In environmental engineering, a part of the program is learning how to manage the municipal waste problem. Everything from liners and covers for landfills to truck routing and waste diversion is covered in this course. At the end of the term, every group of students gets the opportunity to go on a tour of Edmonton's waste facility. That is one Hella Good Time.
It started out with our prof chartering one of those big yellow buses. We all got loaded up and it felt exactly like a bunch of dear schoolmates all going to rundle park or the Space and Science Center. Smiles and giggles all around - we even almost sang the wheels on the bus song.
After crossing that invisible boundary where you suddenly find yourself in the Edmonton's Industrial Heartland, we headed a few more kilometers north and east to get to the Cloverbar Landfill. We didn't have to weigh in, because we (unfortunately) weren't leaving any of our class mates at the dump. Initially the lack of noxious odours surprised me as we entered. We rolled up to the admin building, where we met our guide who told us a few stats about the Edmonton Waste Management Centre of Excellence. First of all we learned that 120 thousands of tonnes of waste is landfilled there every year. The landfill is only a small part of the ~320 acre site (2.47ac/ha). The city charges us $15 to bring our blue and black bags here every month. However, there is another $15 that are built into our taxes that goes towards operating the facility.
We then continued onwards past the stockpiles of e-waste which includes thousands of CRT tv & computer monitors. We went to the tipping zone where you can unload up to a tonne of your own waste for about 16 bucks. For more than that, the city charges ~$55/tonne of crap for landfilling. At this point, hazordous wastes and refrigerators (that need to be de-freonized), wet cells batteries...the sort of stuff you see @ the ecocentre are deposited. From there, we advanced up a 40m slope to where the garbage is currently being deposited and compacted. Being so high up, winds tend to blow a lot of the garbage around so large wire fences were put in place just in order to minimize littering of the site. The landfill will grow another 4 meters high over the next 18 months that is left in its designed lifespan. At that point, waste will be diverted to a site near Riley. Throughout the landfill about 130 gas collection wells are set up so that the methane generated can be utilized as electrical energy. I think they claimed that about 7000 tonnes per year of methane is collected annually, which is turned into 1.6 megawatts that is enough to power 4600 houses.
The landfill was only one section of the this Centre of Excellence, but really, the places we bussed on down to after that were what made it actually pretty incredible. (oh the ways that an environmental engineer gets excited!) The next stop was the Global Electric Electronic Processing or GEEP. This was a pretty honkin' big building that has ~30 workers on the floor recovering parts from CRT monitors. Leaded and unleaded glass are sorted, the different plastics are separated, and finally the metals - aluminum then silver & gold are salvaged. By processing the 500-600 monitors every day, this facility will be going steady for the next year based on the current stockpiled monitors. LED/Plasma tv's were not a part of this system yet.
Next we went to the MRF (merf) or Materials Recovery Facility. This is where that little blue bag you fill up weekly gets sorted out. This massive building has a walking floor that is steadily fed with blue bags and cardboard and other recycleables by a front loader. From there, endless conveyor belts, mechanical Thingermabobs, and ennumerous workers sort the fibers from the beverage containers from the cardboard. Everything really small is eventually sorted then compacted into bales which are finally landfilled. They claim that there is less than 10% of contamination of their final sorted waste streams, whether that be aluminium cans, milk jugs, or pop bottles. There is also a $10000 monthly return in pop bottles. The fibre stream is also 90% of the total recyclealbes by mass. People read to much newspaper. Or write on too many pages of engg paper, maybe.
FINALLY we went to the compost facility. This is where organic waste stream is screened and cured and heated then moistened to achieve some hella nasty smell. For this reason, I seemed to have blocked most of that experience out of my mind. All I remember for sure is that there is lots of composted material and that when you are done kickin' around the building, it's a mad race to see who can get to the showers first. I think the people on the bus were giving me dirty looks on my way home. Yes - bus people thought I smelled bad! But overall, composting is an important way that a heck of a lot of waste is diverted from the landfill.