Edmonton could set four-bag garbage limit by 2020

An overhaul of the city's waste-management system could, if approved by council, represent the biggest shift Edmontonians have seen in the past 20 years.

Removing leaves and grass clippings from main waste stream could 'save' city $30M

Edmonton could limit garbage pick up to once every two weeks under proposed new program.

An overhaul of the city's waste-management system could, if approved by council, represent the biggest shift Edmontonians have seen in the past 20 years.

Though more than a year away, the changes would require residents to separate organics from other trash, and would restrict the amount of garbage that could be set out on the curb.

The shift would move Edmonton from a two-stream to a three-stream waste system by 2020.

"We're the only jurisdiction out of the 23 that we looked at that doesn't have volume limits," Mike Labrecque, the city's manager of waste services, said Thursday at city hall.

He was there to outline the proposed changes to members of city council's utility committee.

Mike Labrecque, waste services manager, said the city is planning to implement a city-wide organics separation program in fall of 2020. (CBC)

If the changes were adopted, people would be asked to put food scraps and other compostable materials in green bins and recyclables in blue bags, to keep as much garbage as possible out of the landfill — which costs taxpayers money.   

"Every square foot we build and every bag of waste we pick up has to hit the ratepayer," Labrecque said. "Our focus really, it's a triple bottom line. It's environmental, financial and social."

Neighbouring jurisdictions such as St. Albert, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc County and Spruce Grove have organics programs with high rates of diverting garbage, a report prepared for the committee said.

The proposal calls for Edmonton to test a green-bin program next spring with 5,600 voluntary residences in three wards.

Before the pilot program can start, the city would have to choose one of four ways to implement the plan.

The four options include the same allotment for blue bags and green bins, but vary what would be accepted for residual garbage.

All options would see households use a 110-litre green bins and have an unlimited number of blue bags to put out for pick up. But the amount of regular garbage would vary from 110-litre black bins to 240-litre bins, or four black bags picked up once every two weeks.

Coun. Ben Henderson, a member of the committee, said he favours testing clear bags in lieu of black ones.

"Clear bags — actually, you get better compliance because people are embarrassed about putting stuff in their garbage that they should be putting in the recycling," he said.

Alternatives to the current waste management system have been in the works since February, when an audit showed the city diverts about 50 per cent of all waste from the landfill, compared to its target of 90 per cent. 

Leaf, yard and grass

To help reach the goal, the city plans to eventually stop picking up grass clippings at the curb.

Bags of leaves will still be picked up in the spring and fall, for now, but the city wants residents to leave grass clipping on their lawns or take them to eco-stations, where they can be dropped off free of charge.

"Obviously, we continue to encourage people to leave their grass on their lawn, where it actually does you more good than a plastic bag going to the landfill," Henderson said.

"The faster we can separate out and not have to deal with the yard waste, the better it is for everybody."

Labreque said the decision about grass, leaves and other yard waste will have an impact on future costs. 
Coun. Ben Henderson is encouraging Edmontonians to leave grass cuttings on their lawns. (CBC)

"We can avoid $30 million in capital," he said. 

A new compost facility must be built, and that won't be running until 2022 at the earliest, Labrecque said.

Coun. Sarah Hamilton said she has heard sufficient push back from the public to question whether the plan would work.

"I'm a little concerned about the — I'm going to call them the 'never-ever' people, who said that, 'I will never, ever, use these alternative disposal methods, I'm not grass-cycling,' " she said.

"If you just want to put your grass out, [can] you pay more? Is there a discussion to be had there about those options for ratepayers?"

Labrecque said the city is open to public feedback, pointing out that some jurisdictions pick up grass clippings for a fee.

"Many jurisdictions charge for a big black bin rather than a smaller black bin."

The recycling facility at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre processes paper, newspaper, boxes, tin cans, glass jars and bottles, and plastic containers and bags. (Manuel Carrilos/CBC)

The city will concentrate on single-family homes first and eventually extend the program to multi-family units, such as apartments and condo buildings.

The city plans to do a "broad engagement" with residents and businesses starting this fall, accepting comments online and likely holding drop-in sessions, the branch said. 

Waste services expects to report back to council in June 2019 with a full strategy on residential and industrial, commercial and institutional garbage collection.



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.