March 26, 2008

A Day at the Dump

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.

The End.

March 11, 2008


1987. what happened. twenty-one years ago, there must have been something hella' wrong with the drinking water. or maybe there was something in the air. either way, the generation of young people out there today (between 18 & 21) have some pretty serious priority issues.

No, I am not talking about pop culture icons britney, paris, or lindsay who tend to help portray today's young as having exceptionally belligerent carefree attitudes and lifestyles. But rather, the kid living across the street or stopped beside you at the red light or next in line for some edo. There is such a great underlying basis of a largely indifferent attitude of this next generation that is so far from what we as society demand of people in this demographic.

Cases in Point:

The recent election is a very good indication of how unwilling that closed-minded, apathetic, and too busy and/or important our young people are today. With a 42% voter turnout on March 4, the untapped market of 18-2(4?) year olds could have shown that Conservative Rule is not a requirement for the sustainability of our province's economy. Even with something as unlikely as an NDP majority, the province and industrial wealth would continue to grow. Instead, our lack of ambition just allows for us to be blissfully ignorant and mindless of the goings-on with industry, energy, we know that the economy is strong and the conservatives will maintain the status quo - even if the economy is driving itself regardless of any political involvement at all.

A lot of today's young people that have lived in Edmonton for more than half their lives do not know who their representatives on different political levels. Some couldn't even tell you the difference between an MLA and an MP. This miseducation is such a vital flaw as to the way that the city, the province, the country, and in effect, the world will be impacted in years to come. We can recycle and buy water-saving showerheads and high efficiency lightbulbs within our own lives, but playing our part also requires that we be informed. But seriously, who watches the news when Family Guy is on?? Or Seinfeld...again. The disinterest and desire to take the path of least resistance of our young people is so overwhelming that it's incomprehensible.

So right now I'm saying that a lot of the trouble lies in young apathy and ignorance. The big trouble with this outlook is that this is the generation that is supposed be be making the difference! being the change! We indeed have some pretty amazing people out there that probably could do an okay job of leading a country. CBCs "The Next Great Prime Minister" is testimony to that, not to mention the ever-increasing media attention regarding environmental issues and extreme poverty, and countless ngo groups wanting to make a difference. But even so, a disproportionate amount of young people are making this difference. We have to do more. we have to be more.

Even in engineering, the captain of next year's Concrete Toboggan team couldn't appear to care less as to what he's getting involved with. The captain lacks passion. For next year's concrete toboggan team to be successful, and for the next generation of stewards to Our World alike, there needs to be at least some passion.

If you were born between 1982 and 1986 I have a heck of a lot of confidence in you to make a difference in this world. Born before that? You're either already doing it, or working against that and will be hard-pressed to ever change. Born in 1987 or later? Prove me wrong. Step up and let's see what your really made of.

March 9, 2008

Daylight Savings

Why, Oh WHY?!?!? must we put ourselves through this every year. To get more sunlight out of the working day? So that the days last longer?? Aren't the (working) days already long enough as it is??? And don'tcha know that the real party gets goin' when the sun goes down anyways? It's not only a pretty big inconvenience in adjusting clocks around the house, but the fact that it's 1am now (by noone's fault other than my own) and I will likely have to have my ass in gear by 9AM which is actually gonna be 10 if I want to get any work done!! So most of us insomniacs will lose out on even more tomorrow, in this demanding fast-paced world that refuses to take a chill-pill. We must have an efficient work force after all.

I've heard vunderbal things about the european work week. Some of the highlights include afternoon siestas, 30 hour work weeks (4 X 7.5s), and getting the daily brew in at the pub over lunch break. Yet in some miraculous way the work across that Great Blue still gets done. Europe still exists. Maybe I'm wrong in that more and more businesses are adopting the american work-a-holic capital driven workplace routines (with globalization, n' all that jazz). But overall, the things that I have heard about it sound pretty appealing. Maybe wages are lower & living expenses are higher; yet for some reason, Europeans still manage to afford that pint at the end of the day and that annual holiday to the South of France or maybe Spain.

Don't take me for one of those "lazyass new generation kids" that wants to Live the Lifestyle without having to work for it, because really I do enjoy working in most cases. But really: slow it down. I will work. But I don't want my work to kill me. I wonder if any of those researchers have done recent studies comparing the amount of stress and the quality of life of a North American and a European that do the same thing. The stereotypical business man that puts a pistol to his head after working for The Corporation for 35 years and being utterly and completely unhappy for about 30 of those years is really not such a far cry from reality. And it is getting worse as the growing educated workforce population becomes further consumed by their need to, well, consume. This lifestyle promotes such a false sense of happiness. Wasn't it that play I read in grade 10 that was called "You Can't Take It With You"? The idea of materialism and greed has been around forever. Yet to achieve a "pleasant" lifestyle by today's standards is really taxing on the human spirit. This is proven by the necessity of young people to go into debt for 40 year mortgages on their new condo built on the outskirts of the city. 40 years is a long time to be owing money and would affect at least some people in a negative way mentally. People are also being drained from the demanding world by having to keep up with all the newest gizmos and gadgets: if it's not the new 46" HiDef TV for him, then it's being able to afford the iPod Touch for the kids for Christmas, or maybe affording more expensive but ethically conscious Fair Trade Coffee for her. It never ends.

But at least I know there are people out there that aren't consumed by capitalism... ...right?

It's almost 2 - wait - make that 3. Better get to bed.

March 7, 2008

Oh Happy Day!

Hello, hello, hello.

Today is a happy day. For no other reason that I think there should be more happy days documented and appreciated in a person's life. Maybe someone else didn't really have a happy day today but that shouldn't try to stop you from still having your own happy day, at least every once in a while.

So what is so happy about today? Well, today I have made it through one whole week of being 24. And really, so far, it's been pretty sweet. For my birthday I drank. and drank. I got to see some really good friends outside of school for a change. People generally all seem to be pretty happy! Some people that I had been on less than congenial terms with are showing a renewed interest in wanting to "set things right". Some people that I have always sort of known, I am getting to know better. This past week I have made some decisions with what I hope to get done over the next 6 months. I am enjoying new music and am going to all kinds of shows in the near future.

School's really good. I am finally beginning to see some hope in the solid waste problems that plague our cities. I am working on a the design of a water treatment plant. I am realizing the impact that heavy industry has on our environment and the measures that need to be taken to minimize the "ecological footprint". The only thing that remains is to decide whether I should focus my career in water, air, or soil. Easy right?

What else...I'm still reading. Blood of the Earth: The Battle for the World's Vanising Oil Resources is today's EPL selection. I have yet to finish Clive Doucet's "Urban Meltdown" which talks about sprawl and development of our cities. It's different because the writer is a city councillor/poet, but it's pretty good too. The book "Sabateurs" by was a little bit of an eye-opener with respect to the problems associated sour gas flaring. It was a bit whacky because it was based on the trials and tribulations of Wiebo Ludwig's "battle against Big Oil". In my opinion, he was just a stubborn and religious family-oriented man that was born in the wrong Century, who happened to have a couple strokes of really bad luck.

Just before I turned 24, I was in Sherbrooke, Quebec, drinking steady for 4 nights. I also was able to ride down our concrete toboggan in 2 out of the 3 runs. I crashed twice. Plus last year when I rode, I crashed also. 3 for 3 for me. Either way, it was a blast. There were some great people there and I can't wait to try it once more next winter! Then I graduate. Time to get real. Alright. Books to read. I'm off!