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Cutting down on the waste we produce and conserving the water we use means our communities are producing less emissions, as well as being easier on our natural resources.

Municipalities can support households in doingboth these things with good programs and education. How much waste do households in a community produce? How much water do people use every day?

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Why this Indicator is Important

This indicator looks at how much solid waste residents send to the landfill, broken down by household. In Canada, approximately 97% of waste is sent to landfills, accounting for 23% of Canada’s total methane emissions.1 Methane is a greenhouse gas that is released from decomposing organic material. It is one of the most potent GHGs, with twenty-five times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide.2 Municipal governments are responsible for the collection, recycling, composting, and disposal of household waste. One strategy municipalities can use to reduce household waste is to implement composting pick-up. Canadians create over 50 million tonnes of food waste every year, almost half of which comes from households.3 Many households have a backyard compost, but municipal composting pick-up programs can help fill in the gaps. On a larger scale, the Canadian Circular Cities and Regions Initiative (CCRI) is a network of municipalities that promotes local involvement in a circular economy. The circular economy is a framework encouraging governments to reduce all kinds of waste at all stages, from reducing consumption all the way through to encouraging recycling and composting and other methods of repurposing waste into fertilizers, soil supplements, or renewable energy.4

Data Availability and Accessibility: 1/3

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Similar to measuring water consumption, this indicator was more complicated than others to calculate. We focus on household waste sent to landfills, which means looking at curbside pick-up data, along with data measuring waste dropped off directly to the dump by residents (when that information was available). Most of this data comes from cities’ 2021 waste reports. Some cities only report total residential waste, in which case we calculated the household breakdown ourselves using census data.

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Note(s): Data are from 2020 to 2022. Sources include the Municipal Benchmarking Network 2021 Performance Measure report, citywaste reports, and city staff.

Winning Municipality

Guelph, Ontario and Calgary, Alberta are tied for the 2022 winner, producing the least amount of household waste at 250 kilograms each in 2021. In January 2022, the City of Guelph launched the Zero Waste Economic Transformation Lab in collaboration with the private sector and Wellington County. The lab will develop and test opportunities to incorporate a circular economy by reducing and/or redirecting waste.5Supported by Canada’s Smart City Challenge, the city also has the Our Food Future initiative led by the city’s Smart Cities office. This aims to reimagine waste as a resource, using waste products as a new form of energy. This has prevented 1,769 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by diverting 6,479 tonnes of foodwaste from landfill since their start in 2020.6

International Highlight

In 1975, Sweden had a recycling rate of 38%. Today, this figure has jumped to 99%! Sweden is a global leader in waste management and is now on track to reach its zero-waste goal. Sweden is achieving this goal through different policies and projects. One of which is making citizens responsible for handling costs associated with the management of their waste. This monetary incentive encourages producers to properly sort waste and bring it to waste collection stations, which can be found within 300 metres of all residential areas. Remaining waste, that cannot be recycled or composted, is sent to Sweden’s 34 waste-to-energy plants. These energy plants eliminate waste by combustion, which consequently generates energy for heating or electricity. WTE plants are good alternatives to deal with waste that cannot be reused, but we must stay aware that these energy plants emit their share of harmful toxins and GHG emissions.7