Waste Diversion Programs in Ontario in 1996-2010


The purpose of this study is to examine and evaluate various waste diversion programmes in Ontario during the period 1996 to 2010. Waste diversion is a very important component in modern solid waste management and the key objective is to minimize the amount of landfill disposal. A review of literature suggested that municipal solid waste management in Ontario is complex, and multidisciplinary approach is needed.

The waste management teams are required to understand the sources and generation of wastes, waste characteristics, risks management, emerging technologies, laws and regulations, waste trends, and economic aspects. In this study, Statistics Canada waste data were collected for the period from 1996 to 2010. Although Ontario started waste diversion programs in 1980s, data during the earlier periods were not readily available. It is found that Ontario had made significant progress in waste diversion until 2008, when the volumes of diverted wastes started to decline.

For instance, Ontario generated over 9 million tonnes of solid wastes in 2010, but only 2.7 million tons (or 29.7%) was diverted. The results suggested that Ontario should review its current waste diversion programs and develop new waste management frameworks. The new approach should include the following concepts: implementation of 3Rs, producers based approach, product development and packaging protocols, and development of specific waste management techniques based on materials or locations.


William Mueller has observed that waste recycling has become a critical element as more wastes are generated (Mueller, 2013). Policymakers have the daunting task of choosing the best recycling practices to ensure effective diversion of wastes from landfills. Consequently, waste diversion has increasingly become a vital element of solid waste management across many cities globally.

In this regard, Ontario City had adopted a waste diversion act to enhance management of solid wastes. Ontario’s Waste Diversion Act, 2002 aims to “promote the reduction, reuse and recycling of waste through the development, implementation, and operation of waste diversion programmes” (Ministry of the Environment, 2008 ). In short, the Act focuses on reducing waste materials that go into landfill.

To understand the effectiveness of Ontario’s Waste Diversion Act, 2002, the Environment Accounts and Statistics Division of Statistics Canada has become a critical body for collecting, analysing and providing trends and practices on waste management in Canada. Statistics Canada gathers data on waste management from private companies and the government through its local authorities because they have necessary data required for studies related to waste diversion in Ontario and other cities in Canada.

The aim of this report is to evaluate the effectiveness of waste diversion efforts in Ontario by using data collected between the year 1996 and 2010. The results would be useful for effective decision-making for waste diversion in Ontario and other parts of the world.

Literature Review On Recycling Programmes And Diversion Practices

Traditional methods are no longer effective

Available literature (MacBride, 2013; Ministry of the Environment, 2008; van Haaren, Themelis, & Goldstein, 2010; Mueller, 2013) was reviewed on recycling and waste diversion practices in Ontario and other cities such San Francisco. Landfills, incinerators and other traditional methods of managing waste materials are no longer effective as Ontario generate huge amounts of wastes.

Consequently, it is hard pressed to look for alternative ways of managing waste materials. This calls for effective disposal of wastes through planning and controlling them in economical and environmentally friendly manner in Ontario. Hence, disposal of waste materials in cost-effective and environmentally friendly way are important aspects of waste management in all cities.

Thus, according to Tchobanoglous and Kreith (2002), the focus should be on waste reduction at the source, reducing the levels of toxic materials, recycling and reuse, waste composting, conversion of wastes to energy and landfill.

Landfill challenges

For Ontario, which has depended on landfill sitings to manage solid waste materials, this option is no longer viable due to a lack of suitable locations and large volumes of waste materials. In fact, the purpose of the Ontario’s Waste Diversion Act, 2002 is to reduce the volume of solid waste materials that end up in landfills. Currently, the Conference Board of Canada has noted that Ontario has continued to rely on the US landfills in New York State and Michigan to manage its solid waste materials (Conference Board of Canada, 2014).

Noble had noted that landfill siting was a significant component of solid waste management and disposal, but it was imperative to choose the best location, as far as possible from residential areas (Noble, 1992). A landfill selection process should rely on available information and management resources to ensure that the process is effective and acceptable to communities, environmentalists and other stakeholders.

Today, solid waste management has experienced changes as new forms of wastes, technologies and regulatory frameworks emerge. Ontario must therefore adapt to these changes in solid waste management, specifically by diversion. Diaz (1993) had argued that solid waste management programmes and resource recovery should turn wastes from cities such as New York into useful materials.

