Woebegone Waste Management: Audit Shows a Struggling System
The City of Edmonton provides a number of important services to Edmontonians and waste management is one of them. The list of services provided by Waste Management is expansive, ranging from the collection and disposal of waste to research and education. Edmonton has long since touted our Waste Management System as world class and our facilities as state of the art. As it turns out, the rhetoric is far removed from reality, according to the recently released Waste Services Audit.
In fact, the Waste Services Audit shows that Edmonton has been missing the mark on waste management, waste reduction, and waste prevention. This issue ranges from the manner in which we process waste to the capacity of our infrastructure itself.
This news is disappointing, to say the least. However, this report is also an opportunity for City Council, City administration, and Edmontonians to refine our system to more effectively and efficiently divert waste.
By the Numbers
- 981 kg – How much waste produced per Albertan in 2014—enough to make us the highest volume of waste producers in the country by a wide margin.
- 1,000,000 tonnes – How much waste the City of Edmonton is estimated to generate each year.
- 51.5% – How much residential waste was diverted from landfills in 2016—this falls desperately short of our goal of 90% of residential waste diversion.
- 35.7% – How much overall waste was diverted from landfills in 2016—this number is down from 49.5% in 2013.
- 38% – How much monthly rates have increased between 2012 to 2018.
Edmonton’s Waste Management System
Our Waste Management System is an integrated and intricate structure that collects, diverts, reduces, and prevents waste in our City. The aim is to create a system that is focused on sustainability. This is achieved through diverting waste from landfills, reducing emissions and pollutions, and conserving resources.
The Edmonton Waste Management Centre is a collection of waste processing plants and research facilities.
To manage the 1 million tonnes of waste that we generate, Edmonton currently employs a system of Integrated Processing and Transferring, whereby we centrally sort waste. That is to say, the separating of waste is done at the waste management facility. Once the waste is received, it is sorted into 3 separate streams of: biofuel production, compost processing, and landfill.
At the moment, with concerns over the structural stability of the Edmonton Composting Facility, compost is diverted to landfills rather than processed for organic use. Additionally, the facility for biofuel production is not operating at full capacity, due to issues with moisture buildup.
The lack of stable infrastructure contributes to inefficiencies in diverting residential waste from landfills. However, the deficiencies in our infrastructure extend beyond the structural concerns with the Edmonton Composting Facility and the Waste Biofuels and Chemical Facility. The streamlining of our infrastructure will include establishing systems by which we, as residents, will take on more responsibility in sorting and diverting waste. At the moment, Edmonton’s Waste Management system is based on voluntary participation, whereby residents are encouraged to opt in.
This differs from most jurisdictions, which more commonly employ a 3 bin system where residents are required to separate waste, organic/compost, and recyclables at home. Calgary, Vancouver, Portland, and Seattle are examples of municipalities of comparable populations that employ the 3 bin system in an effort to divert waste.
The investments and restructuring of Edmonton’s waste management infrastructure will require us to rethink the way in which we, as a city, understand garbage. Rather than focusing only on disposal and energy recovery, our infrastructure should support prevention and minimization, which are much more cost-effective and sustainable methods of waste management.
What Comes Next
The Waste Services Audit demonstrated how we are failing to meet our own goals for efficiency in our waste management. The assessment demonstrated why it took so long to notice the shortcomings of the existing system. The lack of a formal, cohesive framework to review monitor, and assess the performance of our waste management services made it difficult to determine the extent and scope of our inefficiencies. In order to rectify this issue, the City Auditor presented eight recommendations to the Committee.
These recommendations include: developing a uniform measuring scheme to assess our waste management systems; re-developing a waste management strategy with a greater emphasis on waste reduction and reuse in collaboration with other levels of government; establishing formal oversight of waste facility maintenance; and establishing a formal method for assessment and data verification.
All of the 8 recommendations were accepted by Council and deadlines for implementation have been set. The City Operations Branch has been tasked with presenting a new waste management strategy to the Utility Committee by the end of the month.
For years, Edmonton was internationally lauded for our efforts and methods on waste management. But technology is changing and the philosophies are shifting, and Edmonton has fallen behind. It is important that in our new strategy and redeveloped system that Edmonton remain innovative and flexible in our approach to waste management. This starts with appraising management, assessing efficiencies, and forming a new strategy.
It is clear that we aren’t measuring up to other cities and that we need to re-evaluate and re-vision how our city manages waste and how we can set ourselves up for the future with a better, more sustainable, cost-effective system.