Composting by households in Canada

by Iman Mustapha, Environment Accounts and Statistics Division

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Composting behaviours by Canadian households have increased over the years. Some municipalities have introduced composting programs to increase participation and reduce the amount of waste shipped to landfills.

  • In 2011, over half of Canadian households (61%) had participated in some form of composting; this is up 38 percentage points from 1994. Forty-five percent of all households reported composting kitchen waste and 68% of households with a lawn or garden reported composting yard waste.
  • In 2011, 63% of Canadian households that had composted their yard waste and 60% that composted their kitchen waste used a curbside collection system. The rest used a compost bin or pile or some other method to compost.
  • The type of dwelling a household occupied was directly related to the rate of composting. Over 50% of households in detached or single dwellings reported composting their kitchen waste, compared to 22% of households living in apartments. This reflects the fact that many apartment dwellers can find it difficult to compost.

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Introduction

In 2008, Canadian households produced 12.9 million tonnes of waste. Of this total, 8.5 million tonnes were sent to public and private waste disposal facilities while 4.4 million tonnes were sent for recycling or composting through waste diversion programs. Residential waste disposal decreased by 4.0% from 2006 to 2008, reflecting in part the impact of these diversion programs introduced by municipalities.Note 1

Residential composting can reduce the amount of waste shipped to landfill, and reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions formed from organic material decomposing in these landfills. A number of municipalities have introduced composting programs to turn organic waste into compost. Some municipal programs include set curbside collection schedules allowing households convenient access to the program to encourage participation (Table 1).

Table 1
Selected municipal composting programs
Table summary
This table displays the results of selected municipal composting programs composting program, introduced and collection (appearing as column headers).
  Composting program Introduced Collection
Ottawa Green Bin Program 2010 Weekly
Moncton Wet/Dry Waste Separation Program 1999 Weekly
Hamilton Green Cart Program 2006 Weekly
Edmonton Edmonton Waste Management Centre 2000 Weekly
Vancouver Food Scraps Recycling Program 2010 Bi-weekly or weekly

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What you should know about this study

This study is based on data from the 2011 Households and the Environment Survey (HES), which was conducted as part of the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators initiative. Respondents were asked to report if they had participated in any type of composting and the methods that were used to compost either kitchen or yard waste.

Census metropolitan areas (CMAs) consist of one or more municipalities situated around a major urban core. A CMA must have a total population of at least 100,000 of which 50,000 or more live in the urban core. (See: Statistics Canada, 2007, 2006 Census Dictionary, Catalogue no. 92-566-X for more information).

Not all CMAs are represented in the analysis of all variables in this study as some results were suppressed for data quality reasons. There were various criteria for reporting results of a given CMA, including that the statistics had to have a coefficient of variation (CV) no higher than 33.3 and at least 20 records had to have contributed to the result. Values noted as F in the data tables indicate cases where fewer than 20 records contributed to a result, and that the value was deemed "too unreliable to be published," regardless of the CV. Values that had a CV between 16.5 and 33.3 (and at least 20 records contributing) are to be used with caution, which is indicated with an E in the data table.

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Composting rates for Canada, provinces and selected census metropolitan areas in 2011

In 2011, over half of Canadian households (61%) had participated in some form of composting. Forty-five percent of all households reported composting kitchen waste and 68% of households with a lawn or garden reported composting yard waste (Table 2).

Table 2
Composting, by province and selected census metropolitan areas, 2011
Table summary
This table displays the results of composting composted kitchen and/or yard waste, composted kitchen waste and composted yard waste, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Composted kitchen and/or yard wasteNote 1 Composted kitchen wasteNote 1 Composted yard wasteNote 2
percent
Canada 61 45 68
Newfoundland and Labrador 43 27 41
Prince Edward Island 96 95 69
Nova Scotia 94 92 76
New Brunswick 58 43 53
Quebec 42 25 51
Ontario 75 62 82
Manitoba 56 27 67
Saskatchewan 47 28 53
Alberta 56 30 59
British Columbia 64 41 77
All census metropolitan area (CMA) households 61 45 72
St. John's 53 32 52
Halifax 93 92 86
Moncton 57 47 67
Saint John 83 77 75
Saguenay 30 23Note E: Use with caution 26Note E: Use with caution
Québec 42 23Note E: Use with caution 56
Sherbrooke 64 55 81
Trois-Rivières 33 Note F: too unreliable to be published 37Note E: Use with caution
Montréal 40 18 53
OttawaGatineau 76 65 85
Ottawa–Gatineau (Quebec part) 79 72 85
Ottawa–Gatineau (Ontario part) 76 63 85
Kingston 83 70 83
Oshawa 80 72 86
Toronto 76 71 89
Hamilton 72 68 78
St. CatharinesNiagara 82 69 77
Kitchener-CambridgeWaterloo 70 54 85
Brantford 65 32 82
Guelph 87 79 93
London 68 33 83
Windsor 77 31Note E: Use with caution 81
Barrie 74 59 76
Greater Sudbury 69 59 76
Thunder Bay 68 35 72
Winnipeg 53 24 68
Regina 45 31Note E: Use with caution 41
Saskatoon Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published 37Note E: Use with caution
Calgary 52 27 56
EdmontonNote 3 49 34 55
Kelowna 73 36Note E: Use with caution 85
AbbotsfordMission 51Note E: Use with caution 31Note E: Use with caution 64
Vancouver 56 34 77
Victoria 78 58 86
Non-CMA 63 43 60

