Statistics Canada (the Environment Accounts and Statistics Division, System of National Accounts) recently released the results of its survey Households and the Environment, 2006. The document provides a snapshot of the behavior of the Canadian residential sector in terms of its impact on the environment. The Households and the Environment survey was relaunched after a 12-year absence. It collects data on some of the same environmental topics that were investigated in the 1991 and 1994 surveys. However, many of the topics covered in this survey are new.
The major themes covered in 2006 include: water quality concerns; waster consumption and conservation; energy use and home heating/cooling; use of gasoline-powered equipment; pesticide and fertilizer use on lawns and gardens; impacts of air and water quality on households; and transportation decisions. Of interest here is the section on residential recycling, composting and waste disposal practices (including household hazardous or special wastes).
Since the survey was last conducted, the environmental priorities and concerns of Canadians have evolved for all the parameters measured, and there has been significant growth in recycling and composting. In 2006, 93 per cent of Canadian households had access to at least one form of recycling program and 97 per cent of these used at least one of these programs. In Prince Edward Island, almost all households took part: access to and participation in a program were both at 99 per cent — the highest level in the country. Across Canada, access to, and use, of a recycling program has increased since 1994. The share of households with access to a plastics recycling program increased from 63 per cent in 1994 to 87 per cent in 2006.
Twenty-seven per cent of Canadian households composted their kitchen and/or their lawn and garden waste, an increase from 23 per cent in 1994. Particularly high rates of composting were reported by households in Prince Edward Island (91 per cent) and Nova Scotia (69 per cent).
In 1994, the last time the survey was conducted, recycling was becoming common in communities across Canada as about seven of 10 households had access to some type of recycling program. Twelve years later, 93 per cent of the nation’s households had access to at least one type of recycling program. Of these households, 97 per cent made use of at least one of these programs.
Prince Edward Island led the pack in terms of access and utilization, with 99 per cent of households reporting having access to, and making use of, a recycling program. This high degree of public buy-in for waste diversion could be attributed to a vigorous public education program and the institution of mandatory recycling for many materials. Nova Scotia and Ontario rounded out the top three provinces with respect to access to, and use of, recycling. Overall, 97 per cent of Nova Scotia households and 95 per cent of Ontario households had access to at least one recycling program, while the use of at least one program was 99 per cent for Nova Scotia and 98 per cent for Ontario.
Although access to recycling programs is lower in some provinces than others, where these services are available households tend to use them. For example, among those households with access, household use of at least one recycling program was 94 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador and 96 per cent in both New Brunswick and Alberta.
Access to recycling programs for the most common recyclable waste materials varied from province to province as municipalities offered a range of recycling options. For example, some local governments offered curbside pickup services and others set up depots. Some accepted a wide range of material types, while others accepted only a few.
These varying service levels are also apparent at the provincial level where access to, for example, paper recycling ranged from 35 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador to 98 per cent in Prince Edward Island.
Canadian households’ access to glass, paper, metal-can and plastic recycling programs increased from 1994 to 2006. During this period, the national share of households with access to glass, paper, plastic or metal-can recycling programs grew substantially; in the case of plastic, by 24 percentage points.
Use of recycling programs by Canadian households also increased for every type of recyclable material. From 1994 to 2006, the share of households recycling glass and metal cans went from 84 per cent to 94 per cent in both cases. Paper recycling rose from 83 per cent to 94 per cent and plastic recycling increased from 82 per cent to 95 per cent.
These changes may reflect increased awareness by Canadians of the importance of recycling and improvements in municipal collection programs and methods. In 2006, Prince Edward Island displaced Ontario, the front-runner in 1994, for first place in access to, and use of, all forms of recycling programs. In 1994, 21 per cent or fewer of Prince Edward Island households had access to each type of recycling program, and 70 per cent or fewer of those households used each type of recycling program. In 2006, access to, and use of, recycling programs rose to above 95 per cent for each recyclable material.
Nationwide, composting by households grew from 23 per cent in 1994 to 27 per cent in 2006. In the Atlantic provinces, the change in participation was most noteworthy. Households from Quebec westward did compost more in 2006 than in 1994 (except for British Columbia), but to a much lesser extent than their eastern neighbors.
The impact of regulation can be seen in these results. Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia have both developed policies that prohibit the disposal of organic materials in landfills or incinerators. In 2006, the proportion of households that composted and the increase in the prevalence of composting from 1994 to 2006 were far higher in these two provinces than in any other. In Nova Scotia, leaf and yard waste was banned from landfills in 1996 and the ban was extended to all compostable organic materials in 1997. Prince Edward Island’s Waste Watch program was fully implemented in 1999, banning compostable organics from disposal.
British Columbia was the only province where household participation in composting declined from 1994 to 2006. This could be due to an increase in the share of the population living in condominiums and apartments, especially in Vancouver. The popularity of composting in the Victoria CMA, with a 40 per cent household participation rate, was offset by a lower rate (23 per cent) in the Vancouver CMA.
West of the Maritimes, the CMA with the highest proportion of households that undertook composting was St. Catharines-Niagara. The Niagara Region has been an active promoter of composting as part of an overall waste management strategy. The low end of the participation scale among CMAs was occupied by Quebec City (eight per cent).
Household special wastes
The survey asked households whether they had any leftover paint, leftover or expired medication and unwanted electronic equipment and what, if anything, they did to dispose of these items.
Twenty-nine percent of households had leftover paint to dispose of and this was the one material that was most likely to be taken to a depot or returned to the supplier, with 54 per cent of households reporting having done this. Still, 38 per cent replied that although they had leftover paint to dispose of, they still had it and didn’t know what to do with it.
Of the 24 per cent of households with used or expired medications to get rid of, 39 per cent disposed of them by putting them in with the regular garbage, flushing them down the toilet or putting them down the drain. In many cities and towns, pharmacies will take these medications back free of charge and have them disposed of in a safe manner. Thirty-one percent of households said they returned the pro
ducts to these suppliers. Clearly, more needs to be done to educate consumers about return to retail options for spent medications.
Old computers and computer peripherals, cell phones, electronic games and electronic music players are being discarded in increasing numbers. Almost a quarter of the 18 per cent of households who had computers and other “e-waste” disposed of the equipment through a special program, and an even greater proportion (24 per cent) donated them or gave them away.
While almost one in five households put its unwanted electronic equipment in the garbage, 35 per cent of households did not know what to do with it. As with unwanted paint, these results suggest that there may be a lack of access to special waste depots or a lack of communication about these depots preventing householders from disposing of their paints and electronic waste at approved depots.
This survey is scheduled to be conducted every two years, with the next version scheduled for late 2007 and early 2008. The findings will again be reported in this magazine.
To download the full report Households and the Environment, 2006, look under the Posted Documents button at our websitewww.solidwastemag.com
Guy Crittenden is editor of this magazine.