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Happy Trails- Report from the Recycling Council of Alberta 2013 Conference


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The Recycling Council of Alberta always puts on a good show at its annual conference (The Greatest Recycling Show on Earth). They follow some basic fundamentals. Keep things on time, feed your delegates well and have fun.

Some early morning highlights and musings follow:

Glen Hodgson from the Conference Board of Canada presented an overview of waste (based on an OECD report) generation comparing Canada to other countries and amongst individual provinces. While the data is not new it does reinforce that Canada has a long way to go compared to mostly European countries. Alberta leads the Canadian pack in waste generation and has low waste diversion.

I think people get confused when they hear these numbers. They seem almost counterintuitive. We have lots of residential programs but yet our waste generation is high.

What was missed in the presentation is that in Alberta about 75% of the wastes generated are from the ICI (whereas the rest of the country is about 65%). While this was not directly investigated it suggests that waste diversion efforts need to be focused on the ICI sector.

Dave Griffiths from the City of Calgary highlighted progress being made on the their 80:20 by 2020 waste management program. http://www.calgary.ca/UEP/WRS/Pages/Recycling-information/City-of-Calgary-Recycling.aspx.

The same history of residential waste management has replayed itself out in many municipalities. As we gathered together in urban areas it started with a “your on your own” approach, to some early household and municipal burning of waste to the development of landfills and then the implementation of recycling programs. Calgary is no different.

Waste management has now evolved to seeing what can be done to better utilize our resources and reduce dependence on landfills.

In 2007 Calgarians generated 753 kg/capita and they are moving to 188kg/capita by 2020. As of 2012 they are at 560 kg/capita.

This been accomplished through a number of initiatives. Recycling in the City has evolved from recycling depots to full-scale blue cart collection. Progress has also been made to divert C&D materials by designating some of them (and surcharging for their landfilling). This is leading to the development of private sector solutions including ECCO (http://www.eccorecycling.com). (Ecco has built an impressive facility in the south end of Calgary).

On the drawing board now is a move to full-scale residential organics diversion, including both food wastes and biosolids and eventual diversion of ICI organics. Pay as you throw may be something that is introduced after the implementation of their organics diversion program.

So while on the surface it looks like Alberta is “behind” there are important examples of (mostly) where residential waste diversion is moving ahead.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi addressed the group, largely focusing on the aftermath of the flood. The devastation of the flood brought the people of Calgary and surrounding areas together in very tangible ways. While the flood may have faded away from memory for the rest of us in Canada its impacts are still being dealt with in Calgary and in particular High River.

The blue cart program was suspended for a couple of weeks during the height of the flood to deal with issues. Citizens are really attached to their recycling program and called the Mayor to complain. “I was generally pretty curt. Hold on to your recyclables. If it stinks you are doing it wrong.”

He went on about waste management in the CIty. “80:20 is an arbitrary number” he said. The point being is that it is a target. It could end up being something else but they are moving in a positive direction.

He went on that when $100s of million of dollars are being spent a great deal of time and effort was spent (by staff and politicians) determining if they should proceed and if so how. The composting facility is a go. How do we go about capturing more wastes from the multi-residential sector?

“I am very agnostic on delivery of service” he said. As long as the solutions meet triple bottom line requirements meaning that service delivery could be delivered by the public or private sector.