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The mixed-use development at 2 Tecumseth St., on the site of a former abattoir, will include five buildings with space for residential, institutional and retail units.PUBLIC WORK

If you peek through the fence at a major development site in Toronto’s West End, you might hear a lot of trash talk – but it’s all in the name of taking care of the environment.

The project at 2 Tecumseth St. is a 1-million-square-foot development on five acres, with five buildings set to rise from the rubble of a former abattoir. The developer, Toronto real estate firm TAS, is also leasing and redeveloping an additional adjacent building at the site of the Wellington Destructor, an incinerator and garbage transfer station built in 1925 and closed in the 1990s.

TAS doesn’t see the messy underpinnings of the project as an obstacle but rather an opportunity to demonstrate the virtues of a sustainable circular economy.

A circular economy in construction, or any other business that uses materials, is based on a simple principle: reduce waste, and reuse and recycle materials to minimize pollution, environmental degradation and climate change.

TAS is salvaging approximately 6,000 tonnes of building material instead of carting it away and dumping it. The developers estimate that this will avoid producing about 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions that would otherwise be created by producing new material.

“Anyone who grew up in Toronto in a certain era will remember the smell from the abattoir,” says Liza Stiff, vice-president of impact implementation and innovation at TAS.

The stench of sweating cattle and hogs may be long gone, but TAS wants to commemorate the site’s history, while at the same time demonstrating the potential cost savings and long-term benefits of reusing old building materials.

With demolition just completed, TAS plans to repurpose the site’s brick, concrete, steel and other materials to build five new buildings and transform the Wellington Destructor into a new community hub surrounded by public space.

The entire project, which developers hope will be complete by 2026, will be 65 per cent residential, with approximately 1,000 units including affordable housing, 25 per cent office or institutional and 10 per cent retail.

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Approximately 6,000 tonnes of building material will be salvaged to avoid producing an estimated 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions that would otherwise be created by producing new material.PUBLIC WORK

All materials are being itemized and stacked. The old bricks are being used to build retaining walls, and precast concrete panels that were embedded into walls are being repurposed for finishes in paving surfaces.

TAS also plans to retain the existing abattoir chimney to be used as an exhaust ventilator in a district energy heating and cooling system. In addition, the design team of the 2 Tecumseth project is looking at how heavy timber posts and beams on site can be repurposed as landscape furniture.

“We see bringing the circular economy to the development sector as really important,” Ms. Stiff says.

In addition to reusing materials, “the new development will be car-free and have a geothermal, district energy-based, low carbon operating system,” she adds. Toronto has several district energy systems, including systems at the University of Toronto, York University, Regent Park and the Enwave Deep Lake Water Cooling System that uses Lake Ontario water to cool more than 80 downtown buildings.

Ms. Stiff said using a circular economy approach to the project is essential as Canada has set ambitious goals to decrease carbon emissions from industry, vehicles and fossil fuels to net zero by mid-century.

In Europe you see more policies than in Canada around designing developments so they can be disassembled with the materials being reused.

Liza Stiff, vice-president of impact implementation and innovation at TAS

According to the World Green Building Council, construction materials and work are responsible for 11 per cent of global energy related carbon emissions (with heating and cooling adding another 28 per cent).

The alternative to reducing emissions is bleak. In May, 2023, the World Meteorological Organization reported that there’s already a 50:50 chance the world will experience average annual temperatures exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next five years – temperatures which scientists believe will harm people and the natural environment.

Currently, there are no major regulatory incentives for developers to reuse materials in Canada, says Ms. Stiff, but it’s necessary to try anyway in a world where resources are becoming depleted and getting more costly to produce and move around.

“In Europe you see more policies than in Canada around designing developments so they can be disassembled with the materials being reused,” she says.

“In Canada it’s still primarily voluntary, but many investors are starting to ask about [the circular economy],” says Tonya Lagrasta, vice-president and head of ESG at Colliers.

“They’re asking ESG-related [environmental, social and governance] questions about what percentage of building materials on a project are being reused,” she says.

Ms. Stiff sees a niche for construction companies that specialize in reusing building materials. She’d also like to see more buildings designed that take into account what will happen to all the materials when it’s time to tear them down.

“This kind of new thinking needs to be encouraged and extended through the entire building and construction value chain. It will take a lot of co-ordination among architects, engineers, builders and regulators,” says Nigel Etherington, an engineer and the founding principal of Planet & Company Inc., which advises planners and developers.

Benjamin Shinewald, president and chief executive officer of BOMA Canada, an umbrella group for building owners and managers, says the building industry is repetitive.

“It’s often less expensive to reuse materials, given that they have already been paid for, as opposed to [using] new materials which must be procured, delivered and installed. That said, some materials have a lifespan. Other materials may have challenges associated with them, such as asbestos,” he says.

“There is also a cost to transporting and disposing old materials and to procuring and installing new materials,” he adds. “That will always be part of the decision in any potential renovation, from a private home to a massive commercial or institutional building.”