Venturing beyond local borders to elevate Montréal’s circularity

Montréal, the second most populous city in Canada and Québec’s largest city, is a bustling centre of economic activity, infrastructure development and technological innovation. It is also striving to become a circular economy frontrunner. The local government has set ambitious targets, aiming to become zero waste by 2030, carbon neutral by 2050 and 17% circular by 2050. What’s more, the city’s circular economy roadmap was adopted in May 2024.

Despite this, Montréal's economy still consumes an unsustainable amount of resources—extracted worldwide—which is leading to high levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and waste.

The Circularity Gap Report Montréal offers a comprehensive set of baseline circularity indicators. These metrics can empower local stakeholders to assess, track, and enhance circularity within the city and beyond, paving the way for a more resilient and low-carbon economy.

Montréal’s residents use fewer materials than the average Canadian

Montréal economy consumes 27 tonnes of materials per person per year. This is lower than Québec’s material footprint of 32 tonnes per capita and the Canadian average of 36 tonnes per capita. However, this is still more than double the world average of 12 tonnes per capita and more than triple the sustainable global target of 8 tonnes per capita.

The city’s carbon footprint is 13 tonnes per capita

While lower than the national average—at 19 tonnes per capita—Montréal’s carbon footprint exceeds the estimated sustainable level of 2.3 tonnes per person per year.
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Montréal’s material flows
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Montreal's circular indicators set

97% of raw materials consumed by Montréal come from virgin sources. Of all the materials consumed by Montréal’s economy, 3% come from secondary (recycled) sources. This is low, especially compared to the global average of 7.2%. However, circularity is more than just recycling—and many different indicators measure how Montréal uses materials.

For example, 27% of the city’s material use come from renewable sources, while only a 10% share is represented by fossil fuels, which are inherently non-renewable.
This figure shows the circular and linear material inputs, as well as
stock build-up, that make up Montréal’s Circularity Indicator Set.

Local consumption leaves a global footprint

Over half of the city’s material footprint is embedded in imports from outside the Canadian territory. About 70% of Montréal’s carbon footprint is also generated beyond the city's boundaries. The city will need to address the global impacts of its economic activities to become truly circular.

Five visions for a circular Montréal

Through exploring five ‘what-if’ scenarios, we illustrate ​​the potential impacts of the circular transition across key systems. This analysis sheds light on the sectors or value chains where circular policies could yield the most significant reductions in material consumption and carbon footprint.

If all considered measures are implemented, Montréal’s material footprint could be lowered by a remarkable 38%, while the carbon footprint could decrease by 46%.
Build a circular built environment
Material footprint reduced by 12%
Carbon footprint reduced by 9%
Circularity Metric is increased by 0.93 percentage points (pp)
The built environment is the biggest contributor to Montréal’s material footprint and the second largest source of GHG emissions. Therefore, reducing material use in this sector should be a top priority.

This scenario includes optimising building stock expansion and increasing occupancy by extending the lifespan of existing buildings and rethinking the need for new builds. In addition, it explores the effects of crafting a low-carbon, energy-efficient building stock. In terms of new construction, the city could increase circularity by boosting efficient building practices such as bio-based materials and modular design.
Shift to a circular food system
Material footprint reduced by 5%
Carbon footprint reduced by 4%
Circularity Metric is increased by 0.41 pp
Montréal aims to cut food waste by 50% by 2025 while aiming to eliminate all organic waste from landfills by 2030. This city is also considered the capital of urban agriculture with 57 agricultural businesses and numerous community and collective gardens.

To help the city hit its audacious targets, we estimated the effects of a shift to more sustainable food production by increasing organic, local and seasonal food production across the entire food value chain. A balanced diet, limiting caloric intake to the recommended amount, and reducing and valorising food loss and waste are also included in this scenario.
Advance circular manufacturing
Material footprint reduced by 4%
Carbon footprint reduced by 4%
Circularity Metric is increased by 0.13 pp
The manufacturing sector serving Montréal is primarily based on a linear business model that relies on virgin materials. Consequently, it follows the built environment as the second largest resource consumer, representing 30% of the city’s material footprint.

In a circular manufacturing system, product lifetimes are extended through R-strategies like repair and remanufacturing, particularly for machinery, equipment, and vehicles. It also implies advancing resource-efficient manufacturing, for example, cutting yield losses and raw material inputs as well as reusing scrap metal.
Promote a circular lifestyle
Material footprint reduced by 11%
Carbon footprint reduced by 11%
Circularity Metric is increased by 0.3 pp
Montréal is a high-income economy, which typically fuels overconsumption. For example, almost half of used textiles there are wasted, rather than resold or recycled. Changing people's consumption habits is, therefore, crucial.

This scenario explores just one intervention: a low-impact lifestyle of 'material sufficiency' where high standards of wellbeing are maintained and conscious living is prioritised over excess and wastefulness. This includes buying less, using products for longer, opting for eco-alternatives and recycling.
Redesign mobility
Material footprint reduced by 9%
Carbon footprint reduced by 21%
Circularity Metric is increased by 0.28 pp
Montréal has already made impressive steps towards a circular transport system: improving its public transport network, developing bike lanes, increasing the supply of shared bicycles and facilitating the electrification of personal and commercial vehicles.

The final scenario examines the impacts of extending these measures to reduce or avoid unnecessary travel by promoting flexible working and smarter urban design. Additionally, it takes into account the effects of cleaner urban mobility such as lightweight and electric vehicles, shared mobility and electrified public transport.


Explore the methodology behind our work

The next stop in Montréal’s circular journey

Montréal has already taken its first steps to leave linearity behind. The Circularity Gap Report Montréal provides a strong evidence base to inform the city’s long-term circular economy roadmap. Nevertheless, putting this strategy into action will require a shared vision, well-informed, coherent policies and substantial funding.


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