The author noted that Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) management should encourage collection with a particular focus on recycling and reuse (Diaz, 1993). Solid waste materials, however, have considerable challenges, for instance, both local authorities and businesses involved in solid waste management must determine the composition, quality and volume of solid wastes in order to understand how to manage and process them.


Typically, as large volumes of waste materials are produced, a significant challenge for a clean environment arises because the production of waste has exceeded what nature can handle while depletion of resources also rises considerably. The challenge that arises is how people should utilise the available resources without compromising the future generation. This requires sustainable practices, which can ensure that individuals meet their current economic needs and derive social benefits on an ongoing basis without depleting the environment.

Over the years, Ontario has generated millions of tonnes of solid waste materials (this has reached 9,247,415 tonnes by 2010 from 6,913,786 tonnes in 1996). However, a small portion (less than 22 percent for the year 2010 – Statistics Canada) of this waste is recycled or diverted while the rest goes to the landfill or incineration. With careful consideration, Conference Board of Canada (2014) has noted that better waste management should lead to recycle or reuse a huge portion of the generated wastes that end in the landfill. In turn, there would be a significant reduction in waste materials for landfills, job creation, less dependency on the US landfills and boost for Ontario’s economy.

Williams (2005) focused on understanding waste process engineering and disposal strategies in the Europe Union member states. According to Williams, different technologies such as waste-to-energy incineration, gasification, pyrolysis, anaerobic digesters and composting have offered the best solutions for both household and industrial waste materials in Europe (Williams, 2005). William has argued for an integrated waste management practices that consist of waste-to-energy incineration, gasification, pyrolysis, anaerobic digesters and composting for improved results. Ontario, perhaps, disposes huge volumes of waste materials because of poor diversion practices.

Sustainability is the effective utilisation of natural and technological resources in order to meet current and future needs. The City of Ontario has recognised that waste diversion is challenging because of its complex nature and therefore may not be easy to sustain. As a result, Ontario’s Waste Diversion Act, 2002 strives to reflect the importance of environmental laws and regulations through its 3Rs as ways of protecting natural resources and the environment and therefore promoting environmental sustainability. In addition, it has also taken interests in reducing the amount of wastes generated, preventing pollution, and utilising resources effectively to protect the environment (Ministry of the Environment, 2008 ).

The collection of waste materials from both residential and commercial sources has played an important role in the integrated approach to solid waste management across Ontario. Such programmes focus on any wastes that could be corrosive, flammable, toxic or even reactive. These waste materials may include chemicals used in farms, pool, cleaning, paints, fluorescent bulbs, glue and batteries among others.

According to (Ministry of the Environment (2008), huge volumes of municipal solid wastes originate from non-residential areas in Ontario. Hence, residential wastes constitute a small percentage of solid wastes. However, such waste materials contain hazardous elements, which require diversion from landfills, transfer, water sources, energy sources and the environment to ensure environmental protection and sustainability.

Ontario City authorities alongside residents promote waste collection programmes in order to divert wastes and improve collection. These are programmes, which aim to maximise waste collection, reduce environmental risks and enhance community safety, welfare and health. Over the past few decades, local authorities have developed their waste management programmes to meet increased waste generation per capita in Ontario with the a focus on sustainability. Hence, waste generation, collection and disposal have become ongoing practices, which require effective management and good facilities.

Sustainability practices, therefore, require the use of applied science and engineering principles to study, design, and implement critical aspects of solid waste management based on waste characteristics, recycling, reuse, storage, treatment, hazard and contamination (Reddi & Inyang, 2000). At the same time, engineers should evaluate social, economic, environmental, health and other characteristic of the preferred area for waste disposal mechanism. On this note, the concept of solid waste management should focus on growing concerns and increasing intricate issues such as controlling waste generation and processing wastes from municipalities.

Waste Diversion in Ontario, Canada

As Ontario residents and commercial entities continue to generate huge amounts of wastes, landfill sitings can no longer accommodate such waste materials. During 1980s, the city had already started to grapple with challenges of managing solid wastes due to limited capacities of landfill. This resulted in initiatives to promote recycling through business and community efforts. Such strategies focused on changing the laws and regulations on soft drinks. However, the idea got support from few environmentalists while majorities continued to support a deposit and return model. This marked the introduction of the Blue Box programme for waste diversion in Ontario.

