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Out of the Dumpster, into the Recycling Bin

Updated: Jul 6

The City of Ottawa Solid Waste Services division achieved a significant milestone on June 18th as the Environment and Climate Change Committee finally greenlit the eagerly anticipated Solid Waste Master Plan. This comprehensive 182-page document outlines the City's strategy for tackling our waste over the next three decades and received final approval from the Ottawa City Council on June 25th.

Garbage
Multi-residential garbage, Ottawa - June 30, 2023

A key statement from the master plan I want to highlight is "that there is no one solution or silver bullet to address the ongoing and future challenges." This resonates with me because, while we all aspire for our municipalities to excel in waste management practices, the reality is complex and multifaceted. Just take it from me - Earthub's Items to Keep Out of the Landfill (ITKOOTL) Program process might appear straightforward (collect items, give to end user), but there are numerous 'behind-the-scenes' tasks we undertake to ensure the program operates efficiently while minimizing emissions. Our Pill Bottle Collection vividly illustrates the absence of a universal solution. To maintain hygiene and accessibility, the humanitarian relief organization (Matthew 25: Ministries) requires us to package the bottles in plastic ziploc bags before shipping them to Ohio. Every solution (such as diverting 150,000 pill bottles from landfills for reuse) comes with a new problem (like the use of plastic ziploc bags and emissions from ground shipping).


The Landfill Legacy


Ottawa is home to "the second largest active municipal landfill in Ontario," that being Trail Waste Facility Landfill (TWFL) - what an honour. If you review some of the City's 2020 documents - like technical memorandums and summaries of the current waste management system - you'll find that the projected end-of-life for the Trail Waste Facility Landfill was initially set for 2041. According to the Solid Waste Master Plan, however, it is now anticipated to reach capacity sometime between 2034 and 2036. With the differing terminology and lack of specific clarification (unless I am missing something), it's hard to say whether the original projection always aimed for full capacity by 2036, with 2041 as a shutdown date, or if there was a previous expectation for full capacity by 2041 that has since been adjusted to 2036.

We all know time flies. This date is sooner than we think, especially when it comes to managing waste from a city of 1.5 million people. So, why don't we just build a new landfill? While some may see landfill construction as straightforward - tossing your garbage into a designated area - the reality of building a $500 million landfill involves many different factors, a big one being site selection, taking into account:

  • precipitation

  • temperature

  • wind patterns

  • groundwater quality

  • proximity to urban cities

  • wildlife habitats

  • airport restrictions

  • topography

  • SEAGULLS


But even before considering these factors, the primary concern of the public echoes a common phrase: don't throw your junk in my backyard. Another significant issue that often captures public attention is the dollar signs. The selection of landfills falls under Ontario Regulation 232/98, established under the Environmental Protection Act. These regulations detail standards for waste management (Ontario Regulation 347), requirements for ownership application, design (including buffer area requirements, a hydrogeological assessment, environmental assessment, leachate collection, operation and maintenance procedures, etc.), and contingency plans. Throw all those requirements into the mix and the bill isn't exactly pocket change.


Now how do we extend the lifespan of our beloved Trail Waste Facility Landfill? Through DIVERSION.

Paris garbage
Garbage in Paris (photo from a friend) - March 23, 2023

Waste Not


So, what changes are being made in Ontario to achieve ultimate diversion? Enter the Blue Box Regulation (Ontario Regulation 391/21), alongside the Food and Organic Waste Policy Statement (a discussion for another day).


The Blue Box Regulation marks a provincial shift towards Individual Producer Responsibility (IPR), which basically translates to: producers are now responsible, and accountable, for our blue and black bins (note - under the Government of Canada this 'type' of programming is called "Extended Producer Responsibility" or "EPR" - also a blog post for another day). For example, if you consume a Coca-Cola product and recycle the bottle, Coca-Cola is now responsible for that plastic bottle. You may have heard bits and pieces of this announcement but why didn't anything major change for you? Let's go through the timeline first:


  • October 19, 2020: ON Government release a draft version of the Blue Box regulation

  • June 3, 2021: ON Government release final version of the Blue Box regulation

  • October 1, 2021: last day for producers to be registered with the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority, who will be regulating the program (if a new producer after this date, they have 30 days to register)

  • April 14, 2022: ON Government release amendments to the Blue Box regulation

  • July 1, 2023: Cities of Ottawa, Toronto, London, Owen Sound, and Sarnia transition to Individual Producer Responsibility (IPR), with more transitioning in September, October, and December

  • January 1, 2024: Cities of Niagara Falls, Orillia, Peterborough transition to IPR

  • March 2, 2024: Cities of Kitchener, Cambridge, and Waterloo transition to IPR

  • May 1, 2024: Cities of Barrie and Stratford transition to IPR

  • September 30, 2024: first day of the City of Ottawa's new firm 3-item garbage limit

  • 2024 transition locations still to come: Oshawa, Brampton, Mississauga, Pickering, Thunder Bay, and Windsor

  • 2025 transition locations still to come: Belleville, Guelph, Cornwall, Brockville, Hamilton, Kingston, Markham, North Bay, and more

  • January 1, 2026: Producers are now responsible for the implementation of a collection system across the province


The Individual Producer Responsibility registrants are now stressing out about establishing a province-wide collection system and meeting their regulatory obligations. To accomplish this smoothly, they hire a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) to manage this task. A PRO serves as an umbrella to numerous producers, for example, Circular Materials (a PRO) was founded by companies like Kraft, Maple Leaf, McDonalds, Metro, Coca-Cola, Nestle, PepsiCo, and P&G.

