Alberta's Recycling Efforts by the Numbers

A vision of a greener earth and the promise of sustainable resources are sufficient motivation for most Canadians to recycle. Unfortunately, recycling still has some detractors, individuals who argue that the energy and money spent recycling materials minimize the impact of these green efforts.

But, when you look at the numbers, you can see why Alberta and most other Canadian provinces promote recycling – and not just as a public relations effort. Whether you're already convinced of recycling's benefits or want hard numbers about why it's worth it, the numbers in this blog post should sway you to become a vocal supporter of recycling.

The Impact of not Recycling

Before we consider the numbers that justify recycling and how well Alberta is performing, let's take a look at some numbers behind what happens when we don't recycle. The numbers in this section come from Alberta Environment Information Centre, unless otherwise noted.

As of 2004, the average Albertan disposed of 968 kg of waste per year. More recent numbers from Statistics Canada show that number is now closer to 1,052 kg per person annually. That's more than one ton of garbage every year for every person living in Alberta!

All waste that ends up in a landfill takes up space. A single ton of waste occupies about 1.5 to 2.5 cubic metres of space in a landfill. That's approximately the size of a standard oven or refrigerator. Since every Albertan throws away about one ton of waste annually, that's more than 4 million "refrigerators" added to landfills each year (if none of that waste gets recycled).

Some types of waste present additional problems. For example, organic waste that ends up in landfills releases methane gas to the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This waste also takes significant time to decompose – only 25% of organic waste decomposes during the first 15 years in a landfill.

Those are just a few numbers to indicate the impact not recycling has on the environment. Whatever the impact of recycling is on the environment, the impact of not recycling appears more drastic. The long-term consequences of not recycling lead many Canadians to support recycling efforts.

The Impact of Recycling in Alberta

The most recent figures for recycling in Alberta and throughout Canada come from Statistics Canada. The numbers in this blog come from the 2010 report, which was released on August 21, 2013. Let's examine some overarching figures for Alberta and Canada. Then we'll look at data for two important recycling opportunities: metal and electronics.

Detractors often use expense as a reason to discount recycling. But Canada seems to have affordable recycling facilities. Local governments in Canada spent approximately $5 per person to operate recycling facilities in 2010. Alberta's average was slightly higher than the national average, at $7 per person.

Despite the slightly higher costs, Alberta showed one of Canada's largest improvements in total waste disposed. Overall, Albertans sent 6% less waste to landfills in 2010 than in 2008. But, Alberta still had the highest per capita disposal rate of all the provinces, discarding 1,052 kg of waste per person.

One way to cut down on total waste in Alberta would be to divert more non-residential waste to recycling. In all Canadian provinces, non-residential waste exceeds residential waste, but in Alberta it represented 75% of the province's total waste in 2010.

Non-residential waste comes from construction, demolition, factories, industries, hospitals, schools, and commercial offices. Some non-residential waste likely represents metal or electronics that are not being recycled but could be.

Metal Recycling in Alberta

Although they aren't biodegradable, metals represent one of the greatest opportunities for recycling. That's because they can undergo recycling processes repeatedly without being altered in properties or quality. Here's how Alberta is doing recycling metals so far.

According to Statistics Canada, Alberta recycled 20,685 tons of ferrous metals in 2008. By 2010, Albertans had increased that number to 23,014 tons. In both years, Alberta ranked fourth among all of Canada's provinces in this category, after Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia.

Statistics Canada also reports that Alberta recycled 6,814 tons of copper and aluminum in 2008, the third-highest amount by province. Alberta's mixed metals recycling numbers rank is even higher: 20,266 tons in 2008, behind only Ontario's 22,364 tons. (The figures for 2010 are not available due to privacy restrictions from the Statistics Act.)

Those numbers show that Alberta already has facilities for recycling all types of metal, but we could certainly keep more metal waste out of landfills.

Electronics Recycling in Alberta

You might have purchased this year's must-have new cell phone or laptop on sale, but have you considered the environmental impact of buying new electronic gadgets every two to three years? All that upgrading results in large amounts of electronic waste, and too much of it ends up in landfills. Luckily, most electronics are eligible for recycling.

In 2004, Alberta led the charge for electronics recycling in Canada and became the first province to offer the service. Since then, many privatized recycling companies have started accepting electronics for recycling, as well, to keep them out of landfills.

Alberta was one of Canada's leading provinces for electronics recycling in 2008, with 5,429 tons recycled. Those numbers increased to 7,707 tons in 2010, keeping Alberta the second-highest recycler of electronics among participating provinces.

What do those numbers mean in terms of electronic waste? Check out these figures from Alberta Recycling Management Authority:

  • 1.9 million computers
  • 1.2 million printers
  • 3.2 million television sets

We hope knowing the numbers behind recycling motivates you to watch what you use and how you dispose of it. Do your part to reduce Alberta's reliance on unmined natural resources and our impact on the environment by recycling whatever you can.

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