Canada’s waste management infrastructure seeing gradual renewal

Municipal solid waste landfills were responsible for about 23.9% of Canada’s methane emissions in 2020.

According to StatsCan’s Canada’s National Inventory Report, these emissions had decreased by 3.5% from 2005 to 2020. Results from Canada’s Core Public Infrastructure Survey for 2020 indicate some improvement in the closure or renewal of aging facilities. In 2020, 47.9% of active waste disposal facilities (including active landfills and dump sites, incinerators, and facilities that generate energy from waste) were built prior to 2000 compared with 70.9% in 2016.

Similarly, the share of waste diversion facilities (facilities that divert waste materials through composting, anaerobic digestion or recycling) constructed before 2000 decreased from 25.6% in 2016 to 17.1% in 2020.

In 2020, more than half (52.7%) of municipal organizations factored climate change adaptation into their decision-making process for storm water infrastructure, while just over one-quarter (27.0%) factored climate change adaptation into their decision-making process for solid waste infrastructure.

Public vs private

In 2020, Alberta had the largest amount of publicly owned waste diversion facilities (144), followed by Quebec (140), Saskatchewan (117), and Ontario (115). Local, regional and provincial government organizations in Quebec and Alberta owned more than half (52.7%) of all materials recovery facilities (including sorting and recycling facilities) in Canada, while almost half (49.7%) of publicly owned composting facilities were located in Ontario and Saskatchewan.

Of the publicly owned solid waste facilities that completed construction in 2019 and 2020, Quebec accounted for 44.4% of materials recovery facilities, and Saskatchewan accounted for more than half (58.1%) of composting facilities.

Rural vs. urban

Solid waste tends to be processed in rural areas. In 2020, over half (50.2%) of waste disposal facilities and waste diversion facilities were owned by rural municipalities, where less than one-fifth (16.8%) of the Canadian population lives.

Rural municipalities owned twice as many active dump sites (excluding closed dump sites) and engineered landfills as waste diversion facilities in 2020. In contrast, urban municipalities owned more waste diversion assets (214) than active disposal facilities (196).

Between 2010 and 2020, rural municipalities completed construction of more active disposal facilities (excluding closed sites) (185), than waste diversion facilities (155). On the other hand, urban municipalities brought into service more than double the amount of waste diversion facilities (91) than active disposal facilities (37) during that period.

Compared with 2018, more municipalities in 2020 factored climate change adaptation into their decision-making for core public infrastructure, with the exception of solid waste management. Close to three-fifths (58.5%) of local, regional, provincial, and territorial government organizations (2,160 out of 3,691 organizations) factored climate change adaptation into their decision-making process related to at least one core public infrastructure, up from 51.4% in 2018.

Among core public infrastructure, water-related infrastructure was where organizations most commonly considered climate change adoption in their decision-making, with storm water at 52.9%, wastewater at 48.6%, potable water at 47.1%, and roads at 46.5%.

Compared with rural municipalities, a greater share of urban municipalities factored climate change adaptation into their decision-making process across all nine infrastructure asset categories. The gap was greatest for water infrastructure, for which more than 62.4% of urban municipalities reported it being a factor (up to 71.0% in the case of storm water) compared with around 43.9% of rural municipalities.

Moreover, a higher share of urban municipalities indicated more maturity with respect to asset management planning. More than four out of five (82.2%) urban municipalities reported having reached the developing level of maturity (draft asset management plans for some assets) or better, compared with just under two-thirds (64.8%) of rural municipalities.