Households in Prince Edward Island (96%) and Nova Scotia (94%) were most likely to have composted. These rates reflect the presence of strict waste management regulations in both provinces.Note 2 Households were least likely to compost in Quebec (42%) and Newfoundland and Labrador (43%).

Participation in some type of composting activity varied widely between census metropolitan areas (CMAs). Nevertheless, composting was widely practiced. With the exception of six CMAs, more than half of the households in the remaining CMAs reported composting in 2011.

Ninety-three percent of households in Halifax reported composting either kitchen and/or yard waste. This was followed by households in Guelph (87%), Saint John (83%) and Kingston (83%).

The two CMAs with households least likely to compost were both in the province of Quebec, with 30% of households in Saguenay reporting they composted, followed by Trois-Rivières (33%).

Seventy-six percent of households in the largest CMA, Toronto, composted in 2011. Forty percent of households in Montréal and 56% of households in Vancouver, the second and third largest CMAs, reported composting.

Changes in composting rates over time

The proportion of Canadian households composting has increased over the years (Chart 1).  In 2011, 61% of Canadian households reported composting kitchen and/or yard waste; this is up 38 percentage points from 1994.

Provincially, the largest increases between 1994 and 2011 were in Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Nova Scotia respectively. The smallest increase was observed in British Columbia, up to 64% from 38%.

Chart 1 Composting, Canada  and provinces, 1994 and 2011

Description for chart 1

Composting methods for yard and kitchen waste

In 2011, 63% of Canadian households that had composted their yard waste used a curbside collection system. However, almost one-third of households (32%) had made use of a compost bin or pile for their yard waste. Another 12% reported using a depot or other means to compost their yard waste.

More than half (60%) of households composting kitchen waste did so using a curbside collection program, while 41% of households did so by using a compost bin or pile. A small percentage had disposed of their kitchen waste by taking it to a depot or using an alternative composting practice (5%).Note 3

Composting by curbside collection by selected census metropolitan areas

In almost all of the selected CMAs, households were most likely to have used curbside collection for their kitchen and/or yard waste. This likely reflects the availability of collection services in these metropolitan areas.

Between 2007 and 2011, there was a significant shift in household composting activities (Table 3).  The largest change can be seen in the Quebec region of the Ottawa-Gatineau CMA, with the proportion of households using curbside collection rising to 61% in 2011 from 16% in 2007. This increase is due to the introduction of a weekly curbside kitchen waste composting program in 2010 to supplement the municipality’s existing yard waste composting program.Note 4

Table 3
Composting by curbside collection, by selected census metropolitan areas, 2007, 2009 and 2011
Table summary
This table displays the results of composting by curbside collection 2007, 2009, 2011 and change 2007 to 2011 , calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  2007 2009 2011 Change 2007 to 2011
percent
Canada 33 40 41 8
St. John's Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published 17Note E: Use with caution Note ...: not applicable
Halifax 83 85 90 7
Moncton 57 70 44 -13
Saint John 55 70 63 8
Saguenay Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note ...: not applicable
Québec 25 27 30 5
Sherbrooke 30 57 57 27
Trois-Rivières Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published 23Note E: Use with caution Note ...: not applicable
Montréal 17 25 30 13
OttawaGatineau 40 53 67 27
Ottawa–Gatineau (Quebec part) 16Note E: Use with caution 33 61 45Note E: Use with caution
Ottawa–Gatineau (Ontario part) 48 61 69 21
Kingston 26Note E: Use with caution 59 59 33Note E: Use with caution
Oshawa 74 73 75 1
Toronto 65 73 71 6
Hamilton 58 80 67 9
St. CatharinesNiagara 60 72 68 8
KitchenerCambridgeWaterloo 45 63 58 13
Brantford 41 49 47 6
Guelph 68 66 73 5
London 40 47 42 2
Windsor 53 50 58 5
Barrie 65 74 62 -3
Greater Sudbury 30 66 53 23
Thunder Bay 26 42 32 6
Winnipeg 17Note E: Use with caution Note F: too unreliable to be published 16Note E: Use with caution -1Note E: Use with caution
Regina Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note ...: not applicable
Saskatoon Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note ...: not applicable
Calgary 11 13 20 9
Edmonton 30 38 35 5
Kelowna Note F: too unreliable to be published 58 58Note E: Use with caution Note ...: not applicable
AbbotsfordMission Note F: too unreliable to be published 41 35Note E: Use with caution Note ...: not applicable
Vancouver 35 38 39 4
Victoria 14Note E: Use with caution 24 27 13Note E: Use with caution

The introduction of similar municipal kitchen waste composting programs also contributed to increases in the use of curbside collection in Kingston (up 33 percentage points from 2007), Sherbrooke and the overall Ottawa-Gatineau region (both up 27 percentage points from 2007) and Greater Sudbury (up 23 percentage points from 2007).

