Charting a path forward: how the waste diversion rate helps shape our future

The City of Edmonton’s long-term goal is to divert 90 per cent of residential waste from the landfill.

In 2019, it was 21 per cent. And that was down from 36 per cent in 2018.

“Last year’s waste diversion rate reaffirms now more than ever that Edmonton’s waste management is in need of a change,” said Michael Labrecque, Branch Manager, Waste Services.

“Our City Council-approved 25-year Waste Strategy is what will get us there, along with use of an anaerobic digestion facility. This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

First, what happened?

There were two main forces behind the diversion-rate drop from 2018 to 2019. 

First, and most significant, was the closure of the Edmonton Composting Facility (ECF) aeration hall in spring 2019. The facility had diverted 18 per cent of single-unit residential waste from the landfill in 2018. Last year, it was 4 per cent. 

Edmonton Composting Facility deconstruction

Ongoing changes in recycling markets also led to the lower rate. Only 4 per cent of residential waste was diverted through recycling in 2019, compared to 6 per cent in 2018. The success of the City’s recycling program depends on the availability of markets for recycling products, and these can fluctuate.

Outdoor composting facility at Edmonton Waste Management Centre

What’s ahead?

In March, crews began deconstructing the composting facility aeration hall. This will make space for new organics processing facilities, which will come online in the next few years. 

The City is also working to launch the new Anaerobic Digestion Facility (ADF). It is scheduled to be processing organics by the end of June.  

The Anaerobic Digestion Facility will process organic solid waste—stuff like food scraps, leaves and grass clippings—and convert it into renewable energy in the form of heat and power. That will help the City meet its overall 90 per cent diversion goal. 

As well, the City is also in the planning stages of constructing an Organics Processing Facility, which will help manage organic processing beyond the ADF’s capacity. Together, these facilities will process approximately 100,000 tonnes of organic solid waste per year, helping to divert 26 per cent of Edmonton’s waste. 

But where will all that organic waste come from? 

Source separation

The City of Edmonton is planning to launch a source-separated organics program, in which residents will sort organic waste, like food scraps, from their garbage into green carts for separate collection. Collecting organic waste separately makes it easier to process the organic component and put it to beneficial reuse through composting. In turn, this helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, produces a valuable soil supplement and has a positive impact on the environment—while diverting more waste from the landfill.

Residents were scheduled to begin receiving their carts this summer, but, due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, the citywide rollout of the curbside organics program was put off until next year. 

Resident putting food scraps into a green cart

The citywide cart rollout is a key component of the 25-year Waste Strategy, which charts a path forward for waste management in Edmonton. 

“We’re working hard to adjust our approach to processing waste to help keep it out of the landfill,” said Labrecque. “Stopping waste at the source can have a really positive effect on numbers and is always the most environmentally friendly option.”

Labrecque’s message about source separation: new machines will be helpful, but they can’t do what 250,000 households can do by digging in together. 

Rethinking waste

The waste strategy includes waste reduction programming and facility processing changes designed to help the City achieve its goal to divert 90 per cent of its waste from landfill, within what’s called a Zero Waste framework.

Zero Waste focuses attention on prevention and reuse as the most sustainable methods of waste reduction.

Backyard composter

Small actions, big deal

There are lots of small actions Edmontonians can take to help reduce the amount of waste they produce, starting with what has the biggest impact on waste reduction—leaving grass clippings on the lawn instead of bagging them. 

Other little big things to consider: 

Mulching grass and leaves. Setting up a home composter in your yard. Be conscientious when grocery shopping in order to reduce food waste. When it’s safe to do so, take actions like using a reusable coffee mug, bringing your own bags to the grocery store or shopping in bulk with your own containers. 

Do these individual actions add up? Yes. In 2019, resident waste prevention actions kept 5 per cent of waste out of the landfill. 

Another way to help the cause is to set out grass, leaf and yard waste in clear or coloured bags (not blue, black or paper) to help aid manual sorting at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre. This way, workers are able to easily identify organic yard waste and send it directly to the Centre’s outdoor compost cure site, where it is processed into nutrient-rich compost instead of ending up in a landfill.

Edmonton Cart Rollout participants are asked to continue setting out their yard waste in paper yard waste bags or top up their green cart according to their collection calendars. And any Edmontonian can drop off yard waste at an Eco Station for free. This yard waste is sent directly to the cure site. 

In the end: the most significant solution to keep waste out of landfill is to reduce waste at the source. This means reducing and reusing whenever possible. 

Yard waste at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre cure site

Thanks for reading.