The City of Edmonton is becoming well known for its highly integrated and sustainable waste management system.  This system is built on a vision that views waste differently—not as something useless but as a resource.

Currently, the City of Edmonton is diverting up to 60% of all household waste away from the landfill.  By 2015, the City expects to achieve a 90% diversion rate, largely through recycling, composting, and a first-of-its-kind facility that converts household waste to biofuel.  This facility will produce 36 million litres of biofuel annually—methanol and ethanol—from waste that is not recycled or composted.

The City of Edmonton’s approach to waste management is designed to provide environmental benefits, such as generating carbon offsets of approximately 200,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents annually.  But, the approach also meets various social and economic needs by building and strengthening connections with various communities.

For example, the City has created partnerships with the private sector, with the research community, with schools and post-secondary institutes, with governmental agencies, and with non-profit groups.  By reflecting the needs of the community and building partnerships with various sectors, the waste management system in Edmonton is achieving widespread community support while finding innovative opportunities to generate new streams of revenue.

The Shift from Landfill to Recovery

Edmonton’s waste management system has evolved from one that was largely focused on burying waste in a landfill to today’s highly integrated, sustainable system that is focused on resource recovery.  In fact, the City of Edmonton no longer owns or operates a landfill.

In the 1980s, the City’s unsuccessful search for a new landfill site and changing attitudes led to a new approach to waste management.  A 30-year waste management strategy—initially approved in 1994—is focused on keeping waste out of the landfill and reflects the desire of our citizens for a more environmentally sound, yet affordable, solution.  The 30-year strategy balances social, economic, political, governance, environmental, and technical considerations.  Because of its long-term outlook, the strategy also provides a method of controlling inevitable future costs of managing waste from a growing city.

The City of Edmonton has gained international attention for its integrated sustainable waste system. Most of our facilities are located at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre—a site that attracts more than 15,000 students and international visitors from industry and government each year.

Utility Structure and Revenue Opportunities 

In 2009, the City established a new Waste Management Utility.  While still governed as part of the City’s administration, managing waste through a utility provides opportunities for new revenue generation.

For example, the utility has been able to earn revenue related to the environmental benefits of not burying waste.  By composting waste at a central facility, the greenhouse gases normally created by organic waste decomposing in a landfill are eliminated.  The utility also captures, cleans, and utilizes landfill gas to produce power.  Both of these processes allow the utility to earn carbon offsets.  Alberta’s regulated offset market enables Edmonton’s Waste Management Utility to sell these carbon offsets.  They generated approximately $3 million in 2011.

Unique Partnerships 

The Waste Management Utility is also in a position to generate revenues through its partnerships with private sector companies.  A unique partnership exists with Greys Recycling Industries to develop an eco-friendly paper manufacturing facility scheduled to open in fall of 2012 at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre.  The facility will enable the City, other governments, institutions, and businesses in the Edmonton region to close the recycling loop by recycling waste office paper and purchasing paper products made from that waste.

Because of its sustainable focus and relatively low cost of job creation compared to the cost of temporary jobs produced from traditional infrastructure projects, the facility has attracted the attention of several North American cities.  In June 2012, the City of Reading, Pennsylvania signed a memorandum of understanding with Greys and the City of Edmonton to explore opportunities for building a similar facility in that city.  The partnership with Greys provides revenue opportunities for the Waste Management Utility from the operation of new facilities.

A “waste-to-biofuels” facility is also expected to become operational in late 2013.  It is being built and operated by Enerkem Alberta Biofuels.  Edmonton’s Waste Management Utility will prepare non-recyclable and non-compostable waste as feedstock for this facility, and pay a processing fee to Enerkem that is only marginally higher than hauling the waste to a landfill 100 km from Edmonton.  The partnership agreement with Enerkem provides for the Waste Management Utility to share in future net revenues.

Another example of such revenue sharing with the private sector is the partnership with Global Electrical Electronic Processing (GEEP) Inc. to establish a facility at the Waste Management Centre to process end-of-life electrical and electronic waste.

The Waste Management Utility is also pursuing other revenue opportunities by delivering commercial services with a sustainability focus.  The utility is offering waste and mixed recycling collection services to businesses and institutions, a unique service since most private companies only collect paper and cardboard.  Post-secondary institutions, shopping malls, and major events like the Edmonton Indy are some of the Utility’s newest customers.  A new construction and demolition recycling facility also offers the local market a first-time opportunity to recycle.  Net profit for this facility is projected at about $1 million in the next three years, depending on market uptake.

Exporting Our Expertise

With its focus on sustainability through innovation and partnerships, Edmonton’s Waste Management Utility has attracted the attention of many municipalities around the globe, all of which face a similar challenge of managing waste in an environmentally, socially, and financially responsible manner.

City of Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel recently visited China with City administrators to explore opportunities for exporting the City’s expertise in sustainable waste management.  This market could lead to even more sources of revenue for Edmonton’s Waste Management Utility and its partners.

By: Simon Farbrother, City Manager, City of Edmonton