Kitchen waste piling up in Edmonton landfill since compost facility closed last fall

Vegetable peels, egg shells and coffee grounds once made into useful compost at the Edmonton waste management centre are instead piling up in a landfill.

The city is waiting for an engineer's report on whether the facility can be salvaged

The city hasn't released information about the amount of kitchen waste sent to the landfill since the composting facility was closed in October. (Amanda Margison/CBC)

Vegetable peels, egg shells and coffee grounds once made into useful compost at the Edmonton waste management centre are instead piling up in a landfill. 

The city closed the composting facility in October 2017 because of a structural issue with the roof of the aeration hall.

The city's general supervisor of organics, Jawad Farhad, said the team sorts kitchen waste as quickly as possible and moves it to the landfill to minimize odours.

"Right now, we don't have the facility to really treat it the way that we'd like to treat it," he told CBC News. 

Normally, the facility would treat organics to offset heat, odours and various types of gases before transferring it to the second stage of the compost facility.

Yard waste and brush, less odorous and easier to process, can still be taken directly to the outdoor windrow site if brought in by a landscaping company, Farhad said.

"With the kitchen waste right now … there's nothing really we can do with that type of material here." 
Of 135,000 tonnes sent to the composting facility in 2016, only 63,000 was processed into suitable compost. (City of Edmonton)

The city's waste services branch hasn't released information about the amount of food waste sent to the landfill in the past four months, nor the amount of organics the facility processed in the same period the year before.

However, a waste management update presented to a city committee in late February said in all of 2016 about 63,000 tonnes of organics were turned into compost, out of 135,000 tonnes collected.

"As a result of high levels of contamination in the mixed waste system, a large amount of the material processed at the ECF was not suitable for typical compost end uses," the report said.

The city still collects garbage in black bins, including yard waste and kitchen scraps, and sorts it at the facility.

The waste management system recently got a C grade from the city's deputy manager of operations, Doug Jones, after an audit showed it was falling behind on its goal to divert 90 per cent of waste from the landfill.

Daryl McCartney, a professor of solid waste engineering at the University of Alberta, said compost is beneficial on many levels, including the nutrients it adds to soil.

"You're preventing greenhouse gases, you're preventing pollution of groundwater and surface water, so it's a pretty powerful argument for going to composting," McCartney said.

Mixed waste emits methane when decomposing, which is 25 times more potent than the carbon dioxide generated by clean composting. 
Daryl McCartney, a solid waste engineering professor at the University of Alberta, says the case for composting is obvious. (University of Alberta)

Methane can hold energy and increase atmospheric temperature at 25 times the power of carbon dioxide, thereby emitting more greenhouse gases, McCartney said.

Councillors have expressed dismay at the problem in the composting facility and questioned why it wasn't discovered sooner.

Worker safety was a factor in the decision to close the compost facility three months before the audit was released on the city's entire waste management system.

At the start of the international Cities and Climate Change Science Conference in Edmonton this week, Mayor Don Iveson told media the city has a lot of work to do to curb emissions.

"We know that we've had setbacks around even waste management of late," Iveson said.

The city has hired an engineering consultant to assess the situation and report back to council by June.

"We may have to build another facility or we may be able to repair the issue with the roof itself," Farhad said.

The city's first step at realigning the waste management system is to cut the curbside pick up of yard waste and grass clippings by September 2018. In two years, the city aims to have residents sort organics at home before sending them to the composting facility.

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About the Author

Natasha Riebe

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Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.