Getting wise about waste in Edmonton

We currently divert more than 52% of our waste from landfill here in Edmonton and the goal is to increase that to over 90%. That’s going to take multiple approaches and a lot of hard work. Recycling is key, so it’s great that more than 90% of Edmontonians currently use the blue bag recycling program, according to the City. But sometimes we put the wrong things in the bag! That’s where the City’s new app called WasteWise comes in.


A launch event with a friendly waste sorting competition was held on October 26 at City Hall and I was excited to participate along with Councillor Andrew Knack, former Oiler Andrew Ference, and the kids from City Hall School. We each received a few bean bags with items on them and we had to determine whether that item should be recycled, taken to an eco station, or put in the garbage. We could guess, use the poster, use the app, or ask the audience for help. We got one point for getting that right, plus another point for tossing the bean bag through the right hole. It was more challenging than it sounds!

Edmonton WasteWise

You can see some video highlights from the event at the Journal. Somehow I managed to win the competition, even though I made a big mistake!

Edmonton WasteWise

My mistake was apparently a common one among Edmontonians. One of the items I got was shredded paper, and I thought “aha! paper! surely that’s recycle!” Needless to say I got no points for that incorrect guess. Unlike sheets of paper or newspapers, shredded paper should be put into the garbage because “it clogs machinery at the recycling sorting plant, causing damage and plant shutdowns.” Because it is already shredded, it composts well. So, it was an educational event!

Some other commonly mistaken items include pizza boxes (they go in the recycle, even if a bit greasy), compact discs (CDs go in the garbage, or to the Reuse Centre), and plastic shopping bags (they get recycled too). If it has a cord, it should generally be taken to the Eco Station. You can challenge yourself by playing the WasteWise game What Goes Where?

WasteWise App

The new WasteWise app is powered by a service called ReCollect. Other municipalities in Canada have gone with the same system, including Vancouver, Victoria, and Ottawa. The City was happy to point out that using an off-the-shelf tool was cheaper than building a brand new app, not to mention they get to take advantage of having the kinks largely worked out by others. In addition to being able to quickly look up whether an item should go in the garbage, recycle, or to the Eco Station, you can also get reminders about your waste collection day.

As of this week, the app has been downloaded more than 6,000 times and users have searched more than 67,000 times! The most commonly searched items are pizza boxes, styrofoam containers, and plastic containers. A little over half of app users have signed up to receive reminders.

You can download the Edmonton WasteWise app for iOS or Android, or you can access it via the web widget.

WasteWise Open Data

In addition to making the new app available, the City has released all of the data that powers it via the open data catalogue! In particular you can access:

These datasets are all fairly new so we’ll have to see how developers take advantage of all that data. I think an augmented reality app would be cool – imagine just pointing your mobile phone’s camera at an item to have it recognize the item and tell you where it should go. Would make all those de-cluttering challenges that seem so popular lately a little more interesting!

You can learn more about the City’s waste management programs & services here.

The Way We Green Workshops

The Way We Green WorkshopA few weeks ago I was invited to check out a workshop for stakeholders of The Way We Green, part of the public consultation process for the project. It took place on a Thursday evening in a conference room on the top floor of the Holiday Inn Express downtown (great view). I arrived roughly halfway through the session, and found two tables of about ten people deep in discussion.

The workshop I attended was the last of four in the second phase. In the four workshops of phase one, which took place during the first week of June, participants identified what sustainability means for Edmonton and what key environmental challenges we face. In the second phase, participants discussed the policy options for eight broad categories: energy, water supply, food, ambient air, biodiversity, water quality, extreme weather, and waste management.

The table I sat with was just finishing up a discussion on energy when I arrived. Each participant had a sheet of paper with three or four sections to drive the conversation. There was also a moderator and a designated note-taker. Very shortly after I sat down, the group started talking about food. Everyone around the table had the opportunity to talk about why they thought protecting Edmonton’s local food system is important. They also completed the exercises on the sheet, which asked for a proposed goal, for their thoughts on what the City of Edmonton has done thus far, for a recommendation that the City of Edmonton should do more, less, or retain the status quo, and to identify any barriers to achieving the goal. Everyone in the group agreed that we need to do more to protect and strengthen Edmonton’s local food system (which I agree with), and highlighted public awareness as a major barrier (which I disagree with).

