On May 6th 2011, all 18 students in HECOL 493 - Design for Sustainability drove in carpools to the Edmonton Waste Management Centre of Excellence for a tour of the facilities. We had the opportunity to visit the Integrated Processing Transfer Facility (IPTF), the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), the Global Electric Electronic Processing (GEEP) and viewed the Grey’s Paper Recycling Facility from the minibus windows as mosquitoes sucked all the blood out of our arms and legs. We didn’t get to see the Composting Facility as it is far too smelly and due to exothermic reactions the heat in the building sits at 55˚. 

Here’s the first building we visited on the tour. It’s the IPTF. This is where a number of garbage trucks come to drop off all of the garbage bags they picked up from your driveway on Garbage Day. It was both embarrassing to see how much junk Edmontonians throw out on a weekly basis. 

Next was GEEP, this is where they tear up old electronics such as televisions and computers to be recycled. I had no idea that there was gold in computer parts but apparently that’s one of the things they recycle here. 

This facility is the Materials Recovery Facility. The waste travels on a number of conveyor belts and through grinders. Also, there are focused workers who spend their 8 hour shifts sifting through the trash to sort out their respective category of recycling. 

According to our guide, many of these workers are immigrants. The labourers are paid $17.50/hour with benefits. As much as the job sounds rather awful and stinky, I think that’s quite fair and it’s great the amount of jobs such a massive facility can create. 

At this stop, we learned a few interesting facts.

1. About 180 thousand tons of sand thrown on our winter roads are recycled. That is 20% of the total mixture that is retrieved after washing. The Waste Management Centre is the first in North America to do this. 

2. When you were told as a child to wash containers before recycling them, you were told for a reason. Soiled containers are full of bacteria and these cannot be washed at the facility and are consequently thrown into landfills never to be seen or used again. Scary thought! 

While the facility is great for keeping our city clean and managing the waste we create, we noticed quite a few unsustainable practices. 

Here are a few examples:                                                                                                  

- At the Weighscale Facility, all the vehicles weighting… I mean waiting, in line to be weighed were idling and many of these were large dump trucks. 

- They used plastic bags to contain waste thus simultaneously managing and creating waste. Sounds ironic to me! 

- Outside the facilities, trash was blowing around in the wind. Was it coming from the closed Sanitary Landfill, which operated from 1975 to 2009 or was it escaping from the facilities? At least, there were a few workers outside attempting to clean it up. 

- The build up of trash and the fact that the landfill is now full worried me slightly. I mean, eventually there will no longer be any space for trash. WALL-E anyone? 

I am left pondering the many ways the waste system could be improved in Edmonton however knowing that our system is pretty good considering the conditions I’ve seen in other places I’ve visited in the past. 

Nicaragua 

Trash and plastic bags pollute the surroundings. Below, someone is burning tires near their home.