City behind Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver in some areas

Calgary is well behind several other major Canadian cities in instituting programs and building infrastructure that will divert waste from landfills.

With the “Green Cart” organic waste pilot program concluding this March and a processing facility for a city-wide organic waste program in the works, Calgary is taking steps to catch up.

But, according to an analysis by the Calgary Journal, our city is still lagging behind.

  • 13 years behind Edmonton in providing multi-family unit recycling collection
  • 14 years behind Toronto in an organic waste program
  • 19 years behind Vancouver when it comes to single-family recycling collection.

Bernice Clark, a longtime member and volunteer for the Calgary chapter of environmental organization Sierra Club, called that lag “appalling.” She added that “though we’re delighted (the city) is finally making progress, it’s still not optimal from our perspective.”

Nevertheless, Paula Magdich, head of Waste Management Development in Calgary, said, “Every city is a bit different, so I think on the recycling end we’re doing really well. Some cities have different programs with their own unique twist.

“But we are trying to base ours on what will work for our city and our customers.”

Photo illustration by Michael ColesOptions for the city

There are primarily four different systems used by cities to divert waste from landfills:

  • organic waste collection and composting
  • single-family recycling collection
  • multi-family recycling collection
  • community recycling depots

Of these diversion methods, Calgary has been the last to institute these programs across the board amongst its Canadian counterparts surveyed by the Journal.

Calgary added single-family collection to its recycling plan in 2008, more than a decade after Vancouver, Toronto and Edmonton. A proposal for multi-family recycling collection is due before Calgary City Council by the end of this month, meaning a city-wide program won’t begin until 2015 at the earliest.

Although the City conducted blue box pilot programs as early as 1991, the depot system was adopted by City Council because it was the best way to balance cost with the expected volume of material collected, according to the City of Calgary website.

A 1990 Calgary Herald article said that around that time, it only cost Calgary $9 per tonne to dump waste in a landfill, while gathering, sorting, processing, storing and re-selling recycled material cost nearly $800 per tonne.

Since then, the price gap has narrowed with landfill waste costing $42 per tonne and recycling costing around $400 per tonne according to the Utilities and Environmental Protection Budget and Business Plan for 2012.

mcoles@cjournal.ca