Edmonton weighs options to expand organics processing capacity

organics collection
Edmonton's three-stream waste sorting system, which separates food scraps, garbage and recycling, was introduced in 2021 to detached homes. Photo Credit: Olha, stock.adobe.com

As the population grows in the City of Edmonton, and an organics collection program continues to roll out to apartments and condos, local officials are weighing their options for how to treat what could be 36% more organic waste by 2027. 

According to a new report for Edmonton’s utility committee, city administration presented three options: construct a new outdoor composting site at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre; upgrade the high solids anaerobic digestion facility at the centre, or increase the use of third-party organics processing.  

“While the current organics processing program is meeting our current needs, we have identified areas that require addressing. Some of these have already been brought to council in previous reports while some will be resolved as we confirm our path forward in the organics processing program,” Denis Jubinville, Edmonton’s branch manager of waste services, told the committee on March 4.  

It is projected that the city will need to treat up to 121,000 tonnes of organic waste by 2027, a jump from the 88,573 tonnes it processed last year. By 2027 all Edmontonians are expected to have equal access to three-stream waste sorting in homes.  

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The city’s 25-year waste strategy, approved in 2019, calls for expanding organic waste sorting to residential collection services. The city is introducing three-stream waste collection for residents with apartment and condo collection. This rollout started in fall 2023 and is expected to be complete in 2027. 

The city’s three-stream waste sorting system, which separates food scraps, garbage and recycling, was introduced in 2021 to detached homes. The organics stream is pre-processed at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre to remove large contaminants, then transported to the Edmonton Composting Facility to start the composting process. Any piece of waste smaller than 3 cm is considered organic waste in line with industry standards, according to the report. 

Organic waste is currently processed using two methods, aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen). When organic waste is processed in an anaerobic environment, like a landfill, it generates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas (GHG) that contributes to climate change. However, in a controlled anaerobic digestion environment like the high solids anaerobic digestion facility, the byproducts of anaerobic decomposition, including methane, can be captured and converted into beneficial use, the report states. 

Edmonton’s goal is to be GHG-neutral by 2040 

Jubinville told the committee that each option to increase organics processing capacity has its own factors. The city will analyze the program outcomes and provide a 20-year financial analysis of each option. It will also include elements such as implementation risks and the GHG emissions.  

City staff will report back on the three organics processing options on September 3.  

When it comes to making improvements to the city’s high solids anaerobic digestion facility, Jubinville noted that it would require additional investments to its biogas scrubbing, emissions control, and its piping systems. The biogas currently produced by the facility also has high levels of hydrogen sulfide. It needs to be mixed with natural gas so it can be used for electricity generation without causing corrosion in the city’s equipment. 

“This blend reduces the environmental benefit of the facility and makes production of electricity expensive,” Jubinville said.  

Improvements are also required in the emissions control system to reduce the amount of ammonia being released into the environment.  

“Even if the process were operating perfectly, it would still be more expensive to run than other methods,” Jubinville told the committee. 

Other options, however, which could include using more third-party organics processing facilities, would have limited capacity, Jubinville added. 

Related Professional Development Course 

To learn more about Anaerobic Digestion project development and technologies, don’t miss “Anaerobic Digestion: Compliance and Optimization” on April 23rd at the CANECT 2024 Environmental Compliance and Due Diligence Training Event in Vaughan, Ontario. Attend this course to learn about anaerobic digestion project development and permitting, regulatory compliance, optimization and training, safety and risk management, and much more. Visit: www.canect.net for more information. 

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