Section 2: Canada's waste generation – the big picture

Waste is generated in various forms and concentrations from all sectors of Canadian society. Solid waste, wastewater, organic waste and emissions to air are all examples of waste produced by households, businesses and industry. It is beyond the scope of this report to address the environmental impacts of all waste residuals, because these are dependent on the quantity and type of substance produced, the local environmental conditions and how the waste residuals are managed after release. In order to provide a relative comparison of the magnitude of various categories of waste produced in Canada, quantities for selected major waste categories are shown in charts 1 through 3.

As a resource producer and processor, Canada generates a significant amount of waste 1  that is solid or semi-solid. Canada's oil sands industry is the largest solid waste producer in Canada and generated 645 million tonnes of tailings from surface mining operations in 2008 including 547 million tonnes of sand tailings and 98 million tonnes of fluid tailings, which are composed of water, sand, silt, clay and bitumen (Chart 2.1). Oil sands tailings are stored in situ close to where they were extracted.

The domestic mining industry (metal and non-metal mineral extraction), produced 473 million tonnes of waste rock and tailings 2  in 2008. Livestock manure amounted to 181 million tonnes in 2006, while households, businesses, institutions and industry generated 34 million tonnes of municipal solid waste in 2008. 3  (For more detail on solid waste see Section 3.)

Wastewater discharges are by far the largest emission into the Canadian environment by weight. Municipalities released 6.4 billion tonnes of wastewater in 2006 and together the manufacturing, mineral extraction and thermal-electric power generation industries released 29.9 billion tonnes of wastewater in 2009 (Chart 2.2). (See Section 4 for more detail on wastewater.)

Air emissions are highly mobile and are easily dispersed and transported by the surrounding atmosphere. These emissions can have impacts locally and globally depending on the type of emission. Over 540 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas, were emitted in 2009 (Chart 2.3). Most CO2 emissions result from burning fossil fuels. In 2009, 25.2 million tonnes of volatile organic compounds and 18.6 million tonnes of particulate matter were emitted to air. (See Section 5 for more information on air emissions.)

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