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On the Road in Alberta- Part 1


Travels with Charley was poignant travelogue written by John Steinbeck about a 1960 road trip with his dog. The nature of his narrative over time has been questioned and it appears he took considerable liberties whilst writing this book. Nonetheless the book captures the spirit of the time when North American and other societies were on the cusp of monumental change.
I have no dog and certainly no camper van but every once in a while I get to fly away from my home for a few days and go some place different. I pile myself and my luggage into a plane and then rental car and set off to my destination.
The Rocky Mountains of Alberta have a special place in my heart. It is part grandeur and part casualness that you don’t see in many places. I have been here so often that the place has taken on a second home kind of feel. For the last couple of days I have been trundling through them visiting clients and friends and catching up on what is going on in the world of waste.
The Towns of Banff and Jasper are beautiful places to visit and you get to capture the spirit of the mountains when you are in them. Because of their closeness to the environment managing their own environment is much more pronounced than you would see in other smaller towns of a similar size.
Banff (http://www.banff.ca/locals-residents/environment.htm) has embarked on a utility based waste management program for the commercial sector that aims to shift through user pay the amount of garbage sent to landfill while increasing diversion. Early results appear promising but the final results won’t be known for some years. This program builds on a number of programs for residents, businesses and tourists alike.
For instance there is a growing food waste diversion program that captures both commercial and some residential waste. While they have composted their biosolids and now food wastes for close to ten years they are shifting away from composting and moving to lime stabilization. The challenge has been finding markets for the compost product. This has partly to do with the dynamic of trying to change how things are done in a national park, the fact that most of the compost is derived from biosolids and the fact that municipalities are never really properly set up to market products (that is really private sector domain). Their compost, for the record, is excellent and very usable.
The Town had a waste diversion rate of 71% in 2010.
I imagine Steinbeck’s pace was leisurely and that he would stop and take in the places. In 2011 the pace of life is different and fast. I am a fairly motivated driver to say the least. With cell phone in hand and foot on pedal I proceeded from Banff on my way to Jasper. Before long I saw the lights behind me and had that sinking feeling you get when you are about to talk to the police. The officers cheerful parting words (after my parting of dollars) to me were “I hope you have a better day”.
The Town of Jasper (http://jasper-alberta.com/default.aspx?pageid=363) has a more laid back feel than Banff mostly because there are less people. The Town has a number of waste diversion programs including recycling (including at local campgrounds) and composting. They have a waste diversion rate of close to 40%.
They have a fairly aggressive food waste composting program that collects wastes from both the residential and commercial sector. Annually they divert about 400 tonnes of food waste. The Town has not one but two windrow composting facilities: one for food waste and the other for biosolids. Both are open windrow. While a recent consultants report recommended an in-vessel composting facility it seems to me that this is an excellent example where relatively small amounts of waste can be capably composted using a simple and low cost technology. They sell all of their food waste compost. They have some challenges marketing their biosolids compost. By all accounts the quality is good. It’s just that there is a small population base and not a lot of commercial markets for this compost.
While not without challenges these small mountain communities work hard to demonstrate to their visitors that the environment is a key consideration for them.
Now I find myself in Edmonton for the upcoming Recycling Council of Alberta conference. More on that later


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