Solid Waste & Recycling


The State of Composting Across Canada – Part 1

This column represents the first of a two part series that looks at the state of composting in Canada. It represents the culmination of an analysis of existing information and a survey conducted by 2c...

This column represents the first of a two part series that looks at the state of composting in Canada. It represents the culmination of an analysis of existing information and a survey conducted by 2cg Inc. into composting programs across Canada in 2006. We start by looking at worldwide trends and then examine organic waste generation and composting programs in Canada.

Despite increased waste diversion programs across Canada, our waste generation per capita is increasing at a rate of approximately 1.5 per cent a year. Canada’s reliance on landfill continues to be high and is similar to that of the US at around 70 per cent of the wastes generated.

In Canada, approximately four per cent of municipal solid wastes are composted. This is similar to the United States where about five per cent are composted. Both of these are relatively low. In Europe, where the grass always appears greener from a waste management perspective, more than 11 per cent of wastes are composted. This doesn’t include another seven per cent treated through mechanical biological treatment (MBT). (Note that Europeans use a narrower definition of municipal waste than North Americans so there is some overestimation.)

It’s a tired mantra organics need to be tackled to achieve the lofty diversion goals we’ve set in Canada. A preliminary data review suggests the goals have yet to translate into a meaningful impact on overall national waste diversion.

Except for forward-thinking provincial jurisdictions like Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, most initiatives have been municipally driven. The key driver to initiating a composting program is often the lack of disposal infrastructure. This is particularly true in Ontario where a significant portion of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) waste has been shipped to Michigan. It will be interesting to see if the purchase of the Green Lane Landfill by the City of Toronto has any impact on local organics programs. Does the disposal crisis still exist?

The composting (or at least “alternate management”) of organics continues to be key to effectively and realistically reducing our reliance on landfill. This key seems to be in search of a lock. The solution is clear but how do we actually get there? The solution has the answers but lacks the political voices to make it happen.

Drilling into the data

In very broad terms, about 50 per cent of residential waste is compostable. This includes food waste, yard waste and non-recyclable papers. It’s estimated that about 20 per cent of IC&I wastes are compostable (e.g., food waste, non-recyclable paper), though this can vary widely.

Using the 50 per cent compostable number, approximately six million tonnes of organic wastes are produced in Canada annually in the residential sector. (See Table 1.) About 200 kg/capita are generated on average.

Overall, an estimated 6.3 million tonnes of municipally-generated solid organic waste is generated in Canada (i.e., including IC&I wastes). An estimated 17 per cent of these organic wastes (1.1 million tonnes) were captured for composting in a 2002 study.

Although this article is concerned with municipal solid waste, biosolids, forestry wastes and agricultural wastes loom large and, in the correct context, are candidates for composting.

National survey

To supplement this data analysis, a national survey was undertaken to determine the number of composting programs across the country. Rather than concentrate on composting facilities, the focus was on municipalities that have composting programs. The survey concentrated on the residential sector.

Table 2 presents an overview of composting programs across Canada by province. It’s estimated that 17 million Canadians have access to some form of curbside organic waste collection. Essentially, all of these Canadians have leaf and yard waste collection. Of those municipalities with leaf and yard waste programs, 40 per cent have source-separated organics (SSO) programs.

If the approximately 1.1 million tonnes of wastes composted in Canada were all diverted by the residential sector, then approximately 63 kg/capita would be diverted. Setting aside the undetermined amount composted by the IC&I sector, the residential sector that has access to composting is at best currently diverting from disposal just 32 per cent of the organic wastes it generates.

Access to curbside collection of organic wastes varies greatly. Provinces such as Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Ontario have high access; provinces such as Newfoundland, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have little or no access (though some backyard compost- ing obviously occurs).

Only 52 SSO programs operate across Canada, compared to 131 leaf and yard waste programs. In order to divert more waste from disposal, additional SSO processing facilities will be required across the country.

In the next issue we will provide an overview of the types of SSO facilities currently operating in Canada as well as discuss regional trends.

Paul van der Werf is president of 2cg Inc. in London, Ontario. Contact Paul at Cant is senior solid waste planner in Golder’s Whitby, Ontario office. Contact Michael at

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