Solid Waste & Recycling


Composting in Banff

I don't know how to describe the Bow Valley in Alberta without sounding like a travel brochure. It's a place of visitors -- almost four million per year. It's a place where people live -- almost 25,00...

I don’t know how to describe the Bow Valley in Alberta without sounding like a travel brochure. It’s a place of visitors — almost four million per year. It’s a place where people live — almost 25,000 in all. The people who live here truly thrive in their surroundings. The wild is integrated with the civil. It’s a place where being green is welded into the psyche.

Yet community organics diversion has only come to the Town of Banff recently. Banff and the Bow Valley Waste Management Commission (BV Waste) started a community organics composting pilot program to divert food waste from the residential and commercial sectors in 2006. This project has been a long time coming and is part of BV Waste’s overall waste diversion strategy.

BV Waste was founded in 1998 as a cross-jurisdictional body to provide comprehensive solid waste management services for the Bow Valley Region’s residents. It was designed to help the region develop efficient waste management services with better economies of scale. In addition to Banff, members include the Municipal District of Bighorn and the Town of Canmore.

Program composition

The pilot program is geared to the residential and commercial sectors in Banff. The focus of the trial is to capture fruits and vegetables (raw and cooked, including peelings, husks and tops, pits, peels, rinds and cores) as well as rice, breads, coffee grounds, tealeaves or filters in a separate bin or paper bag.

The residential sector is encouraged to divert organic wastes in two ways.

Firstly, residents can dispose of organics in large centralized bins. Because of the closeness and abundance of wildlife, additional care is taken with all aspects of waste management. The challenge is centred on food wastes and the wildlife they can attract. For instance, there is no backyard composting. All wastes that include food or have come into contact with food are managed in bear-proof garbage bins and/or enclosures.

These containers have proven to be very effective. So effective that a number of these garbage bins have been transformed from their usual drab brown to bright white organics bins. The chic artwork is full of big bright pictures and informs simply.

The town is supplying Norseman seven-litre kitchen containers to interested residents for $3.00 and Prescott Paper has provided a supply of its paper kitchen collection bags for resident use. Residents are encouraged to take their food wastes to these specially marked, bear-proof bins.

Secondly, and a rather unique aspect of this pilot program, is that the town is encouraging residents to use their garburators to deposit food wastes. These food wastes are then automatically conveyed to the compost facility (which is at the wastewater treatment plant). Part of the pilot program is to learn how to the wastewater treatment process would need to be adjusted to accommodate more food waste.

The commercial sector is also encouraged to participate in this pilot project. The Banff Springs Hotel is an iconic part of Banff. The Fairmont chain, to which it belongs, has a longstanding commitment to environmental stewardship and has a number of waste diversion initiatives. Currently, they take food from the main food preparation areas but not all restaurants, using wheeled carts. Eventually they are taken to a central pickup location at the hotel. The wastes are collected by the town and taken to the nearby compost facility. As of May 2007 they have diverted about 65 tonnes food wastes or about 14 per cent of wastes generated during the pilot study.

Program decomposition

The food wastes collected from the residential and commercial sectors are taken to the Banff Waste Water Treatment Facility nestled beside a golf course. They have been successfully composting the town’s biosolids for a number of years. The facility uses the Christiaens Group composting technology, marketed through Maple-Reinders in Canada. This technology originated in the mushroom-growing business and has been expanded to encompass the composting of biosolids and food waste.

The Banff composting facility consists of four 19.7m long x 4.9m wide x 4.4m high (425m3) tunnels. The tunnels are currently loaded horizontally with a loader. There is latitude to load the tunnels vertically using conveyors, although some retrofitting would be required.

To accommodate food wastes the facility was upgraded by adding a Supreme mixer. The biosolids and food wastes are mixed together along with woodchips prior to insertion into one of the site’s four composting tunnels. The residence time in the tunnels varies but would typically be about 18 to 24 days. Curing is completed off site.

Program disposition

Currently, Banff landfills about 7,000 tonnes of waste annually. The town has to truck this waste 135 km away to Calgary so there’s a great incentive to find ways to reduce this.

Says Al Tinholt, CAO of BV Waste, this pilot project “was a long time coming and has allowed all of us to test a variety of assumptions surrounding the collection and composting of food waste.”

“We are seeing a positive response from the public,” says Chad Townsend, Banff’s environmental service coordinator.

Townsend agrees that this pilot approach lets them work out the kinks and bugs.

“There are certainly some challenges to sort through,” he says. “For instance the bear-proof containers are great, but it’s hard to provide residential incentives to divert wastes or identify sources of contamination. On the commercial side, to implement this type of program would require some adjustment or restructuring of taxes to provide an incentive to divert these wastes.”

Tinholt is pleased. “So far the results of the pilot have been positive and we are gaining confidence,” he says.

A report summarizing the results of this trial will help decide the best type of system for this unique community.

“Ultimately it’s likely that a hybrid system using bear-proof bins and garburators will prevail,” says Tinholt.

This kind of flexibility allows residents and the commercial sector to use the collection method with which they’re most comfortable. When it comes to waste diversion, it’s always about providing maximum access and convenience to potential participants.

Paul van der Werf is president of 2cg Inc. in London, Ontario. Contact Paul at

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