Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Trash Talking - An Examination of Edmonton's Recycling Habits

In May of this year, Edmonton's Avenue Magazine ran an article by Sydnee Bryant, entitled "Trash Talking".  In this article, Bryant examines Edmonton's waste and recycling habits in the larger context of Canada's reputation for over-consumption, as well as the future direction of this city's recycling program.

Did you know that, situated across 233 hectares of land, Edmonton's Waste Management Centre is also North America's largest
waste management centre?  This may be surprising, given Canada's comparatively low population density (3.41 people/sq km in 2011 vs. say, Japan at 337.1 people/sq km) however the Conference Board of Canada has assessed our nation as deserving a C grade for "[throwing] away more garbage per capita than any other country in the developed world."  According to Bryant's article, in 2008 Canadians produced 777kg of waste per capita, or double the waste per capita produced by Japan!  Edmonton alone reportedly produces 230,000 tonnes of residential waste every year, with about 20% getting recycled and 35% composted.  From these numbers it seems reasonable that the largest waste management centre might be in Canada, but why is it in Edmonton?

According to Bryant, Edmonton's waste management and recycling policies may be the reason.  In Toronto, for example, citizens are discouraged from producing excessive waste in view of the fee of $3.10 they will be charged on every extra bag that won't fit in their gray garbage bins, which are only emptied bi-monthly.  The City of Edmonton  offers a voluntary recycling program that has grown to a 93% participation rate since its inception in 1988!

Edmonton Waste Management sells surplus paper waste to companies like Edmonton's own BPCO, a company that transforms paper into shingles.  Alternatively, our discarded paper waste can also be sold for a high price to countries like China or India who don't have their own impressive forests to cut down for paper.  Did you know that paper can only be recycled so many times before the fibres become too weak?  This means that virgin fibres end up getting added to make the paper stronger.  Greys Paper Recycling Industries Ltd. (which recently started operating at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre) solves this problem nicely by taking old cotton sheets and towels from hospitals and hotels and adding it to their paper mixture in a process called "closed-loop" recycling, and thereby offering up a product that is truthfully made of 100% post-consumer recycled material.

A biofuels facility, expected to open later this year, will be capable of converting residential waste into feedstock for biofuels, like ethanol and methanol, which can then be sold off to generate revenue.

The new biofuels facility will be owned and operated by the Montreal-based firm Enerkem Alberta Biofuels, and will be situated at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre.  With this new
facility, Edmonton's goal is to ultimately divert 90% of waste from the landfill by the time the facility is fully operational in 2016 (vs. our current 60% diversion rate).  Of that 90% diverted waste, hopefully 20% will be recycled, 40% composted and the last 30% converted into biofuels.  Even more good news for Edmontonians: the biofuels facility will accept all kinds of plastic, not just the select types of our current program.

So what does this all mean?  Well despite Canada's poor grades in waste management, Edmonton's ability to divert 60 percent of its waste from the landfill is actually setting the bar for other cities to meet or exceed.  This exciting new biofuels facility will be a game-changer in waste management; just imagine how Canada's statistics can improve if more and more cities follow suit!

You can view "Trash Talking" in full at Avenue Edmonton.com pages 48-57

- Nichole (Volunteer)

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