I was struck by the unique waste management challenges facing smaller municipalities during recent work I did for the Municipal Waste Integration Network (mwin) and the Recycling Council of Alberta’s (RCA) “Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Options — Integrating Organics Management and Residual Treatment and Disposal”. This project, sponsored by Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada, looked into how different types of waste management options could be integrated and, in particular, how this integration would work for different sized communities.
Whereas waste treatment options such as anaerobic digestion, thermal treatment and landfilling were shown not to be economically viable for smaller municipalities, composting was demonstrated to be viable. That being said, projects to divert organic waste pose challenges for smaller municipalities. The key issue is cost, which is driven by economies of scale and transportation.
Yet some smaller municipalities are overcoming the challenges and are creating workable waste diversion programs for themselves.
On 28 April, the Alberta Capital Region Association (ACRA) held its Annual General Meeting. ACRA is made up of 23 municipalities that include the City of Edmonton as well as many smaller ones. The AGM included an information session on waste management in which the results of the aforementioned study (composting, landfilling, thermal treatment) was paired with local examples.
ACRA member the City of Spruce Grove and, more recently, the Town of Stony Plain, have taken the waste diversion issue by the horn and developed unique and sustainable programs to compost their wastes.
In this case, a private facility has allowed the two small communities, who otherwise lack their own resources to set up major infrastructure, to aim for very aggressive waste diversion goals. It points up the fact that there are readily attainable solutions for smaller communities that wish to divert waste.
Spruce Grove is a city of about 18,500 located 15 minutes west of Edmonton. In the late 1990s, city council decided it wanted to divert a significant amount of waste from landfill.
To develop an acceptable program, a considerable amount of public consultation was undertaken. The consultation process began in 1998 with focus groups, telephone surveys and a brochure.
The outcome of this process was the ultimate development of Spruce Grove’s Organicart Program, which started in 2001. Each household received a 60 gallon aerated cart for its organic material. A full range of organic wastes including food and leaf-and-yard wastes are accepted. Carts are emptied on a bi-weekly basis. Because of the much colder temperatures and reduction in winter waste generation, it was decided that the program would run from April through October. Wastes are collected by a private contractor and taken to a private West Edmonton composting site (Cleanit Greenit) for composting.
The total cost to start the program was around $400,000 and this was primarily to purchase 5,000 carts. This is a significant cost for a small community. Creativity resulted in these costs being amortized over five years and included in the waste utility budget. Householders are charged about $2 per month for the program. This includes the cost of the cart, processing fees and sufficient funds to facilitate the purchase of new carts for new households.
The program boasts an 82 per cent participation rate and diverted almost 2,000 tonnes of organic waste in 2005.
The Town of Stony Plain lies about 17 km west of Edmonton and has a population of about 10,500.
The town council developed and adopted a strategic plan in 2003 with environmental stewardship being one of the “core strategies.” The town defined environmental stewardship as being able to “deliver municipal services and programs in an environmentally responsible manner which clearly demonstrate that our physical environment is a priority within our community.”
In April 2005 the town proceeded with a three-stream collection and disposal service. Just over 3,600 households are asked to separate their waste into organics, recyclables and garbage. Residents separate their yard, food and paper waste into a specially designed organics collection cart (Rehrig Pacific’s Organicarts). As with Spruce Grove, the carts are emptied weekly from April to October. Where the programs differ is that residents are also asked to place recyclable items into blue bags. No sorting is required for recyclable items. The blue bag program runs year round and collection occurs every two weeks. Garbage is collected weekly.
As with Spruce Grove, the organic waste is tipped at the Cleanit Greenit composting site in West Edmonton. They pay a $30/tonne tip fee. The addition of organics and recyclables is costing households an additional $2.99 each month. This includes the cost of the Organicarts, which the town is amortizing over 10 years.
Mayor Donna Cowan puts it succinctly: “Our goal is to divert over 50 per cent of our residential waste from the landfill each year. We are extremely pleased with how well the program has been received by our residents and believe this initiative will help us move towards a more sustainable environment and community.”
The composting facility
Cleanit Greenit, a West Edmonton composting facility, started in 1998 and accepts organic wastes from both of the programs. Wastes are composted in a type of aerated static pile. This low-tech version of composting can produce a good quality compost at a relatively low price.
The incoming residential source-separated organics are mixed with amendments (e.g., wood, sawdust, etc.) and other materials according to their composting recipe. The finished compost is then tested to ensure it meets CCME Grade A criteria for compost as well as in-house requirements. The finished compost and compost-based products are then sold and marketed under their trademarked “Organic Soils” brand name.
“We are excited to work with these smaller municipalities and see them achieve significant diversion in a short period of time, without a huge investment,” says Kirstin Castro-Wunsch, CEO of Cleanit Greenit. “We have proven results that residential organics collection works, and it works especially well for smaller communities that can implement the program quickly.”
Paul van der Werf is president of 2cg Inc. in London, Ontario. Contact Paul at www.2cg.ca