Green cart collection begins as Calgary aims to cut landfill waste in half

Calgary has begun collecting organic waste from new green bins as part of a composting program that is expected to cut the amount of material that ends up in city landfills in half, once it's fully up and running.

Here's how to use the bins that are now in the southwest and rolling out citywide in the coming months

A city worker uses an automated machine mounted on a truck to pick up a green cart in Calgary. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Calgary has begun collecting organic waste from new green bins as part of a composting program that is expected to cut the amount of material that ends up in city landfills in half, once it's fully up and running.

"It's a major milestone," program implementation leader Philippa Wagner said of Tuesday's inaugural pickups.

Some 80,000 green carts have been distributed in the city's southwest and the city will continue expanding the program, quadrant by quadrant, until roughly 320,000 carts are distributed to single-family homes across Calgary by the fall.

In a pilot program that ran in select neighbourhoods only, Wagner said the amount of waste ending up the residents' black carts — which ends up in the landfill — was reduced by roughly half.

The city expects similar results, citywide, once all the green carts have been delivered and residents have had time to get used to separating their organic waste.

Finding space for new landfills is a challenge and the city estimates it would cost $1.5 billion over 25 years to build and operate a replacement landfill if it fills up an existing one.

Material collected in the green carts will be processed at the city's industrial-scale composting facility, which can turn large volumes of organic waste into nutrient-rich soil in 60 days and can handle types of material that home composters can't.

Calgary's green cart compost program officially starts on Tuesday, with loads of kitchen and yard waste arriving at a new $143-million facility. 0:40

The city will sell the soil to recoup some of the cost of the program but retain five per cent of the dirt for its own purposes.

"Our plan for that is to give it away to residents for free through giveaway days," Wagner said.

"We are also looking to donate material to community gardens."

The first soil giveaways should happen in 2018, she said.

What goes in green bins — and what doesn't

Virtually all types of food waste can go in the green bins, including eggshells, bones, oils and greases, coffee grounds and even coffee filters, tea bags, paper plates, napkins and tissues.

Yard waste such as grass clippings, small branches, weeds and leaves can also go in the bins.

Pet waste, including kitty litter and dog droppings, are also compostable — just don't put any plastic bags in the bins along with the waste.

No plastic, in general, should go in the bins.

Also avoid putting diapers, food and beverage packaging or painted or treated wood in the green carts.

You can find more information at

Kitchen pails and liners

The green carts were delivered along with instructions and smaller kitchen pails that can be used to collect organic waste in the home and then dump it in the carts.

The pails can be used as is or  along with a compostable bag or liner.

This easy alternative to compostable bags can help keep your kitchen bin clean and free of odours, says the city 0:34

Compostable bags are available at dozens of retailers in the city and you can also make your own liner out of newspaper.

The city has provided origami-style instructions on how to fold newspaper into a liner that will fit the pails.

In communities where green cart collection has begun, it will happen weekly on the same day as collection of recyclable materials from blue carts.

Collection from black carts, meanwhile, will drop from weekly collection to every second week.

You can sign up for collection reminders by email or text or phone through the city at

Collection in other quadrants is set to begin:

  • The week of Aug. 14 in the northwest.
  • The week of Sept. 4 in the northeast.
  • The week of Oct. 2 in the southeast.

The net cost of the green cart program is expected to total $6.50 per participating household per month.

That fee will be charged to residents starting in 2018, as city council voted to waive the fees for 2017 and use money from the city's reserve funds to cover the costs in the first year.

Starting Nov. 1, 2017, managers of multi-family buildings will also need to provide residents with access to a composting program.

We tested out the city's instructions and managed to make a liner out of newspaper in a few minutes on the first try. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)