Edmonton

Edmonton diverts only 21 per cent of waste from landfill in 2019

The City of Edmonton is lagging far behind its target to keep 90 per cent of residential garbage out of the landfill, reporting that it diverted only 21 per cent in 2019. 

City attributes low diversion rate to closing of compost facility last spring

A city truck collects organic waste during a pilot project involving 8,000 households in Edmonton last summer. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

The City of Edmonton is lagging far behind its target to keep 90 per cent of residential garbage from the landfill, reporting that it diverted only 21 per cent in 2019. 

That's down from 36 per cent in 2018, the city said in a news release Tuesday. 

The city attributes the drop to the closing of the city's composting facility last spring. 

The city first closed the building for the winter season in fall 2017 after engineers found the roof was not safe. The city closed it completely in spring 2019.

Michael Labrecque, manager of waste services, said the city was aiming to divert 50 per cent in 2020. 

"It's going to be difficult for us to meet that 50 per cent, but we're going to do everything we can obviously to do so," Labrecque said. 

The city is still working on improving the diversion system, he noted. 

"The lower diversion rate confirms what we have known for some time: to make an impact we need to shift how we manage our waste, and our 25-year waste strategy is the best way to do that," Labrecque said in the release.

The city's waste management system has been in trouble since at least February 2018 when an audit revealed it was falling short of its goals. 

City slow to replace composter, environmentalist says

Sean Stepchuk, co-founder of the non-profit Waste Free Edmonton, said at this point, it will be at least a few more years before a new composting facility is ready. 

"If this process had started earlier, that could be coming online now. So it's more of the proactivity that was lacking," Stepchuk said in an interview Tuesday. 

"I mean it's understandable these large infrastructure processes do take time but this should have begun a long time ago." 

While diversion targets are good to have, the city and residents can take steps to reduce what goes into their garbage cans to begin with, Stepchuk said.  

"If we cut a lot of things out beforehand — a lot of the difficult to recycle or non-compostable matter — if those don't even enter the waste stream, then they're not there to be diverted." 

The city should hold producers more responsible for packaging and introduce bylaws aimed at reducing waste, such as banning single plastics.

"At the end of the day a lot of it does come down to people being mindful of their purchases and consumption and considering, 'Is it worth the waste?' when they go to buy." 

The city released its business case on Tuesday for a new composting facility to be built by 2025 on a public-private partnership model.

City council is slated to debate the plan at a meeting May 11. 

The city plans to launch a four-stream bin program in 2021, delaying the original launch date this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Th four-stream program will include green organics bins for all residences, blue bags for recyclables, separate bags for yard and leaf waste and regular black garbage bins. 

Labrecque said the 8,000 households participating in the organics pilot project, which started last summer, remain enthusiastic.

Those materials are being composted in a outdoor windrow at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre. 

By next year, some 250,000 single-family households will be participating in the four-stream program, he said. 

An anaerobic digestion facility — a method of breaking down organics without oxygen — is scheduled to open in June and process about 45,000 tonnes, Labrecque added.

Residents are encouraged to mulch leaves. If they feel compelled to bag leaves, residents should put them in clear bags separate from regular garbage. Better yet take them to an eco station, he said. 

Of the 78,000 tonnes of organic waste a year, Labrecque said up to 20,000 tonnes is leaf and yard waste.

@natashariebe

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