The amount of waste is a growing problem around the globe with 2.01 billion tonnes of solid waste generated every year. While high-income countries account for only 16% of the world’s population, they generate 34% of the world’s waste and unfortunately, Canadians produce the most waste per person.

With Canadians producing so much waste, it is important to know how waste is managed in Canada. In this article, we look at the type of waste generated in Canada, waste generation across the country, and how much waste ends up in landfills. We also share tips on how each of us can reduce the amount of waste we generate.

Waste Management Statistics for Canadians

  • In a year, Canadians produce 36.1 metric tonnes of waste per person, the most in the world.
  • Ontario produces the most waste in Canada, with 10,085,613 metric tonnes in 2018.
  • Almost 370,000 tonnes of plastic were diverted from landfills in 2020.
  • The amount of diverted organic waste increased by 10% between 2018 and 2020.
  • Recycling of mixed metals increased by 13% between 2018 and 2020.
  • The volume of electronic products being recycled fell by 10% in 2020 compared to 2018.
  • Alberta had 244 waste diversion facilities in 2020, the highest number in the country.
  • Paper and organic waste make up 65% of all diverted waste in Canada.
  • 33% of global solid waste is not managed in an environmentally friendly way.
  • Food and organic materials make up 44% of all solid waste across the globe.

Waste Management in Canada

Canadians produce 36.1 metric tonnes of waste per person per year. It is considerably higher than Bulgaria, which is in second place with 26.7 metric tonnes, or the United States, in third place with 25.9 metric tonnes. With so much waste produced every year, it is crucial to manage the waste as economically and ecologically as possible and divert waste from landfills.

Between 2002 and 2018, the amount of solid waste generated by Canadians increased by 16%, equivalent to 4.8 million tonnes. During the same period, the amount of diverted waste increased by 48% meaning Canadians were composting and recycling more.

Unfortunately, the amount of waste sent to landfills or incinerators also increased. The increase in waste that ended up burnt or in a landfill was 7%. Only 28% of solid waste was diverted in 2018. The remaining 72% was sent to landfills or burnt.

However, waste management in Canada is heading in the right direction. In 2020, businesses and individuals in Canada diverted nearly 10 million tonnes of solid waste away from landfills. This was an improvement of 4% compared to 2018.

Waste Generation in Canada

It is hardly surprising that the more populous provinces produce the most waste in Canada. According to Statista, Ontario produced 10,085,613 metric tonnes of waste in 2018. Quebec was second with 5,563,136 metric tonnes and Alberta was third with 4,118,081 metric tonnes. British Columbia produced the fourth most waste with 2,719,877 metric tonnes and Manitoba was fifth with 963,256 metric tonnes.

Waste Diversion in Canada

While Ontario and Quebec produce the most waste, they also divert the most waste. In 2020, Ontario diverted 3.5 million tonnes and Quebec 2.6 million tonnes of waste. Newfoundland and Labrador had the biggest increase in waste diversion. The province diverted 13% more materials in 2020 compared to 2018. British Columbia had the second biggest increase at 6%.

Prince Edward Island diverted the largest portion of solid waste at 51% in 2018, while Newfoundland and Labrador diverted only 10% of solid waste. Other provinces that diverted less than 20% of solid waste were Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta. 

Ontario, Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and New Brunswick diverted approximately a quarter of their solid waste. In addition to Prince Edward Island, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Quebec diverted more than 30% of solid waste.

In 2018, 53% of diverted waste came from residential sources, and the remaining 47% from the non-residential sector. 42% of disposed solids were from residential sources and 58% from non-residential sources. Between 20020 and 2018, the amount of diverted waste from households increased by 74% and by 13% from non-residential sources.

Waste Diversion and Disposal Per Person

The amount of residential waste diverted per person increased from 2002 until 2014 but fell slightly in 2016 and 2018. Overall, residential waste diversion increased by 47%, which is equivalent to 42 kg per person, between 2002 and 2018. During the same period, non-residential waste diversion fell by 4%, or 5kg, per person.

The average amount of diverted waste was 265 kg per person in 2018. Newfoundland and Labrador, where 79 kg of waste per person was diverted in 2018, had the lowest rate of diverted waste. The highest rate was in Prince Edward Island with 370 kg of diverted waste per person.

The average amount of waste disposed of in landfills or incinerators per person in 2018 was 694 kg. Prince Edward Island had the lowest waste disposal at 351 kg per person, while Alberta disposed of the most waste at 958 kg per person. British Columbia and Nova Scotia both disposed of under 550 kg of waste per person. Ontario, Newfoundland, and Labrador, the territories, of Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, together with Alberta disposed of over 700 kg of waste per person.

Plastic Waste

Plastic waste is one of the main concerns across the globe, with a large majority of plastics still ending up in landfills. Canada has a plan to tackle plastic waste and has set a goal to reduce plastic waste to zero by 2030.