The reason there wasn't a hiccup to your waste, organics, and blue and black bin collections is because the City of Ottawa continues to handle collections during this transition period on behalf of the IPRs. The City is compensated by the PRO, specifically Circular Materials. The only noticeable change is that books are no longer accepted in your black bin.


Garbage
Multi-residential garbage, Ottawa - June 14, 2024

With uncertainties looming for January 1, 2026, the City of Ottawa wisely extended its garbage and organics collection contract with current vendors until March 29, 2026. This decision, discussed at length during the Environment and Climate Change Committee Meeting on June 5, 2023 (yes, I endured the 5 hours, 31 minutes, and 54 seconds to bring you this info!), ensures service continuity and minimizes operational impacts for residents, particularly considering impending changes from the IPRs and PROs under the Blue Box Regulation. [Note, the March 29th date is specified in this meeting but the SWMP just says 'March 2026'].


To reiterate, starting January 1, 2026, producers will assume full responsibility for managing your blue and black bins - the City of Ottawa will no longer be involved in your curbside recycling.


Diversion Dilemma


If I've effectively explained the Blue Box Regulation, you'll understand the reasoning behind the City of Ottawa's new 3-item garbage limit every two weeks, starting September 30, 2024. By limiting what can be put out, the City aims to prevent materials that shouldn't be in your garbage in the first place. This policy encourages increased recycling and composting in the blue, black, and green bins where they belong. The 3-item garbage limit under the Curbside Waste Diversion Policy was approved in the shorter 3 hours 51 minutes, and 23 seconds Environment and Climate Change Committee meeting on May 21, 2024.


Moreover, the more you divert into your blue and black bins, the less the City of Ottawa needs to collect. This not only saves money for both the city and residents but also extends the lifespan of the Trail Waste Facility Landfill.

Brittanny's landfill visit in DR - January 3, 2019

The IPRs and PROs must submit annual reports to the Resource Productivity & Recovery Authority (RPRA) through the Registry, verifying they've met the recovery targets required under the regulation. The regulation includes a table outlining the recovery percentages required from 2026 to 2029 and from 2030 onwards. Failure to meet these targets will result in penalties. The report data submitted so far are accessible to the public on the RPRA website.


City of Ottawa's Solid Waste Master Plan


What's in the plan? Essentially, the City of Ottawa's report outlines their strategy on mediating our waste and organics for the next 30 years - not a simple task whatsoever. The plan includes 5 objectives with 50 action items, covering short to long-term implementation plans that will eventually lead to the City's zero waste vision (we hope). Obviously, the overall goal is to hit diversion targets by decreasing our waste and upping our organics in the green bin. The results of hitting these targets means that the landfill life will increase therefore, saving costs, and would decrease methane emissions.


The City of Ottawa also emphasizes that this Master Plan will be a living document which will be updated every 5 years, recognizing the need to adapt to potential changes (because who knows how things could change within the next 30 years).



Rubbish Rebellion


If you haven't noticed already, I've subtly included some snippets of open dump landfills and garbage dumping in this blog post. It's a sad reality that garbage surrounds us every day, whether literally or figuratively in your life (I'm KIDDING! Haha). But in all seriousness, illegal dumping is a significant concern when it comes to implementing garbage restrictions. We need to collectively shift our mindset into realizing that this type of behaviour can affect our drinking water, destroy wildlife habitats, cause biodiversity loss, and impacts ecosystems - which provide us our oxygen, carbon sequestration, flood control...everything is connected.

Fight Climate Change - February 18, 2019

Why should you care?


That's a loaded question. It depends on many factors - your values, convenience, influence from peers, and family dynamics, especially with kids. Speaking from personal experience (sorry, friends), I'm surrounded by many who wouldn't even bother rinsing out a plastic container for the blue bin, let alone recycle properly. This challenge highlights the difficulty of making recycling systems work effectively.


Being realistic may seem negative, and it's disheartening to witness so much waste from those close to me, especially after they've praised Earthub. It's crucial to care because everything is interconnected—waste management, air quality, and climate change. If we want to live in a world where these issues aren't a concern, we all need to step up and do our part.


If you think one person can't make an impact, let me prove you wrong. Earthub's journey started with just me and a collection of 34 pill bottles from my family. Today, with the help of volunteers, we've diverted over 150,000 pill bottles from landfills for reuse.


Join us in making a difference. We have nearly 50 drop-off locations across Ontario. Help divert more items from landfills by dropping off what we collect (varies by city). For privacy reasons, we don't publicly list most locations, as they are our volunteers' homes with an Earthub Bin outside. Email us at environment@earthub.ca to find the nearest drop-off point.


Some of our phenomenal Ottawa volunteers over the years <3

If you liked this topic and want to hear more, let us know in the comments. There is plenty more to discuss about the Blue Box Regulation!


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