Over the past month I have been sharing my experience with the Edmonton Master Composter-Recycler Program. Maybe it will inspire somebody to learn more about composting. Maybe a few people will discover more about recycling. Perhaps more than one reader will find something here that they can take away and use in their own community.
I’m not sure how to even begin to describe the Edmonton Waste Management Centre (EWMC). Situated on the eastern edge of the city, it encompasses over 80 acres of land adjacent to the now-closed Cloverbar Landfill.
Developed in the 1980’s as a solution to the need for more landfill, the today’s EWMC is a testament to the forward-thinking minds of that time. It’s a marvel of efficiency and tribute to problem solving.
Only one group gets the “full monty” tour of the EWMC and that’s the Master Composer-Recycler class. We were privileged to see everything from the tipping floor of the Materials Recovery Centre to the bowels of the Leachate Treatment Plant.
Dressed in our hard hats and steel-toed boots, our first stop was at the Integrated Processing and Transfer Facility (IPTF). This is where our garbage arrives to be sorted into waste and compostables. A surprisingly large amount of material in the garbage can be sent to the Composting Facility and kept out of landfill. Still more can be sent to the Waste to Biofuels Facility which should be fully operational by 2015.
A combination of mechanical and manual sorting separates (essentially) the organics from the inorganics. Waste destined for landfill is then trucked to the West Edmonton Landfill or the site at Riley. Organics are sent to the Composting Facility.
The Edmonton Composting Facility is capable of producing as much as 80,000 tonnes of compost annually. Organics from our garbage are combined with wood chips and sewage biosolids (yes, those are what you think they are) and composted to produce a high quality mixture that can be applied to fields or used in landscaping. Second Nature compost is sold at several locations in the city.
What I learned about large scale composting is that although we should be proud to have such a facility, its definitely not the most efficient way to deal with organic materials. Transporting it to the EWMC, putting it through a 14-21 day indoor mass bed process, then curing it in big windrows outside is very labour and resource intensive.
Backyard Composting, worm composting and grasscycling at our own home is far more efficient and environmentally responsible.
The other stream of materials coming into the EWMC are the recyclables – the materials collected in the blue bags and blue bins. They are taken to the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where they are sorted, again both mechanically and manually, into various categories. This part of the tour was eye opening. It’s amazing how much plastic and paper we use in the city, and how much energy it takes to recover it for recycling.
The best way to keep these sorts of items out of the system is to reduce consumption in the first place. That means doing things such as bringing cloth shopping bags to the grocery store, or reading the newspaper online. Recycling is admirable, but its not the most efficient use of resources.
Our tour also allowed us in inside the Leachate Treatment Plant where the liquids extracted from the landfill, treated and released into the sanitary sewer system.
We saw how construction and demolition waste is handled at the EWMC, separating the drywall from the wood, concrete and shingles so that each an be appropriately treated.
We drove by the Grey’s Paper and Glass Recycling Facility which will soon by producing recycled paper from waste paper collected at City offices. This will be sold back to the City, “closing the loop” with respect to paper use. Pretty cool idea.
We also drove by Global Electric and Electronic Processing (GEEP) where your TVs, computer monitors and other electronics are salvaged for their valuable components.
Overall the tour was amazing. We got to see just how much thought is put into waste management in the city. All of this recovery is costly, but not nearly as costly as landfill. Properly managed landfill is expensive and should be our last resort when dealing with our waste. By 2015 when the waste-to-biofuels facility comes online we will only be sending 10% of our waste to landfill. That’s incredibly impressive.
You can book your own tour of the EWMC by calling 780-496-6879.
Special thanks to our tour guides:
Allen Yee, Waste Management Engineer
Neil Burkard, Education Program Coordinator for the EWMC