December 5, 2005

Canadians generate more solid waste, but they recycle more as well, says StatsCan

Canadian households are generating more, not less, solid waste and most of it is still ending up in landfill sites, according to figures presented in the 2005 edition of Human Activity and the Environment, Statistics Canada's annual compendium of information on how Canadians interact with their environment. In 2002, on average, each Canadian generated aproximately 383 kilograms (kg) of solid waste - roughly 30 green garbage bags - of which about one-fifth was recycled or otherwise diverted. The total residential component of Canada's waste was estimated at just over 12 million tonnes, a 6.8% increase from 2000.

An estimated 2.5 million tonnes, or about one-fifth of the residential total, were recycled or otherwise diverted, a 17% increase from 2000. The remainder, about 9.5 million tonnes, was disposed of in landfills or incinerated. This represented an average of 302 kg of household waste per person, up 2.4% from 2000.

In total, the nation produced just over 30.4 million tonnes of solid waste in 2002 from all sources, such as residential, industrial, commercial, institutional, construction and demolition. This was 3.9% higher than the total in 2000, and amounted to 971 kg per person on average.

Household garbage makes up less than half of all solid waste generated in Canada, the 12 million tonnes of residential waste accounting for just under 40%. Industrial, commercial and institutional sources also accounted for just under one-half.

Waste management services cost municipal governments more than $1.5 billion in 2002. More than 40% of this money was spent collecting waste and recyclable material, while another 25% was spent operating disposal facilities. A further 10% went to running recycling and composting programs.

Recycling has grown during the past 20 years to become a widespread and accepted part of waste management services. In 2002, 6.6 million tonnes of non-hazardous waste materials were prepared for recycling by local waste management organizations and companies. Industrial, commercial and institutional sources provided just over one-half of the materials prepared for recycling, with 39% originating from households.

Nearly two-thirds of recycled material fell into two categories: paper and cardboard, which accounted for 46% of the total, and organic materials, which made up 18%.

Canadian paper mills recycled an estimated 2.8 million tonnes of waste paper in 2002. Since 1995, about 40% of waste paper has been recycled each year, compared with only 26% in 1990.

In contrast, composting occurred on a much smaller scale. In 2002, centralized composting facilities composted an estimated 1.2 million tonnes of organic waste. There were 351 centralized facilities composting organic waste in 2002, up from 255 in 2000. (The amount diverted through backyard composters or on-site by industry is not known.)

Solid waste generation tends to grow with economic output: as income and consumption of goods rise, more waste gets discarded. Changes in society, such as the trend toward households with fewer people in them, also affect waste production.

Census data show that in 1981 households consisting of one or two people represented 49% of all households; by 2001, they accounted for 58%. All households, regardless of size or composition, consume certain basic goods such as furniture, appliances, newspapers and other products. When there are fewer members in each household to share these goods, per capita consumption and waste generation tend to go up.

The waste management industry in Canada consists of many small players and a few very large ones, notes StatsCan. Industry revenues were in excess of $4.1 billion in 2002, up 19.4% from 2000. Of the 1,785 waste management businesses operating in 2002, the top five firms reported 34% of revenues and 55% of the 24,355 jobs in the industry.

The industry faces many new challenges, such as mitigating environmental hazards associated with waste, and the burgeoning stream of "e-waste," including items such as computers, television sets, stereos and cell phones. Environment Canada estimates that 140,000 tonnes of e-waste are discarded annually in Canadian landfills, and this number continues to increase.

E-waste re-use organizations are active in most provinces. In 2000, Ontario had only four companies in the business of recycling information technology equipment; by 2004, there were 14.

Human Activity and the Environment: Annual Statistics 2005 also provides a comprehensive set of data describing how Canadians interact with the environment in various contexts such as climate, natural resources, ecosystems, and environmental practices. Itis available on-line as a pdf (reference No 16-201-XIE, $26) or in print with accompanying CD-ROM (reference No 16-201-XPE, $46). More information is available from Statistics Canada's Environment Accounts and Statistics Division, 613/951-0297, FAX 613/951-0634, E-mail environ@statcan.ca.

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