The Dirt’s in the Details

Posted in: ELNews, Recycling | 0

There’s been a lot of discussion going on with the City Council of Lethbridge about introducing either curbside recycling, organic waste (greenbox) recycling or both in the next couple of years. Mayor Chris Spearman is spearheading the effort to get both services in place with two resolutions he plans to bring forward to City Council on March 2, 2015. From Lethbridge Living:

“I will be proposing two resolutions at the March 2, 2015 City Council meeting. The first resolution asks City Council to host a Community Issues Committee meeting on the topic of recycling. This meeting would follow a similar format as the meeting we hosted in 2014 on the topic of urban drilling where we would have subject matter experts available. Members of Council and the public would have the opportunity to ask questions and learn from these panellists.

The second resolution that I am proposing is more controversial. It asks City Council to inform the community that recyclable items and organics will not be accepted in waste carts and at our landfill after March 1, 2016. If approved, this resolution would apply to all Institutional, Commercial, Industrial, Construction and Residential customers in our city. This resolution would also focus our City Council and community on progress. We could proceed with a pilot project. We could also examine the costs of these new services to the residential customers in more detail.”

The second resolution seeks to confront head-on the problem of the Lethbridge landfill quickly approaching its maximum capacity. It’s a bold move, and while the resolution likely won’t be passed by Council, it does show attention shifting from treating symptoms to treating causes. There is an awful lot of waste produced from both commercial and residential sources, and the studies provided by the Mayor and other concerned citizens of Lethbridge show that about HALF of that is organic, and a quarter is recyclable material.

The issue of waste management is not very romantic, and as such, it doesn’t get the kind of attention that it deserves. Everything that we produce and consume eventually ends up in the waste stream. When those waste streams are managed carefully and pragmatically, we avoid excessive pollution and expensive band-aid solutions like increasing landfill space. From an economic standpoint, dealing with pollution and its ill effects is extremely expensive, drawing money and resources away from other services that the city needs. Conversely, the process of intercepting waste before it becomes pollution creates economic opportunities and turns some of that waste into a useful product once more. That’s where dirt and composting come in.

Composting takes organic waste like kitchen scraps, leaves, grass clippings, pretty much anything that was once alive, and mixes it with other materials to encourage the natural process of decomposition. With a little management and care, microbial life and other critters break down all that organic waste into soil. That’s right; we can turn stuff we don’t want into stuff we do, and it’s all done by working with natural processes that would happen anyways. The difference here is that it happens faster, and it’s readily accessible.

The benefits of composting include reducing pollution in the landfill. When organic waste is crushed, compressed and buried, only anaerobic decomposition can occur. Those are the microbes that work with very little fresh air, and they produce the smelly greenhouse gas methane as their main byproduct. So we bury what could be healthy, nutrient dense soil and throw climate altering gases into the deal. Since composted soil is so rich in nutrients, it also saves money at home in fertilizer and pesticide costs. Healthy plants need less help from us to thrive and grow.

All this being said, composting properly takes experience and a little bit of time to manage the herd of microbes chowing down on our kitchen scraps and yard waste. Those who don’t have the time or inclination to produce their own soil from kitchen scraps could use the green bin solution to contribute to the overall health of the city and its inhabitants. This will create economic and environmental incentive to get the program in place. Other cities and towns across Alberta, such as Edmonton, Airdrie, Devon, Beaumont, Didsbury, Spruce Grove, Leduc, Jasper, St. Albert and Strathcona County, already have successful organic recycling services. Calgary currently has a green cart, food and waste recycling pilot project under way with plans to build a large-scale indoor/outdoor composting facility by 2017. Lethbridge certainly has the potential and capabilities to be as forward thinking as these communities.

Finally, the City of Calgary has put together a quick, informative video that summarizes the pros to composting rather than throwing organic materials into the landfill.






St. Albert:

Spruce Grove:



Strathcona County: