City of Edmonton backtracks on building new composting site, instead sending majority of organics to private contractors

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The City of Edmonton has quietly backtracked on a plan to build a new composting facility, instead opting to process the majority of organics through private contractors.

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Initially intending to build a new organics processing site at the city’s waste management centre, the city has instead opted to pay about $5.8 million annually for the organics to be processed through three private companies in the region. The change comes as the city moved to source-separated waste collection this year for residential homes in an effort to improve waste diversion from landfill. Currently, the city is working with Future Fuel, Silver Dart and KBL Environment. The processors will own and independently market the products generated from the organic material received.

Although the previous council made the decision in August, it was done so in private with information about the change only being released publicly this week through the 2022 waste services budget. The new site was intended to be built by 2025 to replace the old composting facility that was immediately shut down in May 2019 after failing a safety inspection.

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In a statement to Postmedia, city spokeswoman Kristen Wagner said the private partnerships will allow the city to save money and keep the customer utility rates as low as possible. Organics processing through a private company is expected to save the city at least $54 per tonne. The already-approved budget of $13.8 million has been released for other projects.

“This new option provides better value for money, allowing us to propose a zero per cent rate increase in 2022 and contributes to two of the city’s top priorities, economic action and climate change adaptation,” Wagner said in the statement.

But Waste Free Edmonton co-founder Sean Stepchuk said he’s trepidatious about the amount of processing space these private partners will have as the city’s organics volume increases in future years as multi-unit residences and commercial and industrial businesses move to source-separated collection as well. Stepchuk said it would be problematic if organics end up going to landfill because there isn’t enough room in the private facilities.

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“It’ll certainly be unfortunate if a large portion of the organic matter is just sent straight to landfill because there’s just no ability to process it,” he said. “Businesses in the commercial sector aren’t required to separate their organics and if the city were to do that, that would require an even larger amount of organics for companies to come in and process.”

Stepchuk’s fear already came to fruition this year with not enough room to process all the expected organics. The city anticipates about 68,000 tonnes of source-separated organics annually and this year can process 44,000 through the city’s new Anaerobic Digestion Facility and regional partners. By next year, Wagner said both options will be running at full capacity with the power to process 88,000 tonnes.

Despite the source-separated collection rolled out this year, the city isn’t on track to reach its waste diversion target of 40 per cent, but is forecasted to reach 32 per cent, which is a significant climb from 17 per cent in 2020.

Partly due to the privatization, utility rates won’t go up in 2022 except for about 27,000 homes who receive curbside pickup but were paying a multi-unit collection rate, who will see their rates rise about $4 as part of the five-year phased strategy to bring them in line with the current curbside collection rate. 

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