What SMEs need to know

Sustainable waste management is more important than ever. While certain industries tend to generate more waste and pollution than others, these issues are relevant to all small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Canada. Many companies already take steps to recycle and reduce their trash, but there are likely other opportunities to manage waste more effectively.


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What is your waste footprint?

Small businesses make up about 98% of all companies in Canada–and every business generates waste. There are many different forms of business waste, which can be harmful to your community, the planet and your bottom line. The type and volume of waste you produce–from your product packaging and food waste to the paper, plastics, chemicals and even soap used in your business–is part of your overall impact on the environment. Regardless of the size of your company, your waste footprint can create land, water and air pollution.



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Why should you care?

Of all the potential ways SMEs can reduce their environmental impact, managing waste is one of the easiest to pursue—often at little to no cost. You can make an immediate difference to your balance sheet and the environment. In fact, reducing your waste footprint is a great way to fight climate change (see In the Spotlight below). 

Plus, with new local, federal and international rules regulating waste and pollution, getting ahead of your waste management now can mean less catching up to do later. Depending on where you do business, you may be subject to waste management obligations on three different levels: 


Your business may be mandated by laws to manage your waste and pollution. There are waste reduction laws at the municipal, provincial and federal level such as the single-use plastics ban.

Other countries of business

Applicable waste management laws and regulations in other countries where you do, or plan to do, business.

International guidelines

ISO 14001 is an international standard with a priority to eliminate waste. It provides a framework and structured approach to help businesses better manage waste.

The waste you generate in your business isn’t just bad for the environment. It costs you money.

Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)


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How does waste management affect exporters?


Increasing global regulation and standards

There are an increasing number of international guidelines and standards in place surrounding waste management and pollution. As countries around the world sign agreements pledging to reduce their waste footprint, exporters must align their practices with stricter requirements.

Worldwide attention to waste and pollution

Canada produces the most waste per capita in the world and contributes disproportionately to the global—and high-profile—plastic crisis. As such, Canadian businesses are under scrutiny by the global community. Also, supply chains and other SME partners are increasingly interested in and seeking evidence of a company’s waste reduction efforts.

Legal considerations

Governments around the world are getting tougher on waste and pollution issues. Laws, regulations and requirements set by global partner countries can be far-reaching. Failing to be aware and compliant could affect your ability to operate, and/or increase the likelihood of facing fines, penalties, or rising costs for liability insurance.

Partnering with EDC

Waste management is also included in Export Development Canada's (EDC) scope of due diligence—it’s one of the environmental and social risks we assess when evaluating transactions that support exporters. 

How waste and pollution affect climate change

In the spotlight

Most of Canada’s waste is buried in landfills. As waste decomposes, methane gas is released, which is one of the most potent greenhouse gases (GHGs) and a huge contributor to climate change. In fact, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada, landfill sites account for 38% of Canada’s total methane emissions. If businesses can improve their waste management and recycling programs—and send less to landfill—they’ll lower their GHGs and carbon impact

The business case > Benefits and opportunities for your company

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Reduces your costs

Costs for waste and recycling are rising significantly, so managing your waste can lower your expenses. Also, by reducing the resources you use (raw materials, water, paper), you can trim operating costs.

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Improves access to financing

Businesses that are managing their sustainability impacts generally have an easier time accessing credit and financing solutions. When your business effectively manages its environmental risks and performance, including waste management and pollution, you may be perceived as a better investment by financial institutions. 

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Enhances the environment and your brand image

Reducing your business pollution and waste contributes to making your neighbourhood, community and planet a safer and healthier place. Even starting small can make a big impact on preserving natural resources and protecting the whole ecosystem. Communicating your efforts can help improve your brand image in the eyes of a public that’s attaching more and more significance to businesses’ environmental responsibility.

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Opens new opportunities

Businesses in various industries have found ways to use waste as raw materials for developing new products. For example, food processing companies have found new revenue streams by transforming fruit waste into bio-fuel pellets and fashion brands have started to use waste as raw materials to develop innovative textiles.

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Boosts employee engagement

Employees today—particularly younger staff—want to work for companies aligned with their values and will seek out organizations committed to environmental stewardship.


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What you can do

Managing the amount and type of waste your business generates doesn’t have to be complex, and your efforts can range from high-tech to grassroots. For example, you can leverage advances in waste management data to help your business gain insights about the amount of garbage produced.

On the other hand, you can simply take conscious steps to reuse or recycle your waste products instead of throwing them away. A waste audit can provide recommendations to reduce waste levels and, ultimately, reduce your costs.

Whether you’re just starting to evaluate your waste management systems or looking for opportunities to improve your waste practices, making positive changes can cut your costs and help the planet, while boosting your reputation in the eyes of your employees, customers and partners. 

Questions to consider

  • Do you have a good handle on how much waste your company generates? 
  • Can you reduce or eliminate the paper used in your business? 
  • Is there an opportunity to compost organic waste? 
  • Could you switch from single-use to reusable packaging?  



Take action

Use EDC’s Waste Management and Pollution Checklist to discover simple ways to reduce your waste footprint. 


Also in this series

Looking to continue this series? Check out the links below:

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Date modified: 2023-11-23