Metro Vancouver conducts regular waste composition studies at its regional solid waste facilities to better understand the types of materials being discarded. The most recent study provides a snapshot of waste disposal habits during the COVID-19 pandemic and reveals that 2020 was not a typical year.
The 2020 study analyzed 167 material categories across the single-family, multi-family and commercial/institutional sectors, as well as from small loads. The results were influenced by a decrease in commercial/institutional waste and an increase in residential waste, which shifted the overall waste composition.
Compostable organics remained the largest component of the waste stream in 2020, although there was a decrease from 2018. Other prevalent materials included plastic, non-compostable organics (e.g. treated wood, synthetic textiles and composite materials like footwear), and paper. Total single-use items in the waste stream also decreased in 2020 compared to 2018. Due to changes in the commercial/institutional sector as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a decrease in some single-use items such as cups and utensils, but an increase in retail bags and takeout containers. For the first time, new categories for personal protective equipment, like masks and wipes, were included in the study. Metro Vancouver residents disposed of 528 million items of personal protective equipment in 2020 — mostly gloves and masks.
The results of this study highlight the importance of ongoing initiatives at the federal, provincial and local government levels to reduce single-use items and new initiatives such as the alternative fuel and recyclables recovery project that targets wood from small loads. As 2020 was not a typical year, future annual waste composition studies will help Metro Vancouver evaluate any lasting disposal trends.
Read the 2020 Waste Composition Study.