Section 1: Introduction

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Most human activities generate some form of waste byproduct or residual in a solid, liquid or gaseous state. Waste generation starts with simple processes such as living, eating and breathing. Large-scale waste production began during the industrial revolution in the 19th century and continues today, as an increasing number of people and businesses produce and consume an ever-widening range of goods and services. Managing waste and minimizing associated environmental impacts have become more challenging as worldwide populations and economies continue to grow.

The statistics and analysis contained in this volume of Human Activity and the Environment 2012: Waste management in Canada are organized around concepts that were developed as part of the United Nations (UN) System of Environmental and Economic Accounts1  The working definition of waste comes from the latest volume of the UN handbook:

  1. Residuals are flows of solid, liquid and gaseous materials, and energy that are discarded, discharged or emitted by establishments and households through processes of production, consumption or accumulation. 2 

Human Activity and the Environment 2012: Waste management in Canada gathers together a variety of statistics describing the generation and management of different types of waste. Not all waste residuals are included in this report, particularly those that are self-managed by producers. The report starts with an overview of waste generation in Canada (Section 2). The remaining sections cover solid waste (Section 3), wastewater discharges (Section 4), and air emissions (Section 5) in greater detail. 3 

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