The amount of waste diverted in Canada must grow if the country is going to achieve its goal of decreasing waste by 30% by 2030, and 50% by 2040, based on the current estimates of solid waste disposal and diversion from Statistics Canada.
One strategy for Canada to achieve these goals is through increased access to residential organics diversion programs. Less than one-third of residential organics are currently being diverted, suggesting there is a large opportunity to increase organics diversion by increasing access to residential organics collection. The second strategy is through increased diversion from industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) sources. The ICI sector consistently diverts less material than the residential sector, despite generating more total waste.
As Canada continues to set more aggressive waste diversion goals, residential collection of organic materials is a part of achieving those goals. In 2018, Statistics Canada reported that 79% of the organics diverted were from residential sources. Yet this represents only 29% of the total organics generated in Canada that could potentially be diverted according to data from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC, 2020).
The number of people who have access to residential curbside or drop-off composting programs has grown in Canada since the 1990’s. The number of residential programs that included yard waste collection increased during this time due to provincial disposal bans on leaf and yard waste. More recently, the number of residential programs for food waste collection have also grown.
Simultaneously the quantity of organic materials that have been diverted from disposal have also increased. Recent data from Statistics Canada indicates that the quantity of organics diverted from landfill more than doubled from 1.3 million tonnes to 2.87 million tonnes, between 2002 and 2018.
Residential Organics Access
To understand how much additional residential organics could be diverted, it is important to first understand who already has access to residential organics collection. The Environmental Research and Education Foundation of Canada’s (EREF-CA) recently published report, “State of the Practice of Organic Waste Management and Collection in Canada,” provides insights to address this question.
EREF-CA’s analysis found that a maximum of 74% of Canada’s population lives in a location with a source separated organics (SSO) program. The majority of these programs include a curbside collection element as 71% of the population lives in a location with curbside SSO collection.
There is uncertainty in these estimates as not all individuals living in an area with SSO collection program will participate nor will all households qualify for the program. An estimated lower threshold for accessibility to curbside organics collection can be based on the number of residents living in single-family homes which more frequently have access to curbside collection.
Table 1: Number of single-family homes in Canada and estimated number of Canadian residents with access to curbside SSO collection.
Percent of Total Population
Single-Family Homes in Canadaa
Single-Family Homes in Area with SSO Collectionb,c
Single-Family Homes in Area without SSO Collectionb,c
a Statistics Canada. 2017. Type of Dwelling Highlight Tables. 2016 Census
b Estimated 2.4 people per single-family household
c Homes with SSO collection based on information in: The Environmental Research and Education Foundation of Canada (2021). State of the Practice of Organic Waste Management and Collection in Canada. Retrieved from www.eref-canada.ca
An estimated 17% of the population lives in a single-family home but does not live an area with a program (Table 1). Increasing availability of curbside SSO collection programs in these areas could increase organics diversion by an additional 1.2 million tonnes. This could increase diversion of all generated waste from residential sources from the 14% reported in 2018 to 17%. While the specific amount of organic waste that could be diverted will ultimately depend on the number of households that participate in any program, universal access to curbside collection of organics in single-family homes will contribute to an increase in organics diversion.
Uncertainty Regarding Quantity of Organics Diverted
There is also uncertainty in the quantity of organics that can be diverted from ICI sectors. The total amount of waste disposed by the ICI sector is consistently greater than that of the residential sector. However, the relative proportion of organics in the form of food waste from ICI sources is roughly similar in both residential and ICI sectors at about 2.9 million tonnes (ECCC, 2020).
Estimating the quantity of additional waste that could be diverted from the ICI sector is more complicated than estimating potential diversion from residential sources. While household organics diversion will vary with participation, location and number of persons, the ICI sector will additionally vary based on the type of business.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a list of average food waste factors for estimating excess food waste by sector (EPA, 2020). The commercial sector is broken down in to seven categories with three of those seven (supermarkets, restaurants full service, and restaurants limited service) including food waste generation rates on an employee basis. On average these sectors generate an excess of 1.67 tonnes/employee/year of food waste.
To develop an estimated quantity of food waste generated from supermarkets and restaurants in Canada, this generation factor can be applied to Canadian employment data. In 2019, there were an average of 1.2 million people working in the Accommodation and Food Services sector which includes restaurants and supermarkets. Assuming that Canadian industries are wasting food at a similar rate, the application of the EPA factor suggests 1.8 million tonnes of food waste is generated by supermarkets and restaurants. This 1.8 million tonnes includes the portion of the supermarkets and restaurants already diverting food waste, thus the amount of food waste diverted would be less than this number.
According to ECCC (2020), food makes up 25% of ICI wastes. Based on the 3.4 million tonnes ICI wastes diverted in 2018, approximately 0.85 million tonnes of food waste were diverted (3.4 million tonnes x 25%= 0.85 tonnes). Excluding this from the portion of waste generated at supermarkets and restaurants suggests there is an estimated 0.95 million tonnes of organics that are available for further diversion from supermarkets and restaurants (assuming 100% diversion could be achieved). While 100% diversion may not be realistic, the point is that additional diversion is possible and can be enhanced from the current state of practice.
Collectively, increasing access to single-family home SSO collection and assuming 100% diversion from all supermarkets and restaurants would contribute to an additional 2.15 million tonnes of organics diversion. This would increase the overall organics diversion rate nearly 75%. However, for Canada to meet the 2030 goal to decrease waste disposed by 30%, an additional 7.7 million tonnes of waste must be avoided or diverted based on total waste disposed in 2018. The additional 2.15 million tonnes of organics would only contribute to about one-third of this and the remaining 5.6 million tonnes of diverted waste would need to come from other sources.
This analysis suggests that expanding access to organics diversion through increased residential curbside SSO access and improved diversion from supermarkets and restaurants can provide a modest reduction in disposal. To meet Canada’s waste reduction goals, increasing organics collection will only be part of the solution and additional waste reduction and material diversion efforts will be essential to decrease waste.
Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). (2020). National Waste Characterization Report: the Composition of Canadian Residual Municipal Solid Waste. http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2020/ eccc/en14/En14-405-2020-eng.pdf. Accessed Sept 2021.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2020). Wasted Food Measurement Methodology Scoping Memo. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/documents/food_measurement_methodology_scoping_memo-6-18-20.pdf Accessed Sept 2021.