Garbage audit shows Edmonton falls short of standards

Edmonton’s garbage operations need a overhaul, the city’s auditor reveals in a new report released Thursday.

Audit finds not as much waste being diverted from the landfill

The Edmonton Waste Management Centre includes composting, recycling various materials including electronics, a biofuels section, a paper facility and a landfill. (City of Edmonton )

Edmonton's garbage operations need an overhaul, the city's auditor says in a new report released Thursday.

The audit found that the amount of waste diverted from the landfill to the waste management centre has declined over the past five years.

In 2013, 49.5 percent of residential and commercial garbage went to the waste management centre for processing. That amount dropped to 35.7 percent by 2016. 

Doug Jones, the city's deputy manager of operations, said the findings aren't surprising and that the city has been aware of the problems for at least a year. 

He said it's time to update the 20-year-old system. 

"Technology has changed," he said Thursday. "What was acceptable or state of the art even five years ago or 10 years ago, is changing so much now, so we have to change with it."

Edmonton has an all-encompassing waste management system that includes composting, recycling various materials such as paper and plastics, a separate recycling space for electronics, a biofuels facility and a landfill.

The city added a construction and demolition waste section in 2012.

When the facility was created, the goal was to keep 90 per cent of residential waste out of the landfill by 2012. The city reduced the target to 65 per cent by 2018. 

The amount of residential waste diverted from landfills to the waste management centre has hovered around 51 per cent since 2012, far below the city's previous goal of 90 per cent diversion. (City of Edmonton)

Over the past five years, Edmonton has diverted about 51 per cent of residential waste from the landfill.

Coun. Michael Walters said he's disappointed and troubled about the audit, but not surprised. 

"We've been hearing every year ... that we're not meeting our ambitious diversion-from-landfill targets." 

He said "innovation efforts" haven't worked as planned.

A biofuels project by Enerkem, which turns municipal solid waste into methanol and ethanol has not been running at full capacity.

Walters said Edmonton needs a community-wide effort to reduce food waste. 

"We still, as a first-world community in a first-world city, are wasting close to 40 per cent of the food that we purchase," he said. That, in turn, puts huge pressure on the city's waste processing facilities.

Residents' role 

"Because everything is thrown together in one bag — today from residences — you end up with bits of plastic, broken glass, pieces of metal, that's all mixed in with the compost," Jones explained.

He said these materials are combined together, resulting in a very low-quality type of compost that's "very difficult to market commercially."  

He said the city is limited to selling the compost to areas where people don't mind the contaminants as much.  

China is one example of a jurisdiction clamping down on contaminants.
Doug Jones, the city's deputy manager of operations, said the problems with Edmonton's waste management system outlined in the audit aren't a surprise. (CBC)

Jones said the city will look at involving residents more in waste management, by introducing methods such as a kitchen waste and organics program. 

"We don't have the facilities to collect it, so we would have to invest in green bins or something to put them it." 

He said Edmonton may start to see these changes in two to three years. 

High-performance municipalities

The report also says the city isn't on par with other municipalities in its composting, separating, processing and disposal services.

Every municipality has a different way of dealing with waste, but Jones points to Halifax, Ottawa and Toronto as three exceptional examples.

Jones said the city has accepted all eight of the auditor's recommendations, including things like reviewing contract management, evaluating efficiencies and developing a strategy.

The operations branch is scheduled to present its new waste strategy to the city's utility committee at the end of February.