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How Canadian Waste applies to the UN's SDGs

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

Opinion by Aryan Bajpai

Canadian waste management is influenced by an international strategy known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In 2015, the United Nations met to plan for the next 15 years. In the process, all the states unanimously adopted the 17 SDGs [1]. The SDGs are essentially a blueprint for development that takes into account human and environmental issues impacting all people. Their intention is for all member states of the UN to work towards achieving targets and indicators for each goal, nationally and internationally [2].

The SGDs are interconnected and interwoven. For an issue such as waste management, Canada must recognize the overlapping intersections of multiple SDGs. Some of the specific SDGs which apply to waste management include: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure; Sustainable Cities and Communities; Responsible Consumption and Production; and Climate Action.

In both the most recent Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) and the Towards Canada’s 2030 Agenda National Strategy documents, there are ample mentions of waste management in line with more than one SDG. For example, in the former (2019-2022), there are plastic waste reduction and ‘polluter pays’ principles mentioned which include SDG targets compared to FSDS goals. One FSDS target, “Divert at least 75% (by weight) of non-hazardous operational waste from landfills by 2030,” [7] is accompanied by SDG target 12.5 to, “By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse” [8].

The work on waste management, specifically in relation to the SDGs, is just starting to take shape in Canada. In 2018, Canada released its first Voluntary National Review Report which checks up on the progress of the SDGs [9].. One notable example is Goal 11- Sustainable Cities and Communities, which included a 2017 Smart Cities Challenge that asked municipalities and their residents to consider solutions for waste management. The Smart Cities Challenge is in line with the SDG indicator 11.6.1 to reduce the total amount of waste sent to disposal [10]. Another is Goal 12- Responsible Consumption and Production, which included a 2017 announcement of a $155 million dollar Clean Growth Program to improve waste management in natural resource operations.

In 2017, a progress report was produced by The British Columbia Council for International Cooperation with support from Global Affairs Canada. That progress report notes that there are opportunities to achieve the SDGs relating to waste management in cooperation with cities and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). Specifically, it says that “An FCM study found that municipalities have direct or indirect influence over 44% of Canada’s GHG emissions by way of their control over infrastructure and their role in services such as waste management, land-use planning, mobility planning, road design, transportation, and public transit. This influence can help Canada achieve its GHG [greenhouse gas] emission reduction objectives” [12]. In the future, I would imagine continued work on this front with all levels of government will make waste management more sustainable nationwide.

It’s not just municipalities or larger governments which are beginning to apply the SDGs to waste management and policies. The company WM (Waste Management) has been committed to the SDGs since 2015 and, according to their website, they aligned their 2025 and 2038 goals with eight SDGs [13]. The most relevant of these goals to waste management is Responsible Consumption and Production.

WM’s plan for that goal includes increasing recycling to reduce emissions for 2025, specifically pledging to “recycle 700,000 more tons of materials, avoiding an additional 1.81 million MTCO2e [Metric tons of carbon dioxide]” released into the atmosphere [14]. WM making this information publicly available is a wonderful way to have the public hold them accountable, and more companies, particularly in the industry of waste management in any capacity, should follow suit. The importance of this public accountability is covered under the SDG Partnerships for the Goals, which establishes that all these goals should be implemented in every sector. When considering waste management, having public participation is vital for innovative solutions and keeping companies and governments accountable.

Accountability is just one of the calls to action necessary for incorporating SDGs into the waste management sectors. The SDGs should be present in all educational curriculums and spread on social media and by word of mouth. That way, everyone going into every field understands the significance of their actions and how their knowledge of sustainable development in general can improve and accelerate progress.

There are certainly both top-down and bottom-up ways for people outside those sectors such as you and I to make waste management more sustainable, and it involves making sure those representing you in government know this is a necessary priority in greening that sector moving forward. You can contact them directly or look for (perhaps even create) non-governmental organizations and community groups with other like-minded individuals passionate about such a cause to do the same. Make sure that, in any case, the SDGs are mentioned frequently as the policy framework along with the specific targets and indicators that already exist for the governments to look to for guidance. We are approaching 2030, the SDGs intended end date, and we need more ambitious action rapidly on all fronts. If we can have more governments and companies commit to the SDGs in all their actions from here on out, sustainable development, particularly in the waste management sector, will certainly be achieved sooner.

Writer’s Note: Looking for somewhere to start learning about the Sustainable Development Goals? Do explore the following website:

  1. United Nations. “THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development.” United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Accessed December 30, 2020.

  2. ibid.

  3. ibid.

  4. Canadian Department of Justice. “Federal Sustainable Development Act.” Federal Sustainable Development Act (2008). House of Commons of Canada, Assented to on May 26th, 2008. Modified December 15, 2020.

  5. Environment and Climate Change Canada. “What we heard: public consultations on the draft 2019 to 2022 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy.” Government of Canada/Gouvernement du Canada, June 19, 2019. ent/consultations-draft-federal-strategy-2019-2022/what-we-heard.html.

  6. Employment and Social Development Canada. “Towards Canada’s 2030 Agenda National Strategy.” Government of Canada/Gouvernement du Canada, July 15, 2019. tional-strategy.html.

  7. Environment and Climate Change Canada. “A FEDERAL SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY FOR CANADA 2019 TO 2022.” Government of Canada/Gouvernement du Canada, June 19, 2019. p.115.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Government of Canada. “Canada’s Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: 2018 Voluntary National Review.” United Nations Sustainable Development. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2018. tionalReviewENv6.pdf.

  10. Ibid, 86.

  11. Ibid, 90-93.

  12. The British Columbia Council for International Cooperation, and Global AffairsCanada. “Where Canada Stands: A Sustainable Development Goals Progress Report.” BCCIC. 2017. 017.pdf. p.65.

  13. Waste Management. “UN SDGs.” UN SDGs | Waste Management ESG Resource Hub. Accessed December 30, 2020.

  14. Ibid.

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