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Edmonton will have far more organic waste than it can handle within three years and will be forced to send some compost to the landfill if the city doesn’t find a solution soon.

The city expects to treat 121,000 tonnes of organic waste in 2027, more than eight times the 13,700 tonnes in 2020 before Edmonton began rolling out green carts to single-family homeowners, according to a report up for review by city council’s utility committee on March 4.

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Edmonton processed 88,573 tonnes of organic waste last year and will need the capacity to handle more as the population grows and with the incoming influx of food and yard waste from apartments and condominiums. Those buildings are transitioning to the mandatory three-stream waste sorting program within the next three years.

Edmonton could build a new outdoor composting facility, spend even more money on the fraught trash digester, or rely more heavily on outsourcing to private companies to meet future needs, a staff report states. City council is expected to review more details on solutions in late September after administration finishes researching different options.

“As anticipated, the volume of organic waste requiring processing increased, and is projected to increase further as Edmonton’s population grows,” the staff report states. “A refined organics processing program is needed to prepare for this increase in source-separated organic waste.”

A review by staff will look at the city’s legal requirements, carbon emissions, and balancing the use of municipal facilities and third parties. It will also look at the financial impact of any needed capital investments, upgrades to existing facilities or equipment, contracting costs, labour and staffing costs, transportation costs, buying land, and other operating costs for each option, among other factors.

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Capacity issues, more problems with trash digester

Edmonton currently doesn’t own the infrastructure to handle all of its organic waste alone and relies on private companies to fill the gap. According to the waste utility’s 2023-2024 rate filing, the city outsources 42,000 tonnes and its trash digester processes around 40,000 tonnes — a total of 82,000 tonnes.

But the trash digester, which opened fully in 2021, refines much less waste in reality.

The $42-million high solids anaerobic digester has never processed more than 29,000 tonnes a year, the new staff report states — even lower than figures provided to Postmedia in 2022.

The digester’s annual capacity was initially a promised 48,000 tonnes of organic waste, but it was designed to work in tandem with the Edmonton Composting Facility, which was shut down in 2019 after failing a safety inspection. In 2022, city council agreed to spend another $6.7 million to buy the screens and mixers needed to make it work properly without the shuttered facility.

The Edmonton Composting Facility had the capacity for processing 125,000 tonnes of waste and 10,000 dry tonnes (equal to 40,000 wet tonnes) of biosolids when it was open, according to a capital profile for the digester.

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Not only does the digester fall short in processing capabilities, but it’s also not generating the money the city expected — $300,000 annual profit from the $1.8 million of green electricity generated annually.

No profit had been made by late 2022, and the city will need to spend even more money if it wants to generate that electricity for sale, according to the latest utility committee report.

“The (digester) currently requires upgrades to its emissions treatment operations and fluid piping and storage systems to meet the original expected throughputs of organic waste,” the report states. “The issues with the emissions treatment operations are also preventing it from reliably and currently generating clean electricity.”

Currently, organic waste from garbage collected at apartments and condos is brought to the trash digester. While the compost quality it produces is poor, the staff report says it’s the most efficient way to use this facility because waste from apartments and condos would otherwise be sent to the landfill because it is highly contaminated with plastic, glass and metal.

But the digester won’t need to be used in this way by 2027 once apartments and condos have three-stream waste separation, meaning the quality of the compost it produces will be better, “leading to a more consistent organic waste feedstock being processed at any facility,” according to the report.

lboothby@postmedia.com

@laurby

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