Toronto homeowners got religion on the city's 70-per-cent waste-diversion target: They sort trash, haul multicoloured bins to the curb each week, and swallowed a new quarterly pay-as-you-throw fee.
But their faith may be tested with word that city hall won't come near the ambitious target next year as it grapples with plummeting prices for recyclables, a delayed rollout of the green-bin program in apartments and condos, and the wait for new waste facilities to be built.
City officials confirmed yesterday that the goal to reduce the amount of trash that goes to landfills by 70 per cent - pledged by Mayor David Miller in 2006 - won't be reached until 2012 at the earliest. By the end of next year, the overall diversion rate will be about 50 per cent, but near 70 per cent for single-family homes.
Solid Waste Manager Geoff Rathbone said a drop in world prices for recyclables and increased processing costs put a $9.9-million pressure on the 2010 budget. He said he has partially offset the shortfall by delaying the full expansion of green bins in apartments and condos until the end of 2011, but will still need a 2-per-cent general rate increase.
Only 15 per cent of Toronto's multidwelling buildings have green bins or are in the process of getting them. The plan was to get them all on the program by next year.
At the same time, the city faces a tight squeeze on green-bin processing capacity, made worse by Toronto's recent decision to cancel a contract with one of the four firms it hires to turn organics into compost, after it learned some material was dumped in a landfill.
The city will also depend on a $115-million mixed waste processing plant at the Green Lane dump near St. Thomas, which has yet to be tendered or built, for a full 8 per cent of the 70 per cent target.
"It was always a very ambitious goal," Mr. Rathbone said, adding Toronto's diversion rate "still puts us near the very top of North American cities of our scale and complexity."
Mr. Miller said he has no regrets about setting a goal that will help extend the life of the city-owned Green Lane dump to 2034. "The faster we got to 70 per cent, the longer that landfill is going to last. So that was why I [set] an ambitious date," he said.
Phil Byer, an expert on waste management and professor at the University of Toronto, agreed the goal was lofty but worthwhile. "The city should not be criticized for not meeting this goal," Prof. Byer said.
However, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong said the waste-diversion program is plagued by "pseudo-environmentalism" and politics. "They focus on coffee cups and plastic bags instead of focusing in on redoubling their efforts on things like multiresidential organics," he said, referring to green bins in apartments.The Town of Markham, which diverts 73.9 per cent of its trash, credits its success to the fact it is predominantly made up of single-family homes. However, the town also led by example, removing garbage cans from all town buildings, including from the desks of staff.
Toronto won't hit its goal of 70-per-cent waste diversion by 2010, instead coming in around 50 per cent. Here's how other nearby communities are doing.
Target: 75-per-cent diversion by the end of 2010
Current rate: 73.9 per cent
A community comprised almost entirely of easier-to-manage single-family homes, Markham had a head start in increasing waste diversion. It has also led by example - garbage cans were removed last year from the town's municipal buildings.
Target: 65-per-cent diversion by the end of 2010
Current rate: 44 per cent
Single-family homes in Hamilton have green bins, but the city is still working to roll out the program to 40 per cent of its apartments and condominiums, or about 20,000 units. Meeting the overall diversion goal by next year is "going to be tough," one city spokeswoman said.
Target: 70-per-cent diversion
Current rate: 49 per cent
Regional council had last year suggested setting the 70-per-cent goal by 2010, but staff now consider it a three- or four-year goal. Many of the tricky multiresidential units in the region, however, have private pickup, removing them from any new programs.
Target: 70-per-cent diversion by 2016
Current rate: 50 per cent
Serving 300,000 homes and 88,000 apartments, Peel has its work cut out for it in co-ordinating new services to hit 70-per-cent waste diversion. "This target is achievable, but requires that we embrace effective new methods to manage our waste," a statement on the region's website says.
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