Today, many Ontario residents associate waste diversion with the Blue Box. The Blue Box has served as a waste collection point for curbside recycling. As the numbers of city residents continue to increase, the volume of solid waste has also increased tremendously. The declining landfill sites, the increasing volume of solid, hazardous wastes, pollution and costs of managing such wastes have led to fundamental questions, which resulted in the introduction of the Waste Diversion Act, 2002. The Act has transformed how Ontario manages and recycles its solid waste today. The Act’s history provides an insight on waste management activities before and after its enactment.

In some instances, many organisations have noted that it is costly to develop and implement effective waste diversion plan (Ontario needs to scrap its Waste Diversion Act, 2013). However, the 3Rs have failed to focus on the producers of wastes because of the alleged weaknesses of the waste diversion framework. Instead, the framework has concentrated on generators of wastes to facilitate diversion (Ministry of the Environment, 2008 ).

According to the Ministry of the Environment (2008), the rates of waste diversion among industries, commercial bodies and institutions are strikingly low at 12 percent. Further, the Ministry noted that these were the major generators of solid wastes, but they only diverted only “12 percent of the total waste they generated in 2006” (Ministry of the Environment, 2008 ). On the other hand, in 2006, the Waste Diversion Ontario estimated that residential diversion rates had reached 38 percent (Ministry of the Environment, 2008 ).

The Conference Board of Canada recently indicated in its report of 2014 that Ontario only managed to divert 47 percent of residential waste and only 11 percent of non-residential while the overall rate of waste diversion was 23 percent (Conference Board of Canada, 2014). Relative to other major cities globally, Ontario has a low rate of waste diversion, for instance, San Francisco diverts 80 percent of its waste materials while Berlin diverts 40 percent (MacBride, 2013). Low rates of waste diversion have attracted attentions of critics (Recycling Council of Ontario and Ontario Waste Management Association) that have called for the removal of the Act.

The Current Waste Diversion Framework in Ontario

The current Waste Diversion Framework (chart 1) in Ontario focuses on industrial, commercial and institutional domains to facilitate waste diversion. These are the major waste producers in Ontario, but with poor diversion practices (Ministry of the Environment, 2008 ). These domains or divisions within the framework have significant responsibilities in managing and diverting wastes in Ontario. They rely on the 3Rs (Reduction, Reuse, and Recycling) under the Environmental Protection Act to achieve the aim of waste diversion.

Under the Act, waste generators must make reasonable efforts to separate and promote recycling of wastes (Ministry of the Environment, 2008 ). There have been several initiatives to encourage waste diversion through regulatory frameworks such as Blue Box; technical and financial aid such as e-waste management, eco fees and Continuous Improvement Fund; public education such as waste sorting out wastes; and manufacturing of recyclable materials such as environmental friendly bags and reusable plastics (Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy, 2008).

It is vital for industrial, commercial and institutional sectors to develop waste management plans, keep data and audit their waste management activities. These are fundamental data, which help the government to understand waste dynamics in Ontario, develop policies and allocate resources based on them. The approach should also aims to promote a culture of waste diversion in Ontario through major industries, commercial entities and institutions. The fundamental aim is to ensure that many organisations adhere to standard waste management practices.

Ontario’s Current Waste Diversion Framework – Source: Author
Chart 1: Ontario’s Current Waste Diversion Framework – Source: Author

Industrial, commercial and institutional sectors have low rates of diversion because of different types and characteristics of wastes, which they generate compared to residential wastes. These attributes of waste materials make it difficult for them to manage or divert their wastes effectively. Moreover, there are different forms of business establishments (small, medium or large), services, sectors and types of ownership are major challenges that face waste diversion in Ontario.

Still, there are hardly adequate resources for waste collection and diversion in most organisations. This is a major impediment to the waste diversion initiative in Ontario. Hence, the industrial, institutional and commercial sectors, which are waste producers, have failed to meet the waste diversion standards set under the 3Rs (Ministry of the Environment, 2008). At the same time, the Ontario’s Waste Diversion Act, 2000 has also failed to account for the extended producer responsibility such as enhanced recycling and use of alternative materials in waste management.

The Need for a New Framework

Some of the stakeholders such as Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO) and Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA) have called for the scraping of the current waste disposal act (Ontario needs to scrap its Waste Diversion Act, 2013). These two organisations have asserted that the current framework has failed to account for the role of waste producers and therefore it is fundamentally flawed and impractical.

Further, these organisations have claimed that the current framework lacks “transparency, accountability, proper implementation systems and oversight” (Ontario needs to scrap its Waste Diversion Act, 2013). The decade old framework has achieved low rates of diversion (current 23%) relative to other cities, and Ontario still disposes over 77 percent of its waste materials. Major issues have been cited regarding the controversial eco fees, a lack of focus on producers and repeatedly missed targets of diversion rates (currently, Ontario targets a diversion rate of 60 percent).

