Help Shape Ottawa’s Solid Waste Management Plan!

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The City of Ottawa is reviewing its Solid Waste Management Plan, and they’re seeking the community’s input. This plan will guide how we deal with solid waste for the next 30 years. Please read the recommendations Waste Watch Ottawa and Ecology Ottawa developed and let the City know your thoughts before March 7!


Ottawans currently produce around 300,000 tonnes of residential waste annually that is collected either as garbage for disposal or diverted from disposal through the recycling and green bin programs. As our population grows, so will the waste we generate reaching an estimated 500,000 tonnes in 2050. How this waste is managed has significant climate change, social and financial impacts and is the focus of the City’s Solid Waste Master Plan (SWMP) which Council will decide on in June.

How are we doing?

The bad news is we collectively produce too much garbage, and we’re using the recycling and green bin programs much less than we should. Roughly 45% of what is in curbside and multi-residential garbage should either be in the recycling or green bin program. Partly as a result, the City’s landfill site is rapidly approaching capacity and is anticipated to close in 10 years by 2034.

City of Ottawa waste receptacles

Image: City of Ottawa waste receptacles (credit: Waste Watch Ottawa).

Unfortunately, Ottawa has for many years under-invested in waste management. This is obvious when compared to most other municipalities, who spend more than twice as much per household than Ottawa. The level of capital and operating spending by Ottawa is not a sign of efficiency and well-run programs but is a sign of under-investment, neglect and weak political commitment to this key piece of municipal infrastructure. Ottawa needs to play catch up.

Comparison of solid waste costs across peer Canadian municipalities

Image: Comparison of solid waste costs across peer Canadian municipalities (credit: City of Ottawa).

The “zero waste vision”

The City committed to a zero waste vision in June 2021 and to the waste management hierarchy (see image), with its focus on reduction and diversion and minimizing disposal. The SWMP presents an opportunity to make that vision a reality and to hold City Council to their commitments.

Zero Water International Alliance

Image credit: Zero Waste International Alliance: Working Towards a World Without Waste


50 SWMP Actions

The draft SWMP presents some 50 areas and programs for action, from using anaerobic digestion to process green bin waste, increasing promotion and education, and targeting special wastes like construction and demolition materials.

Almost without exception, all the actions cited in the draft SWMP need to be acted on and, most importantly, need to be properly funded and sustained over the long term. Of particular importance is adopting standard municipal waste management practice by implementing a garbage user pay bag / tag program to incentivize increased use of the recycling and green bin programs. Council’s decision in June 2023 to reject staff recommendations for a bag / tag program was a major blow to the objectives of the SWMP. The easy and “free” collection of garbage must end.

Landfill or incinerator?

A decision on how to manage any residual waste must be guided by sustainable waste reduction and diversion investment and policy. With a landfill there is a built in incentive to steward capacity and life expectancy. Conversely, an incinerator will need to be fed a steady and guaranteed supply of waste and operations will be governed by long term contracts that will penalize any reduction in waste delivery. Councillor Jeff Leiper (Kitchissippi Ward) speaks compellingly to this point in this clip from a recent Council meeting. 

The Durham York incinerator

Image: The Durham York incinerator (credit: Durham York Energy Centre)

The draft SWMP suggests that acting on current plans for waste reduction and diversion, Council’s approved transfer from Trail Road of 60,000 tonnes per year of small commercial waste, plus the hoped-for approval of a new capacity at the site, could extend the landfill  by an additional 14 years from 2034 to 2048. Much more needs to be done to extend disposal capacity even further, however.

What will it cost?

Despite four years of work, the draft SWMP is missing some essential elements and this absence will hamper public understanding and debate. At the moment, there is no short-, medium- or long-term financial plan to support the plan’s implementation, and there is no analysis of the GHG impacts of the actions being presented. A planned analysis of landfilling, incineration and mixed waste processing of residual wastes will not be available until 2025.  

Where do we go from here?

The overriding focus going forward must be to aggressively address our current poor waste management performance, achieve waste diversion rates comparable to leading municipalities, extend the life expectancy of the Trail Road landfill and reduce GHGs associated with managing waste. 

Here are a few specific recommendations for action:

  1. Establish waste reduction and the diversion of waste from disposal as a cornerstone of all waste management policy and operations
  2. Support City Council’s June 2021 zero waste vision by rejecting incineration of waste as an option for residuals waste management
  3. Increase capital and operating budgets to address the City’s historic underfunding of waste management and properly funding priority action on waste reduction, waste diversion, recycling and organics
  4. Expand the Trail Road landfill current capacity to extend its lifespan for as long as possible and divert materials and restrict access from small commercial loads
  5. Aggressively roll out green bin service to multi-residential properties to improve organics waste diversion 
  6. Implement anaerobic digestion for organic green bin wastes to optimize resource recovery
  7. Revisit Council’s 2023 rejection of a bag/tag program and implement a user pay program to address poor curbside green bin participation, and implement a clear bag waste collection program 
  8. Establish programs to target the recovery of bulky and special wastes such as household furniture, mattresses, electronics, residential construction and demolition materials and textiles
  9. Increase funding for promotion and education fourfold to match the significantly larger spending per household of most municipalities, and facilitate school field trips to the Trail Road Landfill
  10. Include a specific Textile Waste Reduction section in the Solid Waste Master plan, including a curbside textiles pickup program pilot and an accompanying public educational campaign.

Please consider sending these in your own feedback to the City—and of course adding your own! The City’s survey is here.

Ecology Ottawa developed these recommendations in partnership with Waste Watch Ottawa. Waste Watch Ottawa works to reduce waste and improve the city of Ottawa’s waste management practices and contribute to a greening of the city by supporting the development of new and improved waste diversion programs.


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