Edmonton

Not a clean sweep: City of Edmonton searching for solution to snow-removal litter problem

Snow-removal machines sweep snow and sand off Edmonton streets, but their brushes leave behind a trail of blue and black bristles. The city is searching for a solution that leads to less waste but hasn't found one yet.

Mill Woods resident has collected more than 5 kg of bristles from street sweepers

Mill Woods resident Theresa Wynn has been collecting these blue and black street-sweeping bristles since December. (Theresa Wynn)

Snow-removal machines sweep snow and sand off Edmonton streets, but their brushes leave behind a trail of blue and black bristles.

That angers Mill Woods resident Theresa Wynn, who has collected more than five kilograms of bristles from her Knottwood neighbourhood and the Jackie Parker Park Rink.

"I can't stand the fact that they're this dense plastic that's going to take years and years to decompose," she said Tuesday on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

The bristles resemble coffee stir sticks, but they're firmer and made of recycled plastic.

'There currently isn't an alternative' 

Travis Kennedy, acting director for the city's infrastructure operations, said sweepers are the most effective and economical way to brush away light snow.

"It's common practice in both industry but also in municipalities around North America," he told CBC News Tuesday.

He said the city has relied on bristles like these for more than 20 years. The bristles aren't falling off because they're old; they're replaced on each machine after about 20 hours.

Once the snow melts, bristle debris appears every spring. The city's spring and summer service crew of more than 100 people removes detritus every year, but it's possible that some bristles spill off bridges and into the North Saskatchewan River. The city has spoken about the issue with contractors, who are supposed to leave no waste behind.

Blue bristles from Theresa Wynn's collection. The last time she weighed her collection, it weighed 5.5 kilograms. (Theresa Wynn)

Searching for solution

Wynn wants Edmonton to find a biodegradable alternative that leads to less waste.

According to Kennedy, the city has been searching for viable solutions with no success so far.

"The feeling is, most of the organic-based bristles just have a very, very short lifespan," he said. "I think that's the technology we need to get on top of and talk about with our industry partners."