Analysis, Trends and Results

This study focuses on waste diversion and other management practices in Ontario between the periods of 1996 and 2010. It covers data from the government and private (business) sectors collected by Statistics Canada. It presents data on wastes disposal, waste per capita, tonnes of wastes diverted and changes in percentages in the rates of diversion. Data were collected on major processes involved in managing solid wastes by the two sectors (public and private sectors) in Ontario, Canada.

In 1996, there were less than 10 million tonnes of wastes disposed in Ontario alone in the landfills (fig. 1). The volumes of wastes disposed started to rise steadily as both the government and private sectors increased their waste collection activities.

Tonnes of Waste Disposed between 1996 and 2010, Ontario Canada
Figure 1: Tonnes of Waste Disposed between 1996 and 2010, Ontario Canada

It reached over 10 million tonnes in 2004. However, in the subsequent years, the volume of wastes disposed in Ontario started to decline marginally. Therefore, by the year 2010, Ontario disposed only 9,247,415 tonnes of wastes in landfills. Although the decrease was marginal, it resulted from the diversion efforts driven by commercial, industrial, institutional and residential players (Statistics Canada 1996 -2010).

Waste disposal per capita also started to increase steadily from 621 kg per capita in 1996 and reached 809 kg per capita in 2004 (figure 2). However, in the subsequent years, the rate of waste disposal per capita declined and reached 699 kg per capita in 2010. This also reflected the changes brought about by the waste diversion campaigns such as Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) program, Used Tires Programme, Blue Box Program Plan and Municipal Hazardous or Special Waste (MHSW) Program.

Waste Disposal per capita between 1996 and 2010 in Ontario
Figure 2: Waste Disposal per capita between 1996 and 2010 in Ontario

Untill 1998, there were no records on waste diversion per capita in Ontario. Except for 1998, Ontario diverted wastes at a higher rate per capita than in any other years between 1996 and 2010 (figure 3). For instance, the rate of diversion per capita was 28 percent, but declined to 20 percent in 2002, which could be attributed to scope of waste definition and introduction of new e-waste materials.

However, in 2004, it increased by 2.5 percent to 22.5 percent, but recorded a low of 18.7 percent in 2006. In the following year, it rose to 22.6 percent and any further improvement in 2010 were negligible (0.03 percent). Therefore, one may conclude that the city has been unable to sustain high rates of waste diversion per capita because of poor diversion activities.

When Statistics Canada started to publish data on waste diversion, it became apparent that the programme was effective between 2000 and 2006. Ontario diverted over 2.2 million tonnes of the total wastes generated in 2002. It reached a record high of 2.78 million tonnes in 2008, but had since declined to 2.74 million tonnes by 2010.

Percentage of waste diversion per capita 1998-2010 Ontario
Figure 3: Percentage of waste diversion per capita 1998-2010 Ontario

Although Ontario recorded an impressive growth in waste diversion between 2002 and 2006, there was a major challenge afterwards due to declining rates of diversion (see figure 4). This situation could have been attributed to ineffective implementation of programmes and inadequate resources, while the volumes of produced and generated wastes continued to rise.

Tonnes of waste materials diverted in Ontario, 2002 -2010
Figure 4: Tonnes of waste materials diverted in Ontario, 2002 -2010

Note: No data for diverted waste materials between the year 1996 and 2000

In 2010, Ontario only diverted 2.7 million tonnes, which represented only 29.7 percent of the wastes (see figure 5). In other words, huge volumes of generated solid wastes found their ways into landfills. This variation shows that Ontario has been slow in promoting waste diversion programmes to waste generators and waste producers.

Waste Disposal against Waste Diversion 1996 to 2010, Ontario
Figure 5: Waste Disposal against Waste Diversion 1996 to 2010, Ontario
Total Hazardous and Non-hazardous Materials Prepared for Recycling, Reuse, or Diversion, 1996 – 2010
Figure 6: Total Hazardous and Non-hazardous Materials Prepared for Recycling, Reuse, or Diversion, 1996 – 2010

Ontario has recorded changes in the total of materials recycled or diverted (fig. 6). For instance, the rate of diversion declined from 2000 but rose in 2004 and in the subsequent years, it continued to decline but rose again 2010. The Ministry of Environment (2008) had attributed such declines to poor diversion activities within industrial, commercial and institutional sectors.

