Edmonton's Garbage / by The Green Medium

It’s easy to criticize Edmonton for many reasons. From the urban sprawl to way too many vacant parking lots, it’s obvious this city has issues to deal with. But I feel like there is a lot to balance the negatives out – the vast areas of green space, exciting neighbourhoods, and hidden gems in terms of food, drink and nature destinations. But there is one particularly awesome part of Edmonton I want to talk about today, and that is its waste disposal system. Before I began researching for this article, I was vaguely aware that Edmonton’s waste disposal system was “good”. I just had no idea exactly how good it was. So let’s delve into the joys of human waste, shall we?

            Edmonton has long been a leader in recycling technologies. For example, the blue-box curbside recycling program was introduced in 1988 while in Calgary it was only formalized in 2009. 10 years after the blue-box program, the blue bag program was introduced, allowing recyclables to all be grouped together, making it much easier and convenient for people to recycle. But that’s all old news for the most part. Nowadays, there are some pretty amazing new initiatives and facilities being built to increase diversion from landfills from the current 50% or so to 90%. The newest one that will be responsible for this huge increase in efficiency is the Edmonton Waste to Biofuels and Chemicals Facility. The first of its kind in the world, it will transform common household waste into methanol (which has many industrial uses) and ethanol (which is mixed with gas that goes into vehicles). The process will annually divert 140,000 tonnes of waste into 38 million litres of biofuels that can be used in industry. As of next year, it will be operating at full capability.

Edmonton's Waste to Biofuels Facility.

Edmonton's Waste to Biofuels Facility.

            Reading up about this reminded me of a story I heard about Sweden actually running out of garbage and being forced to import more from Norway because, wait for it, they’ve simply converted all of their useful garbage into fuels (only about 4% goes to a landfill). The fact that this is actually a problem for Sweden – that they don’t make enough garbage to fulfill their energy needs – is pretty hilarious, and yet a symbol of how far most other countries have to go, and also how it is very possible to create garbage and yet process it in a sustainable way. When Edmonton’s biofuels facility begins operating at 100%, we can pride ourselves on (almost) having caught up to the Swedes.

            Edmonton has a bunch of other facilities that work to reduce landfill waste, including ECO stations that process electronics, batteries, and chemicals that are not safe for a standard garbage (at no charge). And of course we have bottle depots and recycling depots as well to make recycling large items as convenient as possible. As I also mentioned in my first article, recycling systems around the city are getting more elaborate to facilitate faster sorting of various items, like those around the University of Alberta campus (with categories like Landfill, Organics, Mixed Paper, Metal, etc. clearly marked and all in one place).

            So yes, Edmonton is not a perfect city. The sprawl is ridiculous; “Roger’s Place” is a terrible name for the new arena; I could go on and on. But give us a little credit. Garbage may not be a sexy topic, but I think in this case it’s something we can be a bit proud of.