Handling excess soil
Learn how we are supporting sustainable management and reuse of excess soil in Ontario.
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About excess soil
What is excess soil and why is it important
Excess soil is soil that has been dug up, typically during construction activities. It must be moved off-site because it can't or won't be reused at the development site.
An estimated 25 million cubic metres of excess soil is generated in Ontario every year. While most excess soil can be reused safely, some excess soil may have limited levels of contaminants and care must be taken when determining where it may be reused. This is a significant concern in urban centres and surrounding communities (including suburban municipalities, rural areas and Indigenous communities).
Improper management of excess soil can negatively affect ground or surface water quality and/or quantity in natural areas and agricultural lands. It is also associated with local issues like noise, dust, truck traffic, road damage, erosion, drainage and other social, economic, health and environmental concerns.
Local reuse and proper management and tracking of excess soil has many benefits including:
- significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transporting soil
- reducing illegal dumping and inappropriate relocation
- decreasing road damage
- decreasing amount of reusable soil going to landfill
- cost savings associated with decreases in transportation and landfilling of excess soil
The excess soil regulation and referenced documents
The following section provides an overview of:
- the excess soil regulation
- soil management rules and new excess soil standards
- a key tool to support the development of site-specific standards at a reuse site
We are making it easier to manage excess soil safely and locally.
Excess soil regulation
In December 2019, Ontario made a regulation under the Environmental Protection Act, titled “On-Site and Excess Soil Management” (“the regulation”) to support improved management of excess construction soil. These changes reduce soil management costs, while protecting human health and the environment.
This regulation is a key step to support the proper management of excess soils, ensure valuable resources don’t go to waste and to provide clear rules on managing and reusing excess soil. Risk-based standards referenced by this regulation help to facilitate local beneficial reuse which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions from soil transportation, while ensuring strong protection of human health and the environment.
Key elements of the regulation include:
- clear excess soil reuse rules and clarity around when excess soil is not a waste
- clarity on reusing excess soil and replacing of waste-related approvals with regulatory rules for low-risk soil management activities
- enhanced reuse through improved reuse planning for larger (greater than 2000 cubic metres) and riskier sites (for example, gas stations and industrial sites), including tracking, registration, an assessment of past uses, and if necessary, soil sampling and characterization
- greater assurance that reuse sites are not receiving waste soil and requiring larger reuse sites (10,000 cubic metres) to register and develop procedures to track and inspect soil received
- restrictions on landfilling clean soil that is suitable for reuse at a sensitive site (for example, schools and agricultural sites)
The regulation is being phased in over time, as follows:
- January 1, 2021: reuse rules, including risk-based standards, waste designation and approvals
- January 1, 2023: testing, tracking and registration (some exemptions apply)
- These requirements were in place briefly between January-April 2022 and were then temporarily suspended until January 1, 2023
- January 1, 2025: restrictions on landfilling soils
Rules for soil management and excess soil standards
A document entitled “Rules for Soil Management and Excess Soil Quality Standards” includes both Part I: Rules for Soil Management (“Soil Rules”) and “Part II: Excess Soil Quality Standards” (“Excess Soil Standards”) which are incorporated by reference into the regulation and must be read alongside it.
It contains rules related to the following key elements:
- assessments of past uses, sampling and analysis plans, excess soil characterization reports and excess soil destination assessment reports
- soil storage and processing
- requirements for excess soil tracking systems
- applicable soil quality standards and related reuse rules
Beneficial Reuse Assessment Tool (BRAT)
The ministry developed the Beneficial Reuse Assessment Tool (BRAT) to allow for the implementation of site-specific excess soil quality standards at a reuse site. This development of site-specific standards aims to promote greater reuse of excess soil through consideration of local conditions, while protecting human health and the environment.
The tool allows a qualified person to generate site-specific standards in a streamlined way using a spreadsheet model. Under the regulation, site-specific standards may also be developed using other types of risk assessments. Details on the tool and development of site-specific standards are outlined in the Soil Rules and the BRAT User Guide.
Excess soil fact sheets
We developed the excess soil fact sheets to help you understand requirements under the regulation. Fact sheets are available through the excess soil fact sheet web page.
These fact sheets are for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. They are not a substitute for seeking independent legal advice on any issues related to the regulation.
Excess Soil Registry
Project leaders, owners and site operators have requirements to file notices for:
- certain project areas
- certain reuse sites
- residential development soil depot sites
You can find information about the requirements for filing notices in the Excess Soil Registry on the excess soil fact sheets page.
The Resource Productivity & Recovery Authority (RPRA) is responsible for establishing and maintaining the Excess Soil Registry where you will be filing the required notices.
The Excess Soil Registry is available for filing notices through RPRA’s website.
Visit RPRA's website to:
- view registry project updates and events
- learn how to access the Excess Soil Registry
- file a notice in the Excess Soil Registry
- access learning opportunities
The requirement for RPRA to create and maintain the Excess Soil Registry is set out by the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks in a direction letter (PDF). If you would like to be notified about Excess Soil Registry updates or if you have questions on registry use not covered on the RPRA website, email the RPRA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other guidelines and resources
The information below includes additional resources produced by the ministry or other organizations to:
- help you implement the excess soil regulation
- help with sustainable excess soil management
Management of Excess Soil – A Guide for Best Management Practices
MECP’s excess soil best management practices guide explains how to manage excess soil once dug up, during the transportation of the soil, and at the site where the soil can be reused. This document was prepared in 2014 and as such it does not mention the 2019 regulation. However, the best practices are generally consistent with the regulatory requirements.
Ontario Environmental Industry Association (ONEIA) guidance
Best-practices documents and presentation modules have been developed with plain language guidance on the excess soil regulation in the following areas:
- hauling and transportation, including hauling record templates
- temporary sites (Class 2 soil management sites)
- Qualified Persons
Canadian Urban Institute municipal by-law language tool
The Canadian Urban Institute’s site alteration by-law language tool provides examples of language and guidance for Ontario municipalities to consider when creating or updating by-laws.
Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) pit and quarry guidance
OSPE completed a scientific report and a best management practices document on the beneficial reuse of excess soil at aggregate pits and quarries.
The reports will assist qualified persons, municipalities, aggregate licensees and operators in evaluating options for beneficially reusing excess soils to rehabilitate pits and quarries in a safe, economically viable and climate positive manner.
Fact sheet for importing soil onto agricultural land
The Importation of Soil onto Agricultural Land fact sheet provides a brief overview of regulatory requirements, best management practices and guidance to beneficially manage soil importation.
Excess soil policies in provincial plans and the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS)
The following plans and policy statements contain excess soil policies:
- A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe
- Greenbelt Plan
- Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan
A policy related to excess soil is included in the PPS indicating that planning authorities should support, where feasible, on-site and local reuse of excess soil through planning and development approvals while protecting human health and the environment.
For more information visit Land use planning.
Rationale document for development of excess soil quality standards
The ministry developed a series of tables of generic excess soil quality standards, and associated rules to apply these standards, to enable the beneficial reuse of excess soil at a site. This rationale document provides an overview of how the standards were derived, associated assumptions and placement considerations for reuse of excess soil.
Resources for cultural heritage
Cultural heritage should be considered in excess soil management and may need to be addressed per other legislative and regulatory requirements.
The Ministry of Tourism Culture and Sport has two checklists that you can use to determine if a project area:
- may contain archaeological resources (meaning it has archaeological potential)
- contains a recognized heritage property
- may be of cultural heritage value or interest
These documents are used to support requirements under the Ontario Heritage Act and other legislation: