'Long overdue': Edmonton plans to roll out green bins

If the pilot project succeeds, in a few years every single-unit home in Edmonton will be asked to separate organics into a green bin.

Green bin pilot program to launch next spring with 5,600 voluntary participants

As part of the proposed plan, garbage may be picked up on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to coincide with the green bin program in 2020. (CBC)

Edmonton is getting ready to roll out the green bins.

The city is planning to introduce a new green bin and yard waste program, which would see organics get collected separately from household garbage.

The green bins will be set on the curbside of 5,600 households, who voluntarily participate in the pilot beginning next spring.

If the program goes ahead, every single unit home in the city will be asked to put their food scraps and other organics into a green bin by 2020. Yard waste will only be picked up seasonally, in the spring and fall, with the option to bring it to an Eco Station year-round.

The details of the program are contained in reports headed to city council's utility committee on Aug. 23.

"This program is long overdue," said vice-chair Michael Walters.

Last year more than 60 per cent of the city's waste ended up in a landfill, according to the reports.

The city is eventually hoping to get that number down to 10 per cent.

"As most people are aware we had a fairly significant view of ourselves as waste management leaders in Edmonton and the truth is that without this kind of . . . project we never were going to be what we hoped we would be," Walters said.

As it is, residents don't have to separate organics from their garbage. Instead, they're collected together and sorted at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre in Clover Bar. 

Organics end up getting mixed in with plastics, glass and other contaminants. The kitchen scraps that would otherwise be quality compost end up in landfills. 

"If you mix everything together and then try to take it apart at the other end, you're never going to end up with a good product," said Christina Seidel, executive director of the Recycling Council of Alberta.

Compost facility issues

The city compost facility collected 135,000 tonnes of waste in 2016 — less than half was turned into compost.

"We need to be diverting all of the organics we possibly can from the waste stream because that's a very valuable material," Seidel said.

Then last October, the compost facility was completely shut down after engineers discovered the roof was rotting. The closure diverted all organics into the landfill until it re-opened this past April. 

It will close again in the fall because the current state of the roof can't handle the weight of the snow. 

The city expects the facility will either need serious repairs or close in 2019, nearly 10 years ahead of its life expectancy.

A new anaerobic compost facility is expected to be running by the fall but it can only handle a third of the capacity of the current composter.

Of 135,000 tonnes sent to the city's composting facility in 2016, only 63,000 was processed into suitable compost. (City of Edmonton)

Separating yard waste will help because it can decompose in less costly windrows rather than the composter, said Coun. Ben Henderson who sits on the committee. About 50,000 tonnes of yard waste is processed at the centre every year.

"With a small effort to keep our organic waste separate we can come up with a much better system and a much cheaper system and a much more effective system for diverting the waste once we get it," he said.

The changes to the yard waste program are expected to save $4.6 million, mostly by cutting back the costs of operating the composter.

As part of the proposed plan, the city could also cut back on garbage pickup from once a week to once every two weeks. 

The cost of implementing the program could range between $26 million and $47 million depending on whether the city chooses to collect garbage in bags or new carts, as some other municipalities have done. 

The city will not be handing out green bins to multi-unit buildings, but is hoping to increase participation in compost and recycling program, according to the report.

With files from Natasha Riebe