect the same recyclables as homes and schools.

Hazardous waste, electronic waste, durable goods

4%: Amount in a typical house garbage bag that could be diverted
4%: Amount in a typical apartment/condo garbage bag that could be diverted

These items are a small part of the waste stream but pose environmental and health hazards. In Toronto it is inconvenient for businesses, schools and others to dispose of hazardous and electronic materials properly. Mobile, highly visible depots would help. Community partners that could be expanded include the REBOOT second-hand computer service.


6%: Amount in a typical house garbage bag that could be diverted
4%: Amount in a typical apartment/condo garbage bag that could be diverted

Clothing, toys and furniture that could have a second life are dumped in landfill every day. Reusing those items is even better than recycling because it conserves the energy that went into producing them. The Toronto Tool Library, Repair Café Toronto and Kind Exchange are showing the way. Regulations could force companies to make products with longer life spans.

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