Edmonton diverts 4,000 tonnes from landfill in first yard-waste pickup

The equivalent of 275,000 bags of yard waste was diverted from landfill this fall as part of the city's new collection program.

City got more than 300 complaints about the new system

The City of Edmonton offered two days for seasonal yard waste pickup this fall from single-family homes. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

More than 4,000 tonnes of yard waste — the equivalent of 275,000 bags of leaves — was diverted from landfill this fall as part of the city's new twice-yearly collection program.

Crews picked up 4,159 tonnes of yard waste — in paper bags, clear plastic bags, and bundles of twigs and branches — from single-family homes on two pickup days staggered across city neighbourhoods between Sept. 20 and Nov. 15.

That number represents about 15 per cent of the 28,677 tonnes of total waste collected in the same period, according to Jodi Goebel, the city's director of waste strategy.

Before this year, Edmonton picked up yard waste with other garbage. The new system involves four streams — food scraps, garbage, recycling and yard waste. (Food scraps go into a green cart, other garbage goes into a black cart and recyclables are put in blue bags.)

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As part of the introduction, the city sent households pamphlets describing how to sort materials and the pickup schedule, including the seasonal pickup days for yard waste.

It also communicated how the new system works on social media and its website, and introduced a free app called WasteWise that reminds users about collection days for each of the four streams.

Yard waste is now collected seasonally, on two days each fall and another two days in the spring; 2022 will be the first year for the spring yard-waste pickup.

"We are seeing pretty good uptake when we have those two dates — you know if you miss the first one, you use the second one," Goebel said in an email to CBC News.

Not everyone understood the schedule or how to properly set out their bags. The city had more than 330 complaints to its 311 line and more queries by email, it said.

Colette Plante, a resident of Westmount for nearly 30 years, missed her first pickup date in September. 

She had late-falling leaves from the boulevard and hadn't started thinking about dealing with them that early. 

Then she missed the second pickup date in October because she thought crews were picking up on a Tuesday — the same day as regular garbage and recycling — when it was really on the Monday.

Plante said she'd give the city's first attempt at the seasonal yard-waste pickup a passing grade only. 

"In talking with other people too, I think we all had the same little hiccups like mine — some that were missed here and there," Plante said. "There's room for improvement." 

When the next seasonal pickup starts in the spring, residents should keep track of their collection dates, Goebel said.

Coun. Sarah Hamilton, who represents Ward sipiwiyiniwak, said mature neighbourhoods like Parkview struggled with yard waste because of the big city trees that drop leaves. Residents in some neighbourhoods found the first pickup too early in the season to be effective, she said. 

"I would like to see seasonal yard waste pickup plans adapted to the diverse need in our city, '' Hamilton said in an email.

Goebel said the city will work on improving the timing of yard-waste collection. 

"Season to season and year to year can change, and we try to do our best to anticipate what are going to be the best yard-waste collection days to capture a lot of the materials," she said.

Residents can also drop off leaves, grass and other yard waste at any of the city's Eco Stations free of charge, Goebel added. 

Or just leave your leaves

Waste Free Edmonton, which advocates for more responsible garbage collection, disposal and education, says picking up yard waste separately is a step in the right direction.

But Sean Stepchuk, the group's co-founder and director, said residents should learn to leave the organic material on their lawns, as they provide nutrients for the soil.

"We're actually having people take nutrients, spend all the time and effort of collecting them, put them in a plastic bag for the city to then have to pay to deal with," Stepchuk said.

Then in the spring, homeowners put fertilizer on their lawns when they could have used the leaves and grass clippings instead, he noted.

Goebel said her goal is to continue educating people on the benefit of leaving leaves on the ground.

"We hope that we get to a place where we all kind of understand yard waste isn't actually waste," she said. "But we've got a ways to go."


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