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Current trends in waste management in Canada

New technology, data and growing environmental awareness are changing how businesses manage waste

9-minute read

Companies are finding new ways to manage waste more sustainably, while also cutting costs.

The changes include sensors and other cloud-based technology to help reduce waste volumes and optimize service levels. Companies are also increasingly measuring the carbon footprint of their waste as a way to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Costs for waste and recycling are also rising significantly, so managing your waste effectively is increasingly important.

“Sustainability is becoming a lot more important for many businesses,” says Jason Wilcox, CEO of Waste Solutions, a company that advises businesses on waste reduction strategies. “Costs for waste and recycling are also rising significantly, so managing your waste effectively is increasingly important.”

“Businesses are usually surprised when they evaluate their waste management performance and see how much it’s costing or how poorly they’re performing and the opportunities that exist to improve”

Here are four new trends in waste management that Wilcox says businesses should watch and take advantage of.

Data in this space has become incredibly important.

1. Waste data

Data is revolutionizing waste management. Thanks to sensors and other new data sources, companies can access more information than ever about their waste and recycling activities.

“Data in this space has become incredibly important,” Wilcox says. “Businesses are now able to get better data on how much waste they’re producing in different departments, the types of waste they produce, the volume going to landfill or recycling and total cost.”

Using accurate data to improve waste management efforts can lead to significant cost savings, Wilcox says—commonly 15% or more.

“If you don't have your finger on the pulse of your costs and how they are impacted, they could escalate quickly to the point where you’re way above budget. From an environmental standpoint, without having a benchmark or baseline, it is hard to know where you are going, so that you can improve.”

4 key sources of waste data

  • Vendor invoices—Bills from waste hauling companies include useful data on your costs, frequency and sometimes weight.
  • Weight reports—Waste hauling and recycling companies can also provide weight reports that let you monitor the weight of your waste, recyclables and compost.
  • Sensors—Sensors in waste disposal bins can give real-time information on bin capacity, fullness levels and contamination.
  • Waste audits—A waste audit measures how much waste, recyclables and compost your business generates, so that you can set a baseline to improve from. Waste is often the result of inefficient activities.

Businesses are increasingly turning to third-party waste consultants to get an unbiased source of credible data. Until recently, data was mostly available only from contracted waste haulers.

“It’s a smart business decision to work with a firm that is independent and arms-length removed from the actual service that’s happening at your sites,” Wilcox says.

Reporting requirements are also behind the push for more reliable data. “Data reliability has been a problem in our industry for years,” Wilcox says. “In some cases, there was a sense of greenwashing, where the statistics didn’t have a lot of integrity. Now there seems to be a true concern over this data transparency and initiatives to drive it.”

Food waste is the heaviest component of the entire waste stream for many businesses.

2. Food waste solutions and technology

Another emerging trend is that companies are increasingly focusing on monitoring and reducing food waste. Many businesses are taking action because a growing number of Canadian cities is prohibiting businesses from putting food waste in the garbage.

“A ban will be coming at some point in many municipalities,” Wilcox says. “Taking action now ahead of the ban is just good business, so you’re set up for success when it happens instead of scrambling to catch up.”

The reason for the bans: Food waste is the largest volume of material in landfills and releases methane gas, which is up to 36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

If food waste was its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest GHG emitter behind China and the U.S., according to the United Nations.

“Food waste is the heaviest component of the entire waste stream for many businesses,” Wilcox says. “If you can divert that material, your diversion rate should increase significantly because you’re taking one of the heaviest materials out of your waste stream.”

Your waste diversion rate refers to how much waste you can recycle or compost instead of sending it to the landfill or the incinerator.

The portion of food waste is highest in certain sectors such as restaurants, hospitality, shopping centres and senior living facilities. But it can also be high at any organization with an employee cafeteria or food service offering.

Companies can promote reduction strategies. For example, they can:

  • find ways to upcycle extra food into a new product
  • sell unused food at a discounted price
  • sell unused food to another business or donate it to a charity
  • optimize food purchases to reduce the amount discarded

New technologies and solutions are emerging to help businesses divert food waste, such as:

  • Composting services—Many municipalities are adding residential composting programs. Though not typically available to businesses, the programs are encouraging the proliferation of composting service providers that businesses can contract with.
  • On-site processing—Some companies use on-site food waste handling equipment, such as macerators, digesters and composters. These devices can lower or eliminate the volume of food waste and turn it into compost, fertilizer or other useful items.

You can optimize your service if you use sensors. If you get picked up less, you pay less.

3. Using sensors to improve sustainability

Businesses are increasingly installing sensors in waste and recycling containers to get better data on their waste management, optimize service levels and reduce their carbon footprint. Sensors can remotely tell you how full bins are and when they were picked up. Camera-equipped sensors can also show the contents of a container, which can help you monitor for possible contamination (e.g. garbage going in a recycling bin or vice versa).

“Instead of getting half-full or quarter-full containers picked up, you can optimize your service if you use sensors,” Wilcox says. “If you get picked up less, you pay less. And ultimately there's a positive environmental impact there because there's less trucks on the road.”

Sensors also improve data quality on waste volumes. “It gets rid of the estimate,” Wilcox says. “We can see exactly how full that bin was every pick-up, which makes for better-quality reporting and gives you vendor performance metrics. Sensors allow transparency in an industry where very little existed before.”

If businesses improve their waste and recycling programs and send less to landfill, it will lower their GHG emissions and carbon impact.

4. Measuring the carbon impact of waste

As more companies seek to reduce their carbon footprint, the focus is turning to GHG emissions associated with waste. Many companies have already made efforts to reduce energy and water consumption and are now turning to sustainable waste management as a way to continue their GHG reduction activities.

“We're seeing more metrics being used in annual sustainability reports around sustainable waste and recycling, where previously the major focus was on energy and water,” Wilcox says.

One of the best steps companies can take is to conduct a waste assessment and audit, ideally with the help of an outside expert. The exercise gives you a breakdown of all of your waste and typically includes recommendations to reduce waste levels, reduce cost and improve your data.

“If businesses improve their waste and recycling programs and send less to landfill, it will lower their GHG emissions and carbon impact,” Wilcox says.