Industrial, commercial and institutional sectors have diverted both hazardous and non-hazardous waste materials as indicated in figure 7. However, between 2000 and 2010, tonnes of waste materials diverted in industrial, commercial and institutional sectors declined from 1,361,743 tonnes to 752,990 tonnes. The poor implementation of regulations on producer responsibility has led to decline in rates of diversion among waste producers. For instance, individual companies do not have full responsibilities for their wastes, but share such responsibilities with municipalities (Ministry of the Environment, 2009). In addition, waste producers can extend diversion responsibilities to residential sectors (Ministry of the Environment, 2009). These two factors associated with the extended producer responsibility could explain the decline in diversion rates in the non-residential sector.

Waste Materials for diversion, recycling and reuse 1996 – 2010, Ontario
Figure 7: Waste Materials for diversion, recycling and reuse 1996 – 2010, Ontario

On the other hand, residential waste diversion programmes have achieved the desired objectives. For instance, between 1996 and 2010, residential waste diversion programmes rose from 326,693 tonnes to 1,996,057 tonnes. Hence, one can conclude that residential waste diversion initiatives have increased in Ontario. Conversely, industrial, commercial and institutional sectors require new initiatives of managing and diverting wastes (Ministry of the Environment, 2009).

Non-residential sources (industrial, commercial and institutional sectors) are the main generators of waste materials, and they dispose huge tonnes of those materials than residential sources (figure 8). This implies that non-residential sources of waste materials did not recycle, divert or reuse most of the waste materials they generated.

Figure 8 showed that non-residential sources generated 65 percent of the waste materials disposed in 2010 while residential sources were responsible for 35 percent.

Non-residential and residential sources of waste materials, 2010 Ontario
Figure 8: Non-residential and residential sources of waste materials, 2010 Ontario

Although non-residential sources are the largest generators of waste materials, their waste diversion practices were poor and did not facilitate waste diversion initiatives in Ontario (see fig. 9).

Waste materials diversion by sources, 2010 Ontario
Figure 9: Waste materials diversion by sources, 2010 Ontario

Effectiveness of the Programmes

Since early 1980s, Ontario embarked on waste management programmes to reduce pollution and the amount of solid wastes that were taken to the landfill. Ontario’s progress on waste diversion has reached a phase of slow growth (see fig. 5 and 6) except in the case of residential waste diversion programmes, which has increased over the years. These low trends of waste diversion have undermined the effectiveness of the waste diversion programmes in Ontario.

Therefore, Ontario must review its approaches to diversion, particularly the extended producer responsibility for waste producers to support the diversion act and its 3Rs (Ontario needs to scrap its Waste Diversion Act, 2013). It extended greater responsibilities to waste generators instead of producers. This can enhance waste diversion, reduce the quantity of solid wastes for landfill and create jobs in Ontario (Conference Board of Canada, 2014).

Conclusion and Recommendations

The waste diversion programmes in Ontario have worked, but they face some challenges, which require evaluation of the current framework and definition of a new waste diversion programme. Overall, the new framework must be cost-effective, user-friendly, based on engineering principles, science and technologies and the industry best practices.

The focus on 3Rs

Ontario needs to encourage waste producers to enhance waste diversion. The current waste diversion puts much emphasis on waste generators and less on waste producers. This would ensure that waste producers find innovative approaches of developing materials and diversion techniques.

  • There is a need to enhance data collection among waste producers and generators based on their diversion activities. There are missing data, particularly in waste producer responsibility in waste diversion.
  • The new framework should also promote waste diversion based on materials or sectors. This would ensure that waste diversion programmes meet some specific conditions, focus on specific wastes, or promote the development of programmes like the Blue Box and Municipal Hazardous Waste programmes.

Such programmes could offer many benefits to the city.

  • Reuse centres should offer free materials for the public under product exchange programmes.
  • The focus should be on reducing the costs of waste disposal by bulking materials
  • Convenient facilities also reduce costs of transportation by transporting full loads rather than small pieces
  • Waste management facilities should be able to handle volumes of wastes from a specific municipality.

Managing municipal solid wastes is a complex process. Waste management practices continue to evolve as new forms of wastes emerge and global conditions change. To comprehend such dynamics, waste management professionals must understand sources and generators of wastes, waste characteristics, scientific and engineering principles, laws and regulations and cost-effective approaches.


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