Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program: Touring the Edmonton Waste Management Centre

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.

Integrated Transfer and Processing Facility

Integrated Transfer and Processing Facility

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.

So much garbage

So much garbage

Rodney hams it up at the MRF

Rodney hams it up at the MRF

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.


Leachate Treatment

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

Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program Lesson Two: Recycling


Over the next two months I will be 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.

Know Before You Throw.

Edmonton started a blue box curbside recycling program back in 1988. In the early days people were asked to separate their recycling within the box, keeping paper at the bottom, glass to one side, tins to the other. Participation was voluntary but widely encouraged.

Collectors would fill bins in their truck with each of the various materials, but since paper was by far the most common item recycled the truck had to return to the waste management site each time it’s paper bin was full.

In 1999 the city changed to blue bag recycling. This allowed people to place any recyclable item in their designated blue bag and the sorting was done by waste management. Because it was simpler for the user, participation rates improved.20130311-132532.jpg

Edmontonians could also take their recyclables to community recycling depots where they would place their paper in one bin, their glass in another. Blue bins for multi-family dwellings appeared in 2002. Today 60% of apartment and condo buildings have blue bins for the use of their residents.

Of those items collected in bins, 70-75% is newsprint. Plastic, metal and glass containers only make up about 10% of recycling materials.

Whether picked up curbside or collected in bins, recyclables are transported to the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre. Here the items are mechanically and manually sorted as follows:

Newsprint: Newspaper.
Cardboard: Corrugated cardboard boxes.
Paper: Anything that will “pulp”. This includes magazines, cereal boxes, egg cartons, office appears, envelopes, milk and juice cartons.
Plastics: All household plastic containers including
bags, bottles, containers, and milk jugs. Plastic food wrappers, cellophane, baggies, and other food packaging is generally not recyclable.
Juice boxes: Tetrapacks.
Glass: Jars and bottles only.
Pop and water bottles and cans: These are taken to a recycling depot for their refund value.
Metals: Aluminum pans/plates, metal cans (lids are ok if trapped inside).
Clothing and fabric: Denim and white cotton

One of the biggest problem they have at the MRF is that people put materials in their blue bags and bins that cannot be recycled. Items also need to be clean, dry and loosely packed.

There is much confusion about plastics. Basically plastics need to be larger than the palm of your hand and smaller than a basketball in order to be recycled. Anything made up of mixed materials (such as children’s toys) cannot be recycled.

Eco stations deal with our household hazardous waste including e-waste, TVs, paint, motor oil, tires, aerosol cans, appliances, car batteries, rugs and plastics toys.

Construction and demolition waste has its own special treatment. Wood is separated from asphalt shingles and drywall gypsum and each is recycled separately.

Don’t know what can and cannot be recycled? Go to http://www.edmonton.ca/reusedirectory where you can simply type in the item and it will tell you where to take it.

Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program Lesson One: History of Waste Management

Over the next two months I will be 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.

The history of waste management in the City of Edmonton is pretty interesting. Garbage has been picked up since the early part of the 20th century, but it was in the 1980s that the city realized that it had a problem with the amount of material going into landfill. The primary landfill at the time (Cloverbar) was filling up fast, and a new site had to be found and developed. A new way of managing the waste was necessary.
Over the next 30 years significant changes were made to how we manage our waste: today 40% of household waste is composted, 15-20% is recycled and only 40% makes it to landfill. Biocomposting will reduce that figure to a mere 10% by 2015.

Our refuse is made up of a combination of residential and commercial materials (2/3) as well as construction and demolition waste (1/3).

Waste is collected is numerous ways: household garbage collection, household hazardous waste collection (Eco stations), recycling collection, assisted waste collection, big bin events, recycling depots, commercial waste collection and construction & demolition waste.

Materials brought to the Edmonton Waste Management Centre are separated at the Integrated Processing and Transfer Station in which both mechanical and manual sorting of garbage takes place. Residential and commercial waste is separated into four categories: organics for composting, waste for recycling, waste for landfill and waste for conversion to ethanol at the Waste-to-Biofuels Facility.

Anything deemed compostable is transferred to the Composting Facility, the largest of its kind in North America. More about that in a future blog.

Recyclables are handled at the Material Recovery Facility (MRF). Much of the sorting of recyclables is automated, but hands on sorting occurs here as well.

In addition, the Edmonton Waste Management Centre handles e-waste at the 45,000 square foot Global Electric and Electronic Processing (GEEP) Facility. They treat “garbage juice”, the liquid at the bottom of the landfill, at the Leachate Treatment Plant and gases at the Landfill Gas Recovery Facility.

The Biofuels Facility, which should be online by 2015, creates “refuse derived fuel” from inorganic materials such as fibres (clothing) and styrofoam, carpet, and plastics. Methanol and ethanol are produced from refuse which would otherwise be sent to landfill. This new facility adds a fourth R to waste management: Recovery.

13,000 people tour the Edmonton Waste Management Facility annually. Groups of 10 or more can arrange a tour by calling 780-496-6879.