Solid Waste & Recycling


The Mystery Kid on the Block

We all know the numbers ... Statistics Canada says Canadians dispose of 27 million tonnes a year of garbage, over half of which is non-residential (and therefore) IC&I and C&D waste. Whereas we know stacks of information about...

We all know the numbers … Statistics Canada says Canadians dispose of 27 million tonnes a year of garbage, over half of which is non-residential (and therefore) IC&I and C&D waste. Whereas we know stacks of information about residential waste — its composition, how much each single- and multi-family household produces — how communities with curbside recycling compare to those with drop-off recycling, how much diversion a green cart program will get you, and on and on … we know very little about the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) sector.

Any details on IC&I sector waste, except for a few notable case studies that are frequently cited, is a bit of a mystery. We know how much is disposed, but we don’t know where it comes from; is it all from the manufacturing sector, or are retailers and hospitals the “culprits”?

A few cities, notably Calgary, Greater Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto to name a few, have tackled IC&I waste by conducting waste audits or IC&I waste composition studies. US states and cities have developed different policies over time in an effort to reduce the amounts of IC&I waste landfilled.

Quebec and Ontario have both announced plans to target the IC&I sector in future legislation and policies, and other provinces such as B.C., Nova Scotia, Alberta (to name but a few) are also tackling commercial waste and introducing various product stewardship programs. With all this activity, it’s about time we figured out who produces IC&I waste, which IC&I sectors are good waste diverters (and which are not), which sectors produce large amounts of recyclable or compostable waste that could easily be diverted, and so on. These categories (likely only a fraction of the IC&I sector) could then become the focus of future strategies and policies to reduce the amount of waste disposed over time.

So, starting off, who or what exactly is the IC&I sector?

Well, it’s every commercial, institutional and industrial facility you can think of (except for construction and demolition activities that are covered separately). The IC&I sector covers an enormously wide range of activities from retail to manufacturing to schools, hospitals, universities, warehouses and utilities. The waste produced by each of these generators in terms of the amount and the composition varies widely. A few sectors produce a lot of wood or packaging waste; others produce a lot of food waste. This differs markedly from residential waste, where each household produces roughly the same type of stuff. In the IC&I realm, the amount and type of waste is different not only for each sub-sector, but for each generator.

Statistics Canada reports that the Ontario IC&I sector disposed of 6.7 million tonnes in 2006, and that the sector only diverted 12 per cent. This number is frequently cited, and most people in the business agree that it’s a gross underestimate of actual diversion in the IC&I sector. Whereas the Statscan data are the best available, the Statistics Canada Waste Management Industry Survey does not capture waste diversion activities from the following industries or activities:

• Forest industry wastes reused onsite or by other industries (i.e., bark, sawdust, wood waste) for manufacturing into new products or thermal/electricity generation;

• Metal shredding wastes from white goods and auto hulks used as landfill cover;

• Steel industry wastes, such as ferrous slag (used in construction) and electric arc furnace dust (used onsite);

• Coal fly ash and uncontaminated bottom ash from coal powered generating plants used in the manufacture of concrete and cement;

• Non-ferrous metal industrial slag wastes used for sandblasting media and the manufacture of concrete;

• Reuse of cement industry wastes;

• Food and animal wastes sent to rendering plants to make protein meals and fat products;

• Food wastes or other wastes sent to farms for use as animal feed or separate materials used as animal bedding;

• Food wastes from the food services industry that are sent to shelters or food banks;

• Reuse or recycling of C&D wastes such as concrete, asphalt and asphalt singles.

The Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA), believing that considerable amounts of data on IC&I and C&D waste diversion are missed through the Statistics Canada bi-annual survey, commissioned a study of IC&I waste diversion in Ontario, to identify sources of additional waste diversion as well as to gain a better understanding of current IC&I and C&D waste diversion activity. This information is essential to developing an IC&I policy and strategy which will be effective at reducing IC&I waste disposed.

The study was carried out by Kelleher Environmental between July and December, 2006 and relied on literature reviews, website searches, OWMA member surveys and industry association surveys.

OWMA member surveys

Selected members of the OWMA were surveyed to collect general information about their operations. Respondents reported that they managed the following materials:

• Collected 4,598,000 tonnes per year (tpy);

• Diverted through recycling: 1,108,000 tpy;

• Diverted through composting: 162,000 tpy;

• Diverted through other methods (e.g., farms, rendering facilities): 170,000 tpy; and

• Disposed: 5,190,000 tpy (166,000 tonnes may be double counted in this total), which includes material not collected by OWMA members.

Responses indicated that direct-hauled material sent from one industry to another did not constitute a substantial part of diversion activities (under 200,000 tpy). Direct hauling activity is likely carried out by haulers not surveyed as part of the study, or who are not OWMA members.

The list of industries that were actively recycling varied and included manufacturers, educational establishments, large companies (multiple responses), and ISO 14000 certified companies.

When asked which industries could recycle more than they do currently, or which industries throw out a lot of material that could be recycled, the list included:

• retail sales,

• construction (multiple responses);

• restaurants (multiple responses),

• small businesses (multiple responses), and

• heavy manufacturing.

Examples of large amounts of material that has always been diverted in Ontario include:

• metals recycled through metal shredders;

• Two to four million tonnes of ferrous and non-ferrous slags;

• 330,000 tonnes or more of animal wastes;

• Four million tonnes of concrete and millions of tonnes of asphalt, etc.

The Table summarizes significant quantities of material that are likely not captured in the Statistics Canada Waste Management Industry Survey and that are diverted in some cases, or could possibly be diverted in other cases.

It’s clear that robust information is needed for every province that includes the kind of considerations accounted for in the OWMA study. The information needs to be collected in the same way across the country to create an accurate national picture. It’s said that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”; it’s time to start measuring waste and byproducts more accurately to set policy and validate future waste minimization successes.

Note: Having painted a broad picture in this article, I will report further on certain aspects of IC&I waste in the next edition of this magazine.

Maria Kelleher is Principal of Kelleher Environmental in Toronto, Ontario. Contact Maria at

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