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Pilot physical flow account for plastic material, 2019

Released: 2023-03-09

The pilot Physical Flow Account for Plastic Material is an environmental-economic account that estimates the flow of plastic through the Canadian economy. The account provides annual estimates by product category, resin type, and province and territory. The time-series starts in 2012 and now includes 2019.

The flow begins with production, continues with use, and tracks waste and recycling.

Infographic 1  Thumbnail for Infographic 1: Structure of the pilot physical flow account for plastic material
Structure of the pilot physical flow account for plastic material

For the first time, year-to-year change shows a dip in produced plastic for Canadian consumption

In 2019, the amount of plastic in products produced for Canadian consumption was 6,176 kilotonnes (kt). This amount decreased about 2% from the 2018 level of 6,323 kt. It is the first time since 2012 that the amount of plastic in products produced for Canadian consumption decreased between two consecutive years.

The amount of plastic for Canadian consumption is dependent on domestically produced items and the result of net trade—calculated as imports minus exports. From 2018 to 2019, net trade decreased by 8%, offsetting the 1% increase for domestically produced plastic.

In 2019, 68% of plastic for Canadian consumption came from domestically produced items and 32% was the plastic content of net trade.

Production for Canadian consumption and permanent disposal of plastic increased from 2012 to 2019

The 2019 level of 6,176 kt of produced plastic—made for Canadian consumption—increased 20% over the 2012 level of 5,158 kt. Plastic in products permanently disposed of in Canada by either landfill or thermal treatment (such as incineration or gasification), increased 13% from 2012 (3,490 kt) to 2019 (3,942 kt). Per capita, about 105 kg of plastic waste was permanently disposed of in 2019, which is a slight decrease from 108 kg per person in 2018.

The higher rate of growth for produced versus disposed plastic was largely attributable to increased plastic content of products with long lifespans, such as buildings and vehicles. These products remain in use for a longer time, so their disposal will occur many years later.

In 2019, construction materials such as pipes, sidings, frames and insulation made up 24% of all plastic produced for Canadian consumption, while vehicles contained 16% of the produced plastic.

Packaging—which includes items such as bottles, containers and bags—constituted 37% of total produced plastic for Canadian consumption in 2019. Of all plastic in products permanently disposed of in Canada, packaging with shorter lifespans comprised almost half (49%) in 2019.

Electrical and electronic equipment, textiles, agricultural film and other miscellaneous products constituted the remaining product categories. Together, they contained 23% of plastic produced for Canadian consumption.

The type and amount of recycled resins for 2019 was mainly from discarded packaging products in the most populous provinces

In 2019, households, businesses and institutions in Canada initially discarded 4,364 kt of plastic. From that amount, around 1,330 kt was diverted, and finally recyclers produced about 402 kt of recycled plastic resins that were made available to product manufacturers.

The 2019 amount of recycled plastic resins increased 10% from the 2018 level of 365 kt. The year-to-year increase is mainly attributable to Canada importing more plastic waste and scrap than it exported for the first time since 2012.

Packaging products were the source of 83% (334 kt) of all recycled plastic resins in Canada for 2019.

The most common recycled plastic resins are polyethylene (PE – 136 kt) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET – 83 kt), which together made up 55% of all types of recycled plastic resins in 2019. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polypropylene (PP) and polystyrene (PS) comprised nearly one-third (31%) of the total, and the remaining 14% were various other resins.

About 88% of plastic bales, prepared by primary processors in Canada, were sourced from the most populous provinces: Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta.

The national rate of primary processors converting total discarded plastic into baled plastic for recyclers was 11% in 2019. Saskatchewan (14%), Quebec (13%), Yukon (13%), British Columbia (13%) and Nova Scotia (12%) showed higher rates than the 2019 national average.

  Note to readers

The pilot physical flow account for plastic material (PFAPM) was created to support the Government of Canada's Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste. It is an experimental project estimating the life cycle of plastic in Canada. The account is investigational in nature and allows for the exploration of long-term trends. Statistics Canada may further develop the methodology based on lessons learned from this pilot project.

The PFAPM accounts for the plastic content of internationally imported and exported products as well as international imports and exports of sorted and baled plastic waste. The PFAPM does not account for international trade of recycled plastic resin, nor does it account for interprovincial trade in sorted and baled plastic, or recycled plastic resin. Subsequently, the geographic dimension of estimates for recycled plastic resin represents the province or territory where the plastic was discarded, not the location of the final processor producing the recycled pellets and flakes.

The PFAPM only estimates the weight of plastic in items, not the total weight of an item itself, nor other materials that make up the item. It does not, for example, include the weight of metal in vehicles, or the fraction of that metal that is recycled.

In the account, recycled resins are produced from plastic recovered from discarded products that enter waste management streams and are processed into pellets and flakes ready for use in the production of new products or chemicals.

Items that may be re-used, such as vehicles or clothes, are accounted for in the net stock of plastic in products that remain in use at the end of each year. This variable is the difference between plastic in products produced for Canadian consumption and total discarded plastic in products, and it accounts for: products that are produced in the current year but will only be discarded in future years; products that were produced in previous years and are being discarded in the current year; and products that are being discarded by one user and re-used by another, without entering a waste management stream.

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; or Media Relations (

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