“I talk about garbage every day at work. And I love it; it’s super fun!”
That’s how Michelle welcomed us today at the City of Calgary’s Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). The facility is owned by the Québec-based company Cascades and operated by the City of Calgary. All of Calgary’s recycling materials collected in the blue bins land here where they are sorted into paper, plastic, metal and glass.
Currently, the facility runs on only 50 per cent capacity. Per hour it processes 40 tonnes of recycling, the equivalent of six adult and one baby elephant. 80 per cent of the recycling waste is paper, only 20 per cent are metal, glass and plastic. The City’s goal is to reduce landfill waste to 20 per cent by 2020. Currently, that’s our recycling rate, 80 per cent of our waste go to the landfill.
Inside the MRF
The recycling trucks dump everything on the floor and then it gets moved inside the MRF on two conveyor belts. Different sets of discs, magnets and optical sensors sort the stream into piles of paper, plastic, glass and metal. “Why don’t people sort it at home?”, one of the children in our group asked. The main reason is convenience. Apparently throwing everything in one big bin is easier and more convenient and motivates more Calgarians to recycle. However, there is actually no recycling happening in Calgary. The MRF is just a sorting station to separate the materials from one another. After sorting they are pressed into big blocks and sold to the highest bidder on the market.
Calgary has three landfills to dispose off construction debris, hazardous materials, Christmas trees, old tires, carpet, worn-out shoes, propane tanks and car batteries. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of stuff in our waste bins that doesn’t belong there. 57 per cent are organic waste (yard and food waste) that could be composted. Actually, only 15 per cent of what we send to the landfill in our black bins is real garbage that belongs there.
All the organic waste could be composted and turned into fertile soil. If you are already composting in your backyard – great, keep it up! If you throw your food scraps and grass clippings into your black bin they will be preserved for a long time. “Things in the landfill are not breaking down; there is no oxygen,” Michelle explains. Recently her team dug up some grass clippings from the 1970s in a landfill; they were still green and did not degrade.
Until 2015/16 the City wants to introduce a green cart for organic waste. Currently, the four communities of Brentwood, Abbeydale, Southwood and Cougar Ridge are part of a green cart pilot. The bins are picked up every week and turned into compost instead of going to the landfill. Since the amount of garbage has been cut in half the pilot also reduces black bin pick-up to every other week.
Turn old into new
What becomes of the recycled materials in their new life?
- Paper = backside of roof shingles, recycled office paper
- Newspaper = new newspapers
- Cardboard = new cardboard
- PET bottles (#1) = carpet
- Other plastics = other plastic containers
- Aluminum cans = more aluminum cans
- Metal cans = rebar
Here is a video behind the scenes:
And another one by the City of Calgary: