More waste is generated in the world now than ever before from packaged food servings to plastic draws and disposable nappies. This waste ends mostly in landfills or is burnt. As the amount of waste produced increases, it puts pressure on landfills, resources and the environment.

Recycling is an important part of the solution as simply, the more we recycle, the less waste ends up in landfills or incinerators. By recycling, we can save energy and reduce negative impacts on the environment.

In this article, you will find statistics on how much waste is generated in Canada and how much of it is recycled. We have also included a breakdown of recycling across Canada and materials recycled.

Recycling Statistics for Canadians

  • The recycling responsibilities in Canada are divided between different governmental levels.
  • Canadians produce 694 kg of waste per person per year, which is the most waste per person in the world.
  • In 2018, Canadians generated 35.6 million tonnes of solid waste.
  • Only 28% of waste was recycled in Canada in 2018 with the rest of it going into landfills, shipped abroad, or burned.
  • Residents of Prince Edward Island have the best access to at least one recycling program.
  • Prince Edward Island, British Columbia, Quebec and Nova Scotia recycle more than the national average.
  • Households on higher incomes and with at least one university graduate are more likely to have access to recycling programs.
  • Given access to recycling, 97% of all Canadian households make use of at least one recycling program.
  • Only 9% of all plastic waste is recycled in Canada.
  • 96% of all Canadians have access to paper and cardboard recycling.
  • There are over 10,000 landfills in Canada which are fast reaching their capacity.

Who is responsible for managing waste reduction in Canada?

In Canada, waste reduction and management responsibilities are shared between the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments.

Collections are arranged by municipalities and private waste management companies. They also recycle and dispose of residential and non-residential solid waste. Authorities at provincial and territorial level create and manage waste reduction policies and programs as well as approve and monitor waste disposal facilities and operations.

International and interprovincial movement of hazardous waste and recycling is controlled by the federal government. It also identifies the best practices to reduce the release of pollutants and greenhouse emissions from the waste management sector.

How much waste do Canadians produce?

Canada is the main waste offender in the world with 694 kg of waste generated per person per year. Out of that, 510 kg goes to landfills rather than recycling facilities.

The amount of annual waste per capita is 36.1 metric tonnes, and the combined yearly total waste is estimated to be 1,325,480,289 metric tonnes. Bulgaria and the United States are second and third in the world.

Solid waste

According to the Government of Canada, the amount of solid waste (recyclables, organic materials, such as food waste, and garbage from residential sources and non‑residential sources) generated in Canada increased between 2002 and 2018 by 4.8 million tonnes to 35.6 million tonnes.

How much do Canadians recycle?

Canadians waste production per person has been increasing since the beginning of the new millennium. In 2000, Canadians produced 366 kg of waste per person compared to 694 kg per person in 2018. The amount in weight that was recycled in 2018 was 265 kg per person.

According to the Government of Canada, in 2018, 72% of solid waste ended in landfills or incinerators, while only 28% was recycled. However, the amount of waste that is being recycled has grown by 48% between 2002 and 2018.

Measured by weight, organics form the largest portion of recycled materials at 22% followed by newspapers, cardboard and boxboard, all at 17%. Food waste, cardboard, paper, plastics, metals and a range of other materials can be recycled, but the access to recycling programs and facilities differs across the country.

Recycling across Canada

According to a survey by Statistics Canada, residents of Prince Edward Island had the best access and utilisation of recycling programs with 99% of households having access to and using at least one recycling program. Nova Scotia and Ontario were second and third with 97% and 95% of residents having access to at least one recycling program.

In Manitoba, 90% of households had access to recycling programs, but only 88% of households recycled. Newfoundland and Labrador had a low paper recycling percentage of only 74%. However, the percentage for other recyclable materials was over 90%. In New Brunswick 83% of households recycled their paper and 92% and above recycled glass, metals and plastic.

There is fairly comprehensive access to recycling across the country with glass and paper recycling programs available to 88% of households, 87% have access to plastic recycling, and 86% to metal can recycling. Newfoundland and Labrador stands out with only 35% of households having access to paper recycling at the time of the survey. 61% of the residents had access to metal recycling, 72% to plastic, and 75% to glass recycling.

Recycling across provinces and territories by weight

In 2018, Prince Edward Island, British Columbia, Quebec and Nova Scotia recycled more waste than the national average of 265 kg per person. The amount recycled in all the three territories, and in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick ranged from 164 kg to 237 kg per person. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the amount recycled per person was less than 100 kg.

In British Columbia, Quebec and the territories, more solid waste was recycled from non-residential than residential sources while in New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador the amounts from both sources were similar. In the other provinces, the portion of residential recycled waste was larger than the portion of non-residential recycled waste.

Recycling demographics

Households that live in single detached homes had the best access to recycling programs at 96% while those living in mobile homes or apartment buildings were less likely to have access. 90% of mobile home households and 85% of low-rise apartment households had access to recycling programs.

Residents who were on the highest levels of income and had been to university were more likely to have access to recycling facilities. Households with an income of over $80,000 had on average 98% access, while households with an income lower than $40,000 had 89% access to recycling services.

