Waste management in Canada: a shared responsibility

The word “waste” generally refers to any material, non-hazardous or hazardous, that has no further use, and which is managed at recycling, processing, or disposal sites. Municipal solid waste (MSW) refers to recyclables and compostable materials, as well as garbage from homes, businesses, institutions, and construction and demolition sites.

In Canada, the responsibility for managing and reducing waste is shared among federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments. In general terms, municipal governments manage the collection, recycling, composting, and disposal of household waste, while provincial and territorial authorities establish waste reduction policies and programs, approve and monitor waste management facilities and operations.

For its part, the Government of Canada complements the activities of the other levels of government by controlling international and interprovincial movements of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material, as well as identifying best practices that will reduce to a minimum the possible toxic pollution from the management of waste.

Through a wide variety of programs, the federal government provides funding for pilot projects, community activities and major infrastructure in order to reduce waste sent to landfills and improve how Canada manages its resources. It also collaborates with provincial, territorial, municipal and indigenous partners to develop and implement standards on matters of mutual concern such as the management of mercury from used fluorescent lights, and under the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment to improve waste reduction policies and practices across Canada.

Reducing the amount of waste we produce is by far the most effective way to diminish the flow of garbage into landfill. To be really effective, we have to incorporate the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle – into our daily routine. This means reducing and reusing materials and packaging wherever possible and participating in municipal recycling programs. Materials and packaging that cannot be reused should be recycled at home, work and school. Canadians can also help create a circular economy by purchasing recycled and recyclable products and letting businesses and institutions know when they can improve their practices to conserve resources and protect the environment.

A number of reports have been produced to contribute to discussions in Canada on waste reduction and management. These reports, and other resources relevant to MSW, are collected in the sections below for your convenience.

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