Edmonton's 'Cadillac system' of garbage collection likely coming to an end, mayor says

Cardboard, glass, plastic, kitchen scraps and toxic waste — Edmontonians will be asked to sort more trash at home after an auditor's report shows the city's aging waste management system doesn't do the job well anymore.

'We're not performing how we thought we were. It's a shame it took this long to catch it'

Mayor Don Iveson at an audit committee meeting Friday where councillors discussed the inefficiencies of the 20-year-old waste management system. (CBC)

Cardboard, glass, plastic, kitchen scraps and toxic waste — Edmontonians will be asked to sort more trash at home after an auditor's report shows the city's aging waste management system doesn't do the job well anymore. 

"Folks thought that maybe they could just throw everything in one bag," Coun. Aaron Paquette said at an audit committee meeting Friday.

There was a time when they could.

That was before the city auditor's report revealed that Edmonton is falling far behind its 2012 target of keeping 90 per cent of residential waste out of the landfill.

The city's been diverting about 50 per cent of its residential waste from the dump over the past five years.

Councillors said it's time to put more onus on the individual. 

"The more we create a Cadillac system that does it for people, the more it's going to cost," Mayor Don Iveson said. 

We've been sluggish to respond to changes.- Coun . Michael Walters

He said most jurisdictions have at least a three-bin system that requires people to sort their organics, recyclable materials and regular waste.

"People all around the world do it. It's probably time for Edmonton to move in that direction," Iveson said.
Edmonton's central waste management facility was set up to sort and process materials on site. (CBC)

Coun. Andrew Knack said the city needs to focus on reducing and reusing as well as sorting.

"I don't think it's going to be unreasonable to ask people to do a little more, take a few extra minutes and sort their organics from something else," Knack said. 

Alberta at the bottom

Alberta produced more garbage than any other province in 2014 — twice as much waste per person as Newfoundland and three times as much as Nova Scotia, according to Statistics Canada.

City administration presented the 2014 data Friday, showing Alberta produced 981 kilograms of waste per person. Second-place Saskatchewan generated 832 kilograms per person.

Iveson wasn't surprised by the numbers but said it shows diverting a higher percentage of waste is "even more critical from an environmental stewardship point of view." 

Statistics from 2014 show Alberta produced the most waste per capita in the country. (City of Edmonton)

Nova Scotia generated the least amount of garbage at 387 kilograms per person. Statistics weren't available for PEI, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

"Boy, I had thought we'd be better than what we were," Knack said.

He said the numbers may encourage Albertans as a whole to try to improve.

"We can do far better than what we're doing now," Knack said.

Lost standing

Councillors are clearly disappointed with the city's report card on its once illustrious record in waste management.

"At one time we were very much leading-edge," city manager Linda Cochane told the audit committee. "And we need to get better oversight."

The city's deputy operating manager, Doug Jones, who joined Edmonton in 2016, gives the waste system a "C" grade. 
City administration respond to the audit committee's questions about the city's waste management system.

"We're not performing how we thought we were," Iveson said. "It's a shame it took this long to catch it, and that it fell behind."

The audit report shows operating costs have gone up 30 per cent in the past four years.

"Obviously, there's disillusionment and shock at these numbers," Paquette said. 
Coun. Mike Nickel (right) and Coun. Michael Walters (left) question administration about data in the waste management audit. (CBC)

In terms of processing solid waste and composting, "we've been sluggish to respond to changes," Coun. Michael Walters said.

"I think sluggish is a fair term," Cochrane agreed.

Unreliable measuring methods

Coun. Mike Nickel said he wants to see better value for money, but also wondered why the audit showed unreliable calculations for diversion rates and waste processing costs.

"We found the results to be unreliable for various reasons," the report states.

That includes errors in raw data and inaccurate methods of calculating performance. 
The waste management audit found the results to be unreliable for "various reasons,” including inconsistent methods for calculating diversion. (City of Edmonton)

"What am I supposed to tell the taxpayer? Where'd you get that $95 number from?" Nickel said.

"I'll have to get back to you on that," Jones said.

The deputy operating manager expects it will take two years to get the waste management system up to speed with the goal of having stable operations by 2019.

The operations branch is tasked with bringing a new waste strategy to the utility committee on Feb. 23.



Natasha Riebe


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.