Waste and greenhouse gases: Canada’s actions
When organic wastes – such as food, yard and paper – are disposed in landfills, they produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. This process occurs over many years, which means that the methane generated in landfills today is the result of decades of disposal of organic waste.
According to Canada's Greenhouse Gas Inventory, in 2019:
- Emissions from Canadian landfills account for 23% of national methane emissions.
- About 1,420 kilotonnes (kt) of methane were generated, 473 kt were recovered and 851 kt of methane (equivalent to 21 Mt CO2) were emitted.
- Of the recovered methane, 50% was utilized to generate low-carbon electricity, 18% to produce renewable natural gas and 32% was used directly at a nearby facility.
For an overview of how landfill gas emissions in Canada are estimated, please consult the National inventory report: greenhouse gas sources and sinks in Canada.
Reducing landfill methane emissions
By installing landfill gas management systems, methane is recovered before it can be emitted to the atmosphere. The recovered landfill gas is either flared (burned) or used to create low-carbon energy. There are over 100 landfills in Canada that have systems in place to recover landfill gas.
Organic waste reduction and diversion
Diverting organic waste away from landfills and processing it at composting or anaerobic digestion facilities avoids the generation of landfill methane and extends the lifespan of the landfill.
Composting includes everything from backyard composters to large facilities that turn food waste, yard and garden waste and other organic wastes into compost that can be used as a soil amendment.
Anaerobic digestion is an industrial process that is used to convert food and other organic waste into biogas (a methane rich gaseous mixture that can replace the use of fossil fuels and fossil based energy) and a nutrient-rich soil amendment.
Find out more about these organic waste management technologies through the Technical Document on Municipal Solid Waste Organics Processing.
Of course, reducing the amount of food waste created in the first place makes the most of the energy and resources that go into growing and producing food, reduces the amount of waste that needs to be managed, and reduces landfill methane emissions.
Learn more about how we can reduce Food loss and waste.
Recovered landfill gas and biogas generated from organic waste can be utilized to:
- generate electricity
- produce renewable natural gas
- fuel industries
- heat buildings
The energy from biogas can replace non-renewable sources of energy such as coal, oil, or natural gas. The material remaining after the digestion process is called digestate. It is rich in nutrients and is used to fertilize soils, increasing the organic matter content and reducing the use of synthetic fertilizers.
Canada’s actions to reduce landfill methane emissions
The Strengthened Climate Plan – A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy committed to develop new federal landfill methane regulations to increase the number of landfills that recover and flare or utilize landfill gas.
Find out more about the Consultation on reducing methane emissions from Canada’s municipal solid waste landfills.
Greenhouse Gas Offset Credits
Under the Greenhouse Gas Offset Credit System Regulations, a greenhouse gas (GHG) offset protocol is under development for landfill gas recovery and destruction projects. Eligible projects will be able to generate revenue for landfill owners and project developers.
Clean Fuel Standard
In addition to increasing the demand and revenue potential for low-carbon fuels (such as renewable natural gas produced at landfills or anaerobic digestion facilities), the Clean Fuel Standard provides opportunities for non-regulated parties to create credits.
Although not specific to the waste sector, projects that research or take action to avoid or reduce methane emissions from landfills or create low-carbon energy or fuels from waste may be eligible under several federal funding programs, including:
In October 2021, Canada confirmed support for the Global Methane Pledge, which aims to reduce global methane emissions by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030 through focused efforts in the energy, agriculture, and waste sectors.
The Global Methane Initiative (GMI) is an international partnership dedicated to reducing methane emissions, as well as to the recovery and use of methane as a clean energy source. Canada is co-chair of the GMI Biogas Sector Subcommittee, which includes agriculture, municipal solid waste, and wastewater technical groups.
Waste Reduction and Management Division
Environment and Climate Change Canada
351 Saint-Joseph Boulevard
Gatineau QC K1A 0H3
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