In 2020, nearly 370,000 tonnes of plastic waste was sent to recycling facilities or transfer facilities for temporary storage before final disposition. Five provinces reported increases in the amount of plastic diverted from landfills. Quebec saw an increase of 36%, Manitoba 18%, Newfoundland and Labrador 16%, Prince Edward Island 13%, and Alberta 6%.

Organic Waste

There were over 3 million tonnes of organic waste diverted away from landfills in 2020. This was an improvement of 10% compared to 2018, which is equivalent to 274,000 tonnes. 2.5 million tonnes of organic waste came from residential sources. In Saskatchewan, 23% more organic waste was diverted, totalling over 40,000 tonnes.

The increase in diverted organic waste has been a joint effort between individual Canadians and municipalities. Residents have been quick to participate in organic waste diversion either by using backyard composters where possible or through curbside collection programmes.

Metal Recycling

In 2020, 16% more ferrous metals, for example, tin and steel, were sent for recycling compared to 2018. Recycling of mixed metals increased by 13% during the same period. The amount of recycled aluminum and copper fell by 42% but this was not because they were sent to landfills. Rather it was due to a 67% decrease in aluminum and copper coming from non-residential sources.

Recycling of Electronic Products

The volume of electronic products diverted from landfills has been increasing steadily since 2012. However, in 2020, the diverted volume was down by 10%. This may have been because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Waste Diversion by Type of Material

Between 2002 and 2018, there has been an increase in all types of materials being diverted from landfills. Even though plastic waste diversion increased by 150% from 2012 to 2018, it still only represented less than 4% of all diverted solid waste.

The diversion of food and other organic waste increased by nearly 120% and they represent 29% of all diverted waste. With 36%, paper is the most commonly diverted waste material. In total, paper and organic waste represent 65% of all diverted waste materials in Canada.

Waste Diversion and Composting Facilities

In 2020, there were 144 publicly owned facilities for waste diversion in Alberta, the highest number in the country. Alberta was followed by Quebec with 140, Saskatchewan with 117, and Ontario with 115. 52.7% of all publicly owned materials recovery facilities in Canada were in Quebec and Alberta, while 49.7% of publicly owned composting facilities were in Ontario and Saskatchewan.

In 2019 and 2020, 44.4% of new materials recovery facilities were completed in Quebec, while 58.1% of new composting facilities were completed in Saskatchewan.

Over Half of Waste Management Facilities Are in Rural Areas

Overall, more solid waste is processed in rural than urban areas. 50.2% of all waste diversion and waste disposal facilities were in rural municipalities in 2020. However, only 16.8% of the Canadian population lives in these areas.

In addition, there is a difference between the type of waste facilities located in urban and rural areas in Canada. In 2020, rural municipalities had twice as many dump sites and landfills as facilities focused on waste diversion. In contrast, there were more waste diversion facilities in urban municipalities than disposal facilities.

The Global Picture

Globally, 2.01 billion tonnes of waste is generated every year and this amount is expected to grow to 3.4 billion tonnes by 2050. Currently, at least 33% of solid waste is not managed in a manner that is safe for the environment.

Waste generation is expected to increase by 19% in high-income countries and by 40% in low- and middle-income countries by 2050. It is predicted that waste generation will triple in Sub-Saharan Africa, and double in South Asia and the Middle East, and North Africa, which are the fastest-growing regions. At the moment, over half of the waste is dumped openly in these regions and the growth will have wide-ranging implications for health and the environment.

Food and Organic Waste Make Up 44% of Global Waste

Food and other organic waste account for 44% of solid waste, by far the largest type of waste material. The next biggest waste group is paper and cardboard at 17%, followed by other materials at 14% and plastic at 12%. High-income countries generate less food and organic waste at 32% compared to 53% in middle-income and 57% in low-income countries.

How to Reduce Waste

Each person can take some simple steps to reduce the amount of waste they produce. Avoid buying food and drink in containers made of single-use plastic. Instead, you can get a reusable bottle or a cup for your beverages. Compost any food and organic waste or use curbside collection programmes.

When going shopping, take bags with you and buy products that use less packaging or where the packaging is made with recyclable materials. Consider buying more secondhand items and donating clothes, furniture, and other items you no longer need instead of throwing them away.

Conclusion

Canada has the highest waste production per person in the world. While measures have been taken to reduce the amount of waste disposed in landfills or incinerated and to increase the amount of waste diverted, there is still a lot more work to be done to reduce the per-person waste in Canada.

To reduce the amount of solid waste produced in Canada, every Canadian can take steps to reduce the waste they produce. Many of these steps are easy such as taking a bag with you when going shopping and buying fewer items with plastic packaging.

Frequently Asked Questions

Canadians produce 3.61 metric tonnes of waste per person in a single year.

Canada produces the most waste per person in the world. It is followed by Bulgaria, the United States, Estonia, and Finland. However, China produces the most waste in total and accounts for 15% of global solid waste.

When looking at the amount of waste that is recycled or composted, Ontario does the most waste diversion at 3.5 million tonnes. However, if we look at the amount of waste that is diverted, then Prince Edward Island does the best, diverting 51% of its solid waste.

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