Waste management

Imperial recognizes the importance of properly managing waste to minimize potential impact to the environment while using resources more efficiently. Our environmental policy outlines our goal of controlling wastes to below harmful levels and to design, operate and maintain facilities to this end.

In 2021, we updated and enhanced our Project Waste Management Standard, which informs project concept selection and facility design to:

  • Ensure that proper management, treatment, and disposal infrastructure is available for all waste from project construction and operations.
  • Reduce the quantity of and hazards associated with the waste generated during the operation of new facilities.
  • Promote enhanced waste minimization and recycling/ reuse throughout the asset life cycle.

We prioritize waste avoidance when feasible. When waste must be generated, we work to reduce, recover or reuse it whenever possible to reduce volumes requiring disposal. To help ensure waste from our operations is managed responsibly and in a manner that is protective of the environment, all process waste generated from our facilities must be managed at Imperial-audited third‑party facilities.

Year-over-year, the amount of waste we generate varies depending on annual maintenance requirements. However, our objective is to continuously look for ways to minimize waste through practices such as: process changes; raw material changes; material handling, storage, transportation; as well as management of any remaining waste in compliance with applicable regulations.


Initiatives spotlights

  • We continue to increase the amount of caustic waste sent from our Ontario refineries to be used as feedstock in other industries. In 2022 we sent more than 4,600 tonnes of hazardous waste to be reused, an increase of almost 2,000 tonnes compared to 2021.
  • In 2022, oily sludges generated at our Sarnia refinery were treated on site instead of being sent for incineration off-site. Oil and water were separated from solids and recycled in the refinery, and solids were transported off-site for proper disposal, reducing the overall volume of the waste. In 2022, we redirected 14 per cent of our sludge and expect this amount to increase in 2023.
  • At Cold Lake we eliminated approximately 1,800 litres of diesel use per day by switching to glycol heaters — which prevent water used in drilling from freezing during winter — and our light towers to electricity rather than run by diesel generators.
  • In 2022, we saved 10,000 m³ of drilling mud waste by reusing water in our drilling operations at our Cold Lake asset. This work ultimately reduces our freshwater use by approximately 100 m³ for each new well drilled.
  • At our Kearl oil sands operation, we are eliminating disposable plastic water bottles across the site. Refillable bottles are more sustainable and cost-effective than single use plastic bottles. We have installed filling stations at site and our workforce has begun bringing personal refillable water bottles.
  • After a successful launch in 2021, our program to recycle mine truck tires at Kearl continued. In 2022, an additional 324 tonnes of rubber was recycled. A local Alberta company turned the recycled material into camp and site walkway pads supporting site safety at Kearl.

Advanced recycling

Plastics are an essential part of our everyday life, but they are also a valuable resource that all too often gets wasted. In Canada, close to 80 per cent of all postconsumer plastic ends up in landfill due to two key factors: lack of waste management infrastructure and limits with current mechanical recycling technology. While mechanical recycling is effective for easily sorted, clean plastics, plastics like those found in food packaging or bubble wrap are difficult to recycle using traditional mechanical methods.

That’s where advanced recycling comes in. Advanced recycling helps support a circular economy for plastic by broadening the range of plastics that are recycled. According to a 2022 carbon footprint assessment by Sphera, every tonne of waste plastic processed using our advanced recycling results in at least 19 per cent lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to processing an equal amount of our normal crude-based feedstock. 12 The process involves breaking down plastic waste to its molecular building blocks and effectively transforming the plastic waste into the raw material that can be used in the process of making valuable new products like medical and sporting equipment.

We believe advanced recycling is a necessary complement to mechanical recycling to help society address the plastic waste challenge. We are positioned well through our integrated fuels and chemicals business to support recycling initiatives using advanced recycling technologies. Imperial is evaluating the use of advanced recycling at our Sarnia facility to help address plastic waste in a meaningful way. At full capacity, we could recycle enough plastic waste per year to fill 400 Olympic size swimming pools that would otherwise be destined for the landfill or incineration.

Image Sarnia Ontario community members help sort plastic that can be processed in advanced recycling  like chip bags and granola bar wrappers
Sarnia Ontario community members help sort plastic that can be processed in advanced recycling — like chip bags and granola bar wrappers

Strategic collaboration

Imperial is working collaboratively with government, industry peers, communities, academics, environmental groups and customers to help keep plastics out of landfills and waterways. We are an active member of the Council of the Great Lakes Region, Circular Great Lakes initiative that comprises bilateral stakeholders driving action to address plastic waste in the Great Lakes Region.


1Silver Validation for Zero Waste, ExxonMobil Aviation.