City rolls out revised waste diversion targets

The City of Calgary is rolling out revised waste diversion targets after a report labelled the previous targets as “ambitious.”

The new goal, which calls for 80 per cent of Calgary’s garbage to be diverted from city landfills by the year 2025, replaces the previous goal of 80 per cent by the year 2020.

According to the report’s author, City of Calgary waste services planner Dick Ebersohn, the revised goal takes into account information gathered since the initial rollout, thus making it more achievable.

“At the point in time that we actually set the target for Calgary we didn’t have as much information that we have today,” he said. “Today, we’re at a point where we could say almost with certainty that we will be able to achieve the target that we have set out there.”

Set in 2007, 70 per cent of the city’s 80/20 by 2020 waste diversion strategy was to be achieved in part through a combination of as recycling and composting, banning material from landfills, stewardship and education program.

The remaining 10 per cent was to be addressed through emerging waste-to-energy technologies in the non-residential sector.

In the new report, the City estimates it will achieve 60 per cent diversion by 2020.

Since the plan was rolled out in 2007 – two years prior to the introduction of the City’s blue recycling bins and at a time when the waste diversion rate stood at just 20 per cent – Ebersohn says the City now has a better grasp on how much waste is coming to Calgary landfills. According to Ebersohn, of the 750,000 tonnes of waste coming to Calgary’s three landfills, 500,000 tonnes are divertible.

Along with the upcoming introduction of recycling in the multi-family sector, which comprises 13 per cent of the waste in city landfills, the eventual rollout of a large-scale composting program represents a major area for improvement, said Ebersohn.

“That will have a massive impact on what we can divert,” he said of multi-family and organics recycling.

Waste disposal diversion statistics from the City of Calgary
Waste disposal diversion statistics from the City of Calgary

Under the original 80/20 diversion plan, the green cart recycling program was to be introduced in 2010. Organic material comprises 39 per cent of the waste in Calgary landfills – more than recyclables (15 per cent) and residual waste (20 per cent).

Since launching the green cart pilot program in 2012, the City has collected and composted more than 6.8 million kilograms of material.

In 2017, the City plans to roll out a permanent citywide green cart initiative, along with a new $143-million composting facility.

Ebersohn acknowledged Calgarians’ willingness to recycle a wide variety of materials will be another key to achieving the revised goals.

“There’s a much greater readiness among Calgarians,” he said. “They’ve learned with us in this process in understanding what they need to do. We can also see in the numbers the support for the environment has grown tremendously over the last number of years.”

A recent survey by the City showed 93 per cent of Calgarians would support a citywide recycling program for multi-family households. In communities where the green cart was piloted, 91 per cent support a citywide program.

Along with increased options for diverting residential waste – which could eventually include a facility to convert waste to energy via incineration and a “pay-as-you-throw” system – revised plan calls for more diversion programs for industrial, commercial, institutional and construction and demolition sectors, which collectively account for 58 per cent of Calgary’s waste.

Green Calgary executive director Areni Kelleppan said that while it would have been nice to meet the original 80/20 target, the end goal still represents a positive step for the city.

“We’re excited about the work the City is undertaking when it comes to the non-residential sector,” said Kelleppan. “Could it be faster? Could it move more quickly? Absolutely, but I think they’ve taken a positive step forward.

“I think its managing expectations and understanding we’re not going to meet that goal. What’s a goal that we can meet and what are we needing to do to make sure that is an achievable goal? They’ve put more resources into it in order to achieve those goals, so we’re excited about where they’re going.”