Our waste management brilliance: taking it to the world

One of the early initiators of Edmonton’s world-renowned waste management system is patiently selling our city’s expertise to the world…one small step at a time.

Roy Neehall was there when the vision of a fully integrated waste management system took hold and began growing. He and his colleagues watched it mushroom to the point where the concept of sustainable waste management is woven directly into the community’s attitudinal fabric.

“It’s not just a service the City provides,” he says. “It’s a service we perform with participation of residents, young and old, to achieve a shared goal.”

The fact that we now recycle or reuse nearly 60 per cent of our waste stream is a testament to decades of enlightened political and administrative leadership, Roy says.

“That leadership led directly to the creation in 2013 by City Council of Waste RE-solutions Edmonton – a private corporation 100% owned by the City and overseen by a board of directors,” says Roy.

The company’s mandate is to deliver profitable waste management services to  municipal governments in other countries using what we’ve learned to help them become more environmentally sustainable.

“We aim to design, build and operate facilities with local joint venture partners by relying on our collective expertise in the Waste Management Utility and private sector technology providers,” says Roy.

Roy can see the day when our commitment to starting slowly to build a strong foundation reaps  large amounts of income from profitable joint ventures in many countries.

He knows the demand is there, but he must go slowly at the beginning, since Waste RE-solutions Edmonton has no assets against which to borrow investment funds.

After developing relationships in the private and public sectors in the Chinese city of Lichuan, home to half a million people in a region with a total population of 1 million, the company has signed a joint venture agreement to build a facility to divert various kinds of waste from one of its landfills.

“We’ll be extracting recyclables and producing both biogas (methane) and soil enhancement fertilizer from the waste stream,” he says.

“The reason it takes some time to get to the development stage of projects in China is because of their need to develop trust in business partners well before business is done. That means frequent visits and much discussion, over time. However, it pays dividends in the pace with which facilities can be built and put into operation,” he says.

With backup support from his single employee, utility and other City staff as well as the president and board of directors, Roy is working on joint venture opportunities elsewhere in China. He has also initiated a marketing assessment of Central and South America, where municipal governments are becoming more focused on environmental initiatives with support from international lending agencies.

Roy says working with Waste Management Services for so many years was a great help to him in running the new City-owned corporation.

“Waste Management Services operates very professionally, and many of the ways it operates are similar to private business.

“The difference with Waste RE-solutions Edmonton, is that we’re delivering our expertise in very different cultures.”

Roy is looking forward to the day when the company develops strong cash flow and begins making large enough profits to enable both contributions to the City and re-investment in the corporation.

“The sky is the limit, but for now we have to walk slowly,” he says.