Circle Economy Foundationnews
Published on: 
May 8, 2024

Doubling circularity in Montreal’s economy can slash its emissions and waste

Out of all materials consumed in Montréal’s economy, 3% come from secondary (recycled) sources, according to the Circularity Gap Report Montréal. Significantly decreasing the city’s material footprint will be key to meeting its target of 17% circular by 2050. 

This result is primarily driven by high material consumption, typical for high-income economies like Montréal’s. Montréal's economy consumes 27 tonnes of virgin materials per person per year, consisting of metal ores, minerals, fossil fuels, and biomass. Although more than double the global average of 12 tonnes per capita, this amount ranks below Québec’s material use of 32 tonnes per capita and the Canadian average of 36 tonnes per capita.

Because material consumption is strongly linked to carbon emissions, Montréal also has a sizeable carbon footprint—13 tonnes per capita. This includes greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions linked to goods and services sold and used within the city, regardless of where they originate from along the value chain. While lower than the Canadian national average—19 tonnes per capita—Montréal’s GHG emissions exceed the estimated sustainable level of 2.3 tonnes per person per year, a threshold established by the UN Environment Programme and the International Resource Panel needed to support ‘a safe operating space’ on Earth. 

The report estimates that about 70% of Montréal’s carbon footprint is generated beyond the city's borders. What’s more, over half of the materials consumed by the local economy are imported from outside of Canada. According to the report, local consumption must be viewed from a global perspective, including environmental impacts in countries and territories where the resources are extracted and processed.

The city administration has set ambitious sustainability targets, aiming to achieve zero waste status by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050, as well as boost the use of secondary materials to 17% by 2050. The report points out that hitting these targets without lowering the total material consumption could prove challenging. Recycling alone cannot compensate for the vast amount of waste generated during the lifecycle of products consumed and discarded in the city.  

To transition to a circular economy in Montréal, the report’s authors suggest prioritising circular practices in construction and manufacturing, as these sectors combined account for over 60% of the city’s virgin material consumption. Changes in the food system, transport, and residents' habits could also have a significant impact. If improvements are made across all five areas, the city’s material use could be lowered by a remarkable 38%, while the carbon footprint could decrease by 46%. Such impacts would in turn more than double the Circularity Metric, bringing it from 3% to 7%.

The Circularity Gap Report Montréal is the third report in a series dedicated to the province of Québec and the City of Montréal produced by impact organisation Circle Economy. Montréal is the metropolis of the province of Québec, which is one of Canada's ten provinces. The Circularity Gap Report Québec, published in 2021, estimated that the province’s economy was 3.5% circular—a percentage that could be potentially tripled. The report Circular Montréal: Baseline Assessment followed in 2022, pinpointing how sectors and solutions can be best leveraged to bolster circularity in Québec’s largest municipality. These reports have informed public consultations around the development of Montréal’s circular economy roadmap, adopted in May 2024. 

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