95% of households with at least one university graduate had access to recycling services compared to 87% of households with no university graduates.

Given access to recycling programs, most households in Canada make use of them. Factors such as income, level of education or type of home had little impact on the residents’ willingness to recycle. 97% of all households that had access to recycling programs took advantage of at least one of them.

Plastic

According to data from Oceana, Canadians use about 3.3 million tonnes of plastic each year and 2.8 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in landfills in Canada. Their statistics also show that Canadians use 57 million plastic straws daily and around 15 billion plastic bags every year. Only around 9% of the total plastic waste is recycled in Canada. Canadians make up less than 0.5% of the global population, however use 1.4% of all plastic produced.

Much of the waste comes from packaging with each Canadian throwing away about half a kilogram of packaging each day. Half of Canadian cities’ solid waste by volume and a third by weight comes from packaging. Over one-third of plastics in Canada are created for single use products or packaging.

88% of plastics that do not end up in landfills are recycled in Canada while 12% is shipped elsewhere, mainly to countries in Southeast Asia where much of it is burned or reenters the environment.

A study published in 2021 showed that plastic waste in our seas mainly comes from single-use bags, food containers, food wrappers and plastic bottles. 80% of plastic found in the seas are from land-based sources and the remaining 20% from fishing and shipping litter.

Even though Canada has had recycling programs in place for over thirty years, in 2016 more than 3.2 million metric tonnes of plastic still ended up as garbage according to Deloitte for Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Large chains are the worst plastic polluters in Canada

According to Greenpeace Canada, 39% of plastic pollution in Canada belongs to the top five companies, which are Nestle, Tim Hortons, Starbucks, McDonald’s, and The Coca-Cola Company in that order.

Paper

A recent study by PPEC found that around 96% of Canadians have access to paper and cardboard recycling facilities. The national recovery rate for corrugated boxes is 85%. Boxes and cartons produced in Canadian packaging mills are made from 100% repurposed paper materials.

However, Canadians could do a lot more to save paper. For example, if everyone in Canada wrapped three presents in reused paper or cloth gift bags, that would save enough paper to cover 45,000 hockey rinks.

It is a lot more energy efficient to make recycled paper than new paper, as making recycled paper uses about 60% of the energy needed to make new paper. According to Greenpeace, if every household in Canada replaced one new toilet paper roll with a recycled roll, Canadians could save 47,962 trees and 3,204 cubic metres of landfill space.

It would also save 65.5 million litres of water, which is equivalent to a year’s supply for 135 families of four and avoid releasing over four tonnes of pollution into the air and water.

Steel

According to the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council, the overall recycling rate of steel in Canada is over 66%. Steel and iron can be recycled an infinite number of times, unlike many other materials.

Every ton of steel that is recycled saves 1,400 pounds of coal, 2,500 pounds of iron ore, and 120 pounds of limestone. Each year in Canada, recycling steel saves enough energy to power 2.7 million homes.

Recycling steel also reduces air pollution by 86% and water pollution by 76% while water consumption is reduced by 40%, consumer waste by 105%, and mining waste by 97%. 

Composting

Canadians produce around 7 million tonnes of organic waste per year, which is about five tonnes of greenhouse gas per person per year. Individuals who recycle their organic waste can save up to 12.5% per tonne of organic waste. According to the Government of Canada, there were over 350 composting facilities in Canada in 2000 processing over one million tonnes of organic matter.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2019, 76% of Canadian households composted kitchen or garden waste while 62% composted their kitchen waste only.

There are over 10,000 landfills in Canada

According to CRC Research, there are over 10,000 landfills in Canada. They are breeding grounds for rats, but can also leak heavy metals and chemicals into the groundwater. Landfills are also responsible for a quarter of Canada’s methane emissions.

Some experts believe that municipalities have been ignoring this problem because landfills are cheaper to manage than recycling facilities. However, Canada’s landfills are reaching their capacity and finding new sites is becoming more challenging, so new solutions are needed fast.

Conclusion

With almost 700 kg of waste generated per person each year in Canada, the country is the worst waste offender in the world. Although the amount of waste that is recycled has been growing, a large majority of waste is still going to landfills or burned and only 9% of plastic waste in Canada is currently recycled.

Most Canadians have access to at least one recycling program and use them to recycle regularly. However, the provision of recycling programs is not equal across the provinces and territories.

There are over 10,000 landfills in Canada which are fast filling up, so more needs to be done to divert more waste to recycling, especially plastic waste.

Frequently Asked Questions

Only 9% of Canadian plastic waste is recycled.

Canadians produce 694 kg of waste per person per year, which is the most waste per person in the world. In 2018, Canadians generated 35.6 million tonnes of solid waste.

In 2018, only 28% of solid waste was recycled in Canada. The rest of the waste went into landfills, was shipped abroad or burned.

Yes, there are. Access to recycling is better in some areas of Canada than in others. The residents of Prince Edward Island have the best access to at least one recycling program and together with the residents of British Columbia, Quebec and Nova Scotia recycle more than the national average.

The willingness to recycle in Canada is high and 97% of all households with access to recycling facilities recycle.

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