In the last few years Toronto has implemented several changes to its waste management system and I began to wonder what kind of effect they’ve had on waste diversion in the city. The goal, by the City’s waste management team, is 70% diversion from dumps by 2010. This goal has as much, if not more, to do with the cost of shipping the garbage to Michigan as it does with the environment — and by the end of this year we will no longer be able to ship garbage to Michigan. Below are three of the most recent programs that the city has implemented and how we consumers have responded. (Note: the deposit-return program implemented by the LCBO is a provincial program).
Implementation of the $0.05/shopping bag in Toronto. The city imposed a fee of 5 cents per bag as of June 1, 2009. I contacted Matthew Green in the waste department office of the city to find out if it had made any difference to plastic bag use. He responded,
While the City does not obtain or retain retail sales figures on the number of plastic retail shopping bags distributed from stores in Toronto, we have seen public statements from major retailers describing the reduction in plastic bags.
Matthew sent me figures that some of the major grocery chains have sent him.
In a nutshell,
- Loblaws reported “distributing approximately 75 per cent fewer plastic shopping bags per $1000 in sales.” Source: http://micro.newswire.ca/release.cgi?rkey=1704203007&view=62151-0&Start=20&htm=0
- Metro (Metro Ontario Inc.), in June 29, 2009 press release, stated: “”Four weeks after introducing a $0.05 charge for single-use grocery bags, Metro grocery stores across Quebec and Ontario are reporting that 70 per cent fewer bags have been distributed in store, when compared to the monthly average.” Source: http://www.metro.ca/corpo/centre-nouvelles/communiques2009/200906291.en.html
So, basically, a simple and almost insignifcant charge of 5 cents has had a huge impact on single use plastic bag distribution. 70% or greater reduction in single plastic bag distribution at the main grocery stores.
LCBO deposit return program: In the case of the LCBO deposit-return program I wondered if as many containers were making their way back to the Beer Store (return depot) as anticipated. Because glass was already being recycled via the blue box, this program is more about getting a higher quality recycling product.
According to The Beer Store’s Operational Report for 2008, the LCBO’s deposit-return system saw the first year’s return rate come in at 67% on average (the PET and asceptic packaging return rates were significantly lower than cans and glass rates). In 2008, the rate increased to 73% (76% and 79% for glass and can return rates, respectively). This glass is recycled and reused to make new glass bottles and fibreglass, and, according to the report, the new products are produced in Ontario. Note: The average annual return rate for beer bottles is somewhere around 98% (It was actually at 99% in 2008-2009). In the case of beer bottles, most are reused on average 15 times before they’ve outlived their useful life.
If you prefer to put your bottles in the blue box, they still get recycled, but because the glass is mixed it will go into lower-grade products (plus you lose your 10-20 cent per bottle deposit).
Green Bin Waste: The green bin program is now fully implemented across 510,000 single family dwellings in Toronto. Wet garbage account for about 30% of all waste. This garbage is now diverted to an organic waste processing facility where the waste is turned into energy (methane gas production) and compost. The city has a 90% participation rate, and the program diverts 100,000 tons of waste saving 2,750 truck trips to Michigan annually.
Note: Contrary to what you might think, compostable bags are NOT wanted for the green bin program in Toronto. It is best to use ordinary plastic bags. For more information see http://www.toronto.ca/garbage/biodegradable_plastic.htm.