Why not compost?

In general, some of the reasons that Canadians cited for not composting included not having a compost bin, or access to a municipal composting program. Other reasons offered by households included the possibility that wildlife or vermin might be attracted to the compost bin, that composting was time consuming, that composting took up too much space or residents were unsure of what could be composted.

Also, some reasons provided were that composting was not convenient or that materials were not collected often enough. However, 10% of Canadian households reported having access to a municipal composting or organics collection program for kitchen and/or yard waste but did not use it.

Factors that may have influenced composting behaviours

Dwelling type

The type of dwelling a household occupied was directly related to the rate of composting. Over 50% of households in detached or single dwellings reported composting their kitchen waste, compared to 22% of households living in apartments (Table 4). This reflects the fact that many apartment dwellers can find it difficult to compost.

Income

When examining household incomes and composting behaviours, it was found that the greater the income, the greater likelihood that the household composted (Chart 2). This applied to composting both yard and kitchen waste.

Chart 2 Income and composting  rates, 2011

Description for chart 2

Composting rates were found to be the highest where Canadians’ household incomes were greater than $150,000, and at their lowest where household incomes were less than $20,000.

Seventy-six percent of households with incomes greater than $150,000 composted either kitchen and/or yard waste. Fifty-six percent of these households composted kitchen waste, while 77% composted yard waste. For both kitchen and yard waste composting, these higher-income households mostly used a curbside collection system provided by the municipality while the remainder used a depot or compost pile (Table 4).

Table 4
Composting by selected household characteristics, 2011
Table summary
This table displays the results of composting by selected household characteristics composted kitchen and/or yard waste, composted kitchen waste, composted yard waste, curbside collection and depot or compost pile, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Composted kitchen and/or yard wasteNote 1 Composted kitchen wasteNote 1 Composted kitchen waste Composted yard wasteNote 3 Composted yard waste
Curbside collectionNote 2 Depot or compost pileNote 2 Curbside collectionNote 4 Depot or compost pileNote 4
percent
Canada 61 45 60 44 68 63 41
Dwelling Type  
Single detached 76 53 56 50 71 61 44
Double 77 54 76 29Note E: Use with caution 74 85 22Note E: Use with caution
Row or terrace 54 41 80 26Note E: Use with caution 50 87 17Note E: Use with caution
Duplex 56 37 64 40 53 76 27
Low-rise apartment 22 22 73 25Note E: Use with caution Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published
High-rise apartment 22 22 70 18Note E: Use with caution Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published
Tenure  
Owned 72 51 59 47 71 63 42
Not owned 34 28 65 31 47 63 40
Education              
0 to 8 years or some secondary 48 36 60 40 55 58 45
Grade 11 to 13, graduate 56 38 62 41 63 65 39
Some post-secondary, or post-secondary certificate or diploma 58 40 55 46 64 59 46
University 67 50 62 44 74 65 40
Income  
Less than $20,000 46 37 64 37 54 64 40
$20,000 to less than $40,000 49 36 53 49 59 56 45
$40,000 to less than $60,000 56 41 59 43 67 58 47
$60,000 to less than $80,000 64 46 56 49 69 63 43
$80,000 to less than $100,000 68 47 58 49 70 62 45
$100,000 to less than $150,000 74 50 61 46 75 64 41
$150,000 and more 76 56 66 39 77 64 42

Education

A similar pattern was found with education and composting.  Households where the highest level of education achieved was at the university level were those with the highest overall composting rates, while households having achieved primary education yielded the lowest composting rates.

Notes

  1. Statistics Canada, 2010, Waste Management Industry Survey: Business and Government Sectors, Catalogue no. 16F0023X.
  2. P. Van der Werf and M. Cant, 2007, “Composting trends in Canada show varied progress,” BioCycle, Vol. 48, no. 4, page 29.
  3. Households could report more than one response to the method of composting yard or kitchen waste; therefore totals are greater than 100%.
  4. Ville de Gatineau, 2013, The collection of compostable materials in Gatineau is about to start, www.gatineau.ca/upload/newsreleases/c-10-125.tpee.pdf (accessed April 2, 2013).
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