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EMRB report looks at non-residential organic waste management

Says as much as 50 per cent of refuse being sent to landfills could be diverted
This 2017 photo shows a contaminated truck load of organic material that ended up at the Roseridge Landfill. Yes, those are two green St. Albert carts. FILE/Photo

Creating non-residential organic waste management programs in the Edmonton region will be no easy feat, according to a new report commissioned by the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board (EMRB).

The EMRB is a provincially mandated growth-management board that represents 13 municipalities in the region, including St. Albert.

The 146-page draft report was presented to the EMRB's servicing plan standing committee on Feb. 8. The report identifies a host of issues municipalities will need to consider if they want to create regulations for managing organic waste created by the industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) sector.

The ICI sector covers office buildings, restaurants, schools, retailers, grocery stores, and essentially every property that isn't residential. According to the report, it is believed the ICI sector is responsible for 75 per cent of all waste generated in the Edmonton region that ends up in landfills. About 50 per cent of that waste is thought to be organic, meaning it could be diverted to compost facilities.

“Despite the progress being made across the region by municipalities and other regional stakeholders, much of the organic material generated still ends up in landfills, and as a result has significant economic, social, and environmental impacts,” the report reads. “The EMRB believes that addressing these challenges will require a systems approach and collective and sustained action between governments, industry, non-profits, and other stakeholders over time.”

“Across the region, non-residential organics have increased. This presents a clear indication that regional collaboration is necessary to manage waste from the ICI sector.”

For starters, the report notes a lack of policy and regulation around ICI organic waste management is a challenge to overcome. It recommends municipalities establish necessary bylaws for non-residential organic waste, such as the bylaw enacted by the City of Calgary in 2017.

Calgary's commercial food and yard waste bylaw requires businesses and organizations to separate food and yard waste from regular waste and contract a company (or the city) to get an organics bin and regular pick-up. Last November, Calgary city council approved a final budget for a $88.3 million expansion of a city-owned and operated composting facility. Global News reported the expansion was necessary after the facility was operating over capacity less than seven years after it opened.

While it may seem all municipalities in the Edmonton region simply need to enact a similar bylaw, the EMRB report says municipalities might also need to introduce a “flow control system.” That means municipalities should not only regulate the ICI sector to have organic bins and sort waste accordingly, but also regulate where ICI organic waste goes after it is picked up. 

A regulated flow-control system, the report says, might be beneficial because in Calgary's case, a less-regulated system “has enabled several private waste-management companies to set up alternative disposal facilities.”

City of St. Albert spokesperson Cory Sinclair said in an email that administration is still reviewing the EMRB report, and is not in a position to comment on it.

“The City of St. Albert is committed to our organics program and to maximizing waste diversion in our region,” Sinclair said, adding that the city will have more to say after the final report is presented to the EMRB's board of directors in April.

Recycling Council of Alberta's executive director Jennifer Koole said having a bylaw would encourage the ICI sector to properly manage its organic waste.

“You'd expect [a business entity] not to want more rules or regulations put on them, or to place what may seemingly be a burden by adding additional requirements for separation," Koole said. "However, what we've found is that many businesses are actually asking for that. A bylaw would completely pave the way for these companies to introduce those kind of programs.”

“A lot of places are actually looking for, asking for, and being encouraged by these bylaws for helping them reach their own sustainability targets and environmental goals.”

Koole also said regulating ICI sector organic waste can be thought of as the “next frontier” for municipalities, given much of the focus to date on the municipal level has been on developing residential organic waste-management programs.

“I think the biggest challenge is that municipalities, if they want to get more involved in the non-residential sector, is that they need to invite themselves to the table,” she said. 

The City of St. Albert introduced its residential curb-side organics program in 2011.

Another concern identified in the report is that facilities in the Edmonton region that take organic waste might not have enough capacity to take on commercial organic waste.

Susan Berry, the executive director of the Roseridge Waste Commission in Sturgeon County, says Roseridge's composting facility currently operates at its full capacity of 20,000 annual tonnes of organic waste, but the facility could expand with enough notice.

The Roseridge landfill and compost facility serves Sturgeon County, Morinville, Gibbons, Redwater, Legal, Bon Accord, and St. Albert.

“We would want to know for sure what volume of material was going to be available and be available for contract to us,” Berry said. She said the commission would also need to know exactly what the material would be.

“Most of the non-residential organics I think would come from restaurants and grocery stores,” she said. “In grocery stores there's tons of organic products that are packaged — onions are packaged in a plastic mesh, lettuce heads are often in plastic — and it's that plastic that doesn't break down in our outdoor windrow organics processing system.”

“There are probably other technologies that have a higher tolerance for plastic contamination [but we have] very little tolerance for plastic contamination.”

Read more: Plastics plague city compost

Berry said Roseridge has some screening techniques to remove plastic and other misplaced materials before they get added to windrows, but proper material separation at the source businesses would be the most cost-effective practice if the ICI sector was to start participating in an organic waste-management program.

Berry said if Roseridge knew that it would eventually be taking ICI sector organic waste, the commission would also likely change its processing system. 

The City of Edmonton's Anaerobic Digestion Facility, which can process 40,000 tonnes of organic waste per year, is one example of a different type of organic waste-processing system. This facility, in simple terms, turns organic waste into electricity and heat.

One of the remaining issues identified in the report is that the Edmonton region and the EMRB has a lack of data on the amount and types of organic waste created by the ICI sector, which should be addressed.

If the EMRB's board of directors approve the report in April, the next point of action will be to develop a regional organic waste strategy.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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