Recycling in Canada

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In 2006, about 90% of all households in Canada reported using some sort of recycling program1.Recycling in Canada

This sounds like fantastic news – the “reduce, reuse, recycle” message appears to have reached the population and the work of protecting the environment is mostly done.  Is this true?  Find out by taking a closer look at Canadian statistics.

A. Examine the table to see the percentage of Canadian households that are participating in environmentally friendly activities:

Environmentally friendly activities in Canada, 1994 and 2006
Households that recycled: Households that composted Households that used any compact fluorescent bulbs Main type of drinking water consumed:
Metal cans Plastics Paper Tap water Bottled water
Canada 1994 56% 52% 58% 23% 19% No data No data
Canada 2006 81% 84% 83% 27% 58% 58% 29%

Source: Statistics Canada, Households and the Environment Survey, 1994 and 2006

Use your class Census at School data to find the percentage of households in your class that participate in each of these activities
Households that recycled: Households that composted Households that used any compact fluorescent bulbs Main type of drinking water consumed:
Metal cans Plastics Paper Tap water Bottled water
Your class (%)

B. Use the tables above to answer these questions:

B.1 Which material was being recycled by the greatest percentage of Canadian households
in 1994:  (1-----)   in 2006:  (1-----)

B.2 From 1994 to 2006, what was the increase in the percentage of households that
composted:  (2-----)%
used any compact fluorescent bulbs:  (2-----)%

B.3 In which categories is your class

a) very similar to the rest of Canada?

b) more environmentally responsible than the rest of Canada?

c) less environmentally responsible than the rest of Canada?

B.4 Based on the data above which of the following statements is most accurate:

a            b             c

a) Over 80% of households recycle all their metal cans, plastic and paper all of the time.

b) Over 80% of all metal, plastic and paper is diverted from waste disposal facilities through recycling.

c) Over 80% of households recycles some of their metal cans, plastic and paper, some of the time.

C. Consider the total amount of waste produced by the products we consume.

When households report that they recycle, this does not mean that they are recycling 100% of their recyclable garbage.  Consider also that a large proportion of the total waste per person in Canada is created during the production, transportation and packaging of the goods that we buy and use.

In fact, 66% of all waste is generated outside our homes in places such as schools, hospitals, and workplaces, and on the street, in malls and in industry.2  For this reason, we do not have personal control over our portion of the total waste created. We must recycle our own consumer waste and also be aware that manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers are also responsible for recycling the waste created to produce and distribute the goods we consume.

Let’s try to get a better picture of the total amount of residential waste produced and recycled in Canada.

The following table shows how many kilograms of residential waste were produced per person and how much waste was diverted from landfill sites through recycling in 2006. It also shows the percentage of households that used any type of recycling program in 2006.

Disposal and diversion of residential waste and household use of recycling programs, by province and territory, 2006
1 2 3 4 5
Total residential waste disposed3, per capita Residential recyclable materials diverted4, per capita Total materials discarded per capita(Column 1 + Column 2) Diversion rate Households that used any recycling program in 20065
Kilograms per capita Percent %
Newfoundland and Labrador 446 x6 82
Prince Edward Island x x 98
Nova Scotia 181 149 95
New Brunswick 289 44 83
Quebec7 285 122 86
Ontario 292 119 93
Manitoba 386 60 79
Saskatchewan 300 39 87
Alberta 289 98 85
British Columbia 222 145 93
Yukon 214 x
Northwest Territories 347 x
Nunavut x x
Canada 283 115 90


Waste disposed: waste that is landfilled, incinerated or treated for final disposal (does not include materials destined for recycling and composting).

Recyclable materials diverted: materials diverted from the waste stream and remanufactured into a new product or used as a raw material substitute

Total materials discarded: the combined total amount of waste disposed and recyclable materials diverted

Use the previous table to answer these questions:

C.1 Which province disposed of the greatest amount of residential waste per person?

C.2 Which provinces recycled the greatest amount of residential materials per person?

C.3 For each region, calculate the total amount of materials discarded per capita, including waste disposed and materials recycled.

Total materials discarded per capita = Column 1 + Column 2

Record your answers in column 3 of the table on the previous page.

C.4 For each region, calculate the diversion rate (the amount of residential materials recycled compared to the total amount of residential materials discarded), using the following formula:

Diversion rate = Diversion rate

Record your answers in column 4 of the table on the previous page.

C.5 Which province had the highest diversion rate?

C.6 Do you think there is a connection between the diversion rate and the percentage of households that use a recycling program in the provinces and territories? Explain your answer.

D. Graph the results and answer the questions

Create a scatter plot below to compare the percentages of households that used a recycling program (column 5 from the table above) with the diversion rates (column 4). Identify each data point by labeling it with the provincial or territorial abbreviation (e.g.  MB for Manitoba, NB   for New Brunswick).


D.1 Draw the line of best fit (the trend line that fits the majority of data points) for the above graph.

D.2 Describe the trend in the graph.  Does this match your prediction in question 10?

D.3 How can you explain the connection between the percentage of households that recycle and the diversion rate?(3-----)


D.4 What changes could be made in provinces and territories with lower diversion rates and lower  percentages of households involved in recycling in order to improve both of these areas? Consider the responsibilities of governments, industries and individuals in your answer.

Contributed by Angela McCanny, Statistics Canada resource teacher, Ottawa, Ontario

1. EnviroStats “Recycling in Canada” (July 1, 2007). A reported in The Daily. Retrieved June 29, 2008.

2. Statistics Canada. Table 153-0041 – 2006 Disposal of waste, by source, Canada , provinces and territories, every 2 years (tonnes), CANSIM (database), Using E-STAT (distributor).

3. Waste Management Industry Survey: Business and Government Sectors, 2006, Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 16F0023X, Text Table 1: Disposal of waste, by source and by province and territory. Residential non-hazardous wastes disposed includes solid waste produced by all residences and includes waste that is picked up by the municipality (either using its own staff or through contracting firms), and waste from residential sources that is self-hauled to depots, transfer stations and disposal facilities.

4. Statistics Canada. Table 153-0042 – Materials prepared for recycling, by source, Canada, provinces and territories, every 2 years (tonnes), CANSIM (database), Using E-STAT (distributor).  This information covers only those companies and local waste management organizations that reported non-hazardous recyclable material preparation activites and refers only to that material entering the waste stream and does not cover any waste that may be managed on-site by a company or household.  Additionally, these data do not inlude  those materials transported by the generator directly to secondary processors such as pulp and paper mills while bypasing entirely any firm or local government involved in waste management activities.

5. Statistics Canada, Households and the Environment Survey, 2006, Text table 3.7

6. X means data is suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of theStatistics Act.

7. Waste diversion and residential sector disposal data are derived from a survey administered by RECYC.QUEBEC.

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