Edmonton

New trash plan gets go-ahead from Edmonton councillors

Edmonton city councillors have given their blessing to a new 25-year waste management strategy that aims to keep 90 per cent of residential garbage out of the landfill. 

25-year strategy starts with new bin pickup system for single homes in 2020

Workers at Edmonton's waste management facility sort through different recyclable products on Dec. 28, 2017. (CBC)

Edmonton councillors have given their initial blessing to a new 25-year waste management strategy that aims to keep 90 per cent of residential garbage out of the landfill.

Council's utility committee agreed at a meeting Thursday to move forward with the plan, presented by the city operations branch.

It includes a major switch for residents to a four-stream bin system that will separate organics, recyclables, residual waste and yard waste starting next summer.

It will be fully implemented by spring 2021 for single-family homes if approved.  

The transition to a bin system is slated to cost $52 million, already earmarked in the city's 2019-22 capital budget. 

Coun. Michael Walters said the phased-in approach should be more realistic than the previous system. 

"I do not want this strategy to be chapter two of the same fairy tale that we were telling citizens before when we only achieve 38 per cent diversion," he told media Thursday. "So we have to make sure we have the ability to deliver." 

Coun. Michael Walters, left and Coun. Ben Henderson ask presenters questions at Thursday's utility committee. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

The new plan comes a year and a half after an audit revealed Edmonton's once world-class waste management system was faltering, fast. 

After the four-stream bin system is implemented for single-family homes, it will be introduced to multi-unit buildings, commercial and industrial buildings in 2022.

The plan also includes restricting single-use plastics by January 2021. 

Council and administration will determine later which plastics — straws, plastic bags, utensils, and other packaging — would be restricted and what institutions, such as hospitals, would be exempt. 

Mayor Don Iveson said he's confident residents are willing to change their sorting habits.

"Edmontonians still have a high level of ambition around the environment and around waste management specifically."

Private participation

Currently, privately contracted companies pick up about half the city's waste.

Several people from the business and waste collection industry showed up at the utility committee to advocate for even more corporate involvement in waste collection and processing. 

Chris LaBossiere, owner of Local Waste Services, said the city should consider contracting out more of the work. 

"This is a 30-year train wreck that's been going on," he said of the city's once-lauded waste management system. 

LaBossiere noted the industry is competitive with 200 different types of haulers on the market. He added that 30 commercial haulers could do a more efficient job than the city.

Chris LaBossiere, a local entrepreneur in the waste management business, urges councillors to try more private contractors. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Walters was all ears to more private contracting.

"I've always been open to way more engagement by the private sector in waste management," Walters said. "Our environmental goals, as they are, are important to me and how we deliver on those goals is equally important."

He mentioned San Francisco's efficient waste diversion system, which functions completely through the private sector. 

Compost conundrum

The city closed its compost facility this spring after engineers shut it down during winter 2017, citing safety risks with snow on the structurally compromised roof. 

Some of the organics from the pilot project with 8,000 homes that started in April were sent to the new anaerobic digestion facility, which the city is still testing after several years of delays.

Mike Labrecque, branch manager of waste services, said in the interim, organics from the pilot are now being sent to the waste management centre and put in a windrow called a gore pad, under a tarp.

He said they're finalizing a commercial arrangement with a third-party processor this fall to deal with the organics.

The new strategy calls for a new compost facility by 2025. 

LaBossiere said he's concerned the city will build another failed facility.

City plans four-stream bin system starting with single family units in summer 2020.

"I think our fear here is — they're going to make more decisions to invest more taxpayer dollars on facilities that may or may not work. " 

He noted that residential composting solutions are available around the world for "fractions of the cost." 

Iveson said the city should be looking to outside jurisdictions to collaborate.

"[There are] opportunities to work with our neighbours on managing our waste as a metro region more efficiently and effectively than as 13 individual municipalities."

As part of the new strategy, the city is also stepping away from collecting garbage at industrial, commercial and institutional facilities. 

Labrecque said it will take a couple of years to let those contracts expire and make the facilities aware that they're responsible for arranging garbage pickup.

The waste management strategy will be before council for final approval in two weeks.

@natashariebe

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