July 16, 2007

StatsCan survey shows sharp rise in household waste recycling

Canadians are recycling their household waste at higher rates than ever, sending nearly 3.6 million tonnes for recycling in 2004, an increase of 65% from quantities recycled in 2000. The overall residential recycling rate rose from 19.3% in 2000 to 26.8% in 2004. Although residential waste production rose by 2.1 million tonnes (19%) between 2000 and 2004, two-thirds of this increase was offset by increased recycling, says Statistics Canada in an analysis of recycling trends published in its new EnviroStats bulletin, released July 13.

The data summarized in the trend review come from StatsCan's 2004, 2002 and 2000 Waste Management Industry Survey, as well as its 2006 Households and the Environment Survey, whose findings were also released last week.

Per-capita waste generation accounted for most of the increase in total waste production, with rising population a secondary factor. Canadians produced 366 kg of waste per person in 2000; this figure had risen to 418 kg per person. (By comparison, the study notes that per-capita waste production in the U.S. was 440 kg in 2001.)

The survey also indicates that income and education level of residents has little impact on recycling rates: so long as they have access to recycling programs, households make equal use of them. The 2006 Households and the Environment Survey (HES) shows that overall, Canadians had high access to glass, paper, plastic and metals recycling programs, with 93% of households having access to at least one type of program. Of these households, 97% made use of at least one recycling program.

Prince Edward Island had the nation's highest rate of access to and use of recycling programs, with 99% of households reporting access and utilization. Nova Scotia and Ontario ranked next, with 97% and 95% access rates, respectively, and high rates of utilization of one or more recycling programs.

The 2006 HES documents a marked improvement in access to and use of recycling programs between 1994 and 2006. Not surprisingly, PEI reported the greatest improvement in both areas, where access to material recycling programs was less than 21% in 1994 and use below 70%. By 2006, the Island had surpassed the rest of Canada in both categories.

While access to recycling programs is a key factor in improving recycling rates, the survey found that the type of dwelling is also significant as this factor determines access. The survey found access to recycling highest for those living in single detached houses (95%), followed by those in mobile homes and apartment buildings (90% and 85%, respectively).

Income and education levels were factors in access as well, with 98% of households with annual income over $80,000 reporting access, compared to 89% of households with annual income below $40,000. As well, 95% of households with at least one university graduate reported access to recycling programs, compared to 87% of households where no one had completed high school.

Notably, however, dwelling type, income and education levels had little impact on actual use of recycling programs. Provided there was access to programs, the rate of use was over 95% regardless of these factors.

The 2006 HES reported a wide range of environmental practices, with nearly 60% of households now using compact fluorescent bulbs (CFBs), and over 40% having installed a programmable thermostat, up considerably in recent years. More households composted, and more also had water-saving showerheads and toilets.

Water conservation is a major concern to Canadians, according to the survey, which found a big increase in the number of households with water-saving devices. In 2006, 60% of Canadian households had a water-saving showerhead, compared with 42% in 1994. About 41% had a water-saving toilet, nearly triple the proportion of 15% in 1994.

Households are taking advantage of new power-saving devices, the survey showed. Between 1994 and 2006, the proportion using at least one CFB more than tripled from 19% to 59%. British Columbia and Ontario were the leaders in this area, with two-thirds of households in each province using CFBs. In contrast, only one-half of all households in Quebec used them.

Programmable thermostats have become increasingly popular as well. In 1994, 16% of households with a thermostat had one that was programmable. By 2006, this proportion had more than doubled to 42%. On the other hand, among households that had such a device, about 16% had not programmed it.

In Ontario, 52% of households had a programmable thermostat, more than double the proportion of 24% in 1994. Households in the Atlantic provinces were the least likely to have one.

Composting has grown in popularity. The proportion of households that composted in 2006 stood at 27%, up from 23% in 1994. The increase was especially large in the Atlantic provinces, some of which prohibit the disposal of organic materials in landfills or incinerators. BC was the only province in which household participation in composting declined.

Some household wastes require special disposal procedures. About 29% of households had leftover paint requiring disposal. Just over one-half (54%) of these households reported that they took it to a depot or returned it to the supplier.

Another 38% said that although they had leftover paint to dispose of, they still had it in their possession, and did not know what to do with it.

About one-quarter (24%) of households had unwanted or expired medications to be disposed. Four in ten of these put them in their regular garbage or down the drain, or flushed them down the toilet. Just under one-third (31%) said they returned the products to suppliers.

Electronic waste, such as old computers, is a growing environmental problem. Almost one-quarter of households with old computers or other electronics disposed of them at special waste depots or returned them to the supplier. On the other hand, almost one in five put them in the garbage, and just over one-third said they did not know what to do with them.

The survey found that certain aspects of household behaviour have not changed greatly since the survey was last conducted during the mid-1990s.

The use of chemical pesticides, for example, had declined only slightly from 1994 levels by 2006, from 31% to 29%. Quebec was the exception, with the share of households applying lawn and garden pesticides having plunged from 30% to 15% over this period, due to strict regulations on pesticide use that have been imposed in recent years.

Household pesticide application was highest in the three prairie provinces.

The study also indicated that the majority of Canadians still commute to work alone in a private car or truck. Federal government figures indicate that the transportation sector accounts for about 24% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 54% of these emissions originate from passenger transportation. In 2006, 83% of Canadian households had at least one vehicle and just over one in ten had three or more.

The 2006 HES found that nationally, in the warmer months of the year, 57% of all people who worked outside of the home reported travelling to work alone in a motor vehicle. In the colder months, this proportion increased to 64%.

The majority (58%) of households in Canada travelled 20,000 kilometres or less in their motor vehicles in an average year, whereas 12% travelled more than 40,000 kilometres. In Ontario and Alberta, 14% of households travelled more than 40,000 kilometres in a year. In Oshawa and Hamilton, the proportion exceeded 18%.

Saskatoon, Abbotsford and Windsor had the highest proportion of people travelling alone in a motor vehicle to work in the summer, while Victoria and Ottawa-Gatineau had the lowest proportion.

The size of a community has a big impact on commuting patterns. In the largest cities, relatively fewer people travelled to work in 2006 by motor vehicle (alone or with a passenger), while more used public transportation.

Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa-Gatineau all had a relatively low incidence of motor vehicle commuting compared to smaller urban centres, although a motor vehicle was still the dominant commuting mode in these large cities.

While the rate of motor vehicle commuting was lower in Canada's major urban centres, when people did use their motor vehicle they tended to travel farther. In both Toronto and Ottawa-Gatineau, nearly one-third of those travelling to work by motor vehicle travelled over 20 kilometres each way.

The HES surveyed more than 28,000 households by telephone in early 2006. The study was conducted under the umbrella of the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators project, a joint initiative of Statistics Canada, Environment Canada and Health Canada. Both the survey and the new EnviroStats bulletin may be viewed on the StatsCan Web site, www.statcan.ca (reference 11-526-XIE).

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