Composting pilot project sees early success

In 2012, Calgarians threw out more than 214,000 tonnes of garbage into local landfills.

More than half that garbage was in the form of food and yard waste that could have otherwise ended up as compost, said the City of Calgary, which is now entering the third-year of a Green Cart pilot project in four Calgary communities testing the impact of a food and yard waste diversion program.

Since its inception, the City’s Green Cart project has collected and composted more than five million kilograms of material from the 7,500 participating homes, reducing the total amount of garbage collected in the four communities by 40 per cent.

The project, along with the upcoming move to make multi-family recycling in the city mandatory, is part of the City’s effort to send 80 per cent less waste to local landfills per person in 2020 compared to 2007.

“In order to meet our 80/20 goal, we are definitely going to need to divert organic waste from households, and it was also the next step after getting the recyclables out of the waste stream. The organics are the next largest component,” said City of Calgary waste diversion specialist Philippa Wagner.

Wagner said there’s a general misconception about food and yard waste sent to landfills. Instead of breaking down quickly, most landfill-buried food and yard material such as grass clippings and apple cores are identifiable even after several decades, and thus take up valuable space.

In just one year, the Green Cart project collected 1.9 million kilograms of food and yard waste – nearly 80 per cent of the available organic material from the four pilot communities.

Eventually, the waste diverted from Green Carts will end up in the City’s large-scale, indoor/outdoor composting facility on the Shepard Landfill, which is set to open in 2017.

compost chart

Courtesy City of Calgary

“The pilot program is very much needed,” said Jen Freudenthaler of Green Calgary, an environmental charity supporting Calgarians in living “a more sustainable life” by assisting with environmental action in their homes, workplaces, schools and communities.

The organization’s offerings include “eco-boot camps” aimed at energy and water conservation, waste reduction and food sustainability. Its Eco-store sells everything the average Calgarian would need to give Mother Nature a helping hand inside and outside the home.

Freudenthaler said Calgarians looking to reduce their impact on the environment shouldn’t wait for the City to give them the go-ahead.

“Realistically, people should be doing their own composting, because then you just have so much more control over what’s in your compost. Then, as you make your compost, you have it for your own yard. You don’t have to go buy it back.

“I backyard compost, and with a family of four, every other week we put out maybe two-thirds or half of a green garbage bag full of garbage,” she added. “Packaging and things like that go in your blue bin, and then with what goes in the compost, there’s not much left of garbage that’s garbage.”

To help meet its 80/20 goal, the City is offering tips aimed at reducing, reusing and recycling at, including what should and should not end up in a compost bin.