The Way We Green Workshop

I’m really interested in how the City’s public consultations work (and how they might be changing), so it was a great opportunity to see one aspect first hand. Even with all of the technology available to us, there remains a place for face-to-face discussions. I felt there could have been more discussion between participants at the workshop I attended, however, instead of just answering the questions provided. Another thing I noticed was that while there was diversity in the ages of the participants, there wasn’t much ethnic diversity. It’s important that immigrants and newcomers have a say in the strategic direction we take as a city (something that City staff acknowledged is a challenge when I mentioned it after the workshop).

More workshops are being scheduled for September, including some that will be open to the public. Forums and other information sessions are also scheduled to take place, after which the draft plan will be written and presented to City Council (sometime before February 2011). You can learn more about the project timeline here. You might also want to read the EcoVision Annual Report, which was published last month.

You can read my recap of last month’s expert panel here. Don’t forget you have until August 20th to complete the online survey. Stay tuned to for updates!

Recap: The Way We Green Panel Discussion

Today the City of Edmonton hosted a panel discussion with environmental experts at the Art Gallery of Alberta. Part of The Way We Green, the panel featured five local subject matter experts and was attended by more than 150 people. The event was also streamed live online (an archive is available here). For those of you new to The Way We Green, here’s what Councillor Iveson wrote about it when he helped launch the project last month:

It’s picking up after the 2006 Environmental Strategic Plan, which was good but more internally focused on the city and not very high-profile. The project is building on the widespread consultations in 2008 that led to the city’s 30 year vision and 10 year overall strategic plan, The Way Ahead. Now it’s time to drill down and focus specifically on the environment – the services we get from it, the impacts we have on it, and the value we place on it.

As part of the project, the City commissioned a collection of discussion papers to help stimulate thinking and dialogue, and those papers formed the basis of today’s panel. The five panelists were: Debra Davidson, Pong Leung, David Schindler, Daniel Smith, and Guy Swinnerton. The panel was moderated by Ed Struzik.

The Way We Green

The panelists covered quite a range of topics, and I thought Ed did a great job of keeping the discussion moving. Here are a few things that stood out for me:

  • Most of the panelists used the word “comprehensive”. They generally agreed that a comprehensive approach is required to tackle the environmental issues we face. I’m not convinced. I think you need to break the problem down and work in parallel from a variety of angles.
  • I found myself disagreeing with David quite a lot. Near the start of the panel he said something like “A sustainable Edmonton, in an unsustainable province, in an unsustainable country, doesn’t work.” I think Edmonton should lead by example, rather than relying on other orders of government to agree on policy and regulations. If we can make Edmonton the model sustainable city, why wouldn’t other communities in Alberta want to follow suit? And if they did, guess what, we’d be on the road to a sustainable province. Start local, and bubble up.
  • Pong, who I thought was the best of the panelists, said in response to David, “We can’t be paralyzed waiting for the perfect political environment to show up.”
  • Guy talked at length about density, pointing out how vital it is for us to address sustainability. He also mentioned some of the negative impacts our continual sprawl has had on the environment.
  • David then talked about population growth, noting that Edmonton is roughly doubling every 30 years. He basically said that we can’t keep growing and be sustainable. Again, I disagree. The issue isn’t how many people we have, it’s where and how those people live. Population density is far more important than population growth, at least here in Edmonton. Debra said as much in response to David.
  • The one thing David said that I did agree with was that we need some economic diversification. Everyone laughed and applauded when he said that Alberta “relies on one very oily teat.”
  • Ed asked the panel about taxes, everyone’s favorite topic. Debra said that affordable housing in the core would help reduce urban sprawl. I would talk about it more generally. Incentives are what drive behaviour, especially financial incentives. Right now, it’s too easy a decision to live on the edge of the city than to pay more and live near the core. The incentives are not aligned with the vision. Tax breaks for sustainable decisions and tax increases for unsustainable decisions might be one tool we can use to address that.

I thought the panel had some interesting thoughts and discussion points, though I’d have preferred if there was more opportunity for the audience to ask questions. You can read more about today’s event here.

“City Council gave us a 10-year goal to become a national leader in setting and achieving the highest standards of environmental preservation and sustainability,” said Jim Andrais, project manager for the Way We Green plan. “Now we have to find out from Edmontonians and environmental experts which environmental challenges are most important and areas where we can make the greatest difference. This panel debate, discussion papers, workshops and the online consultation are all part of that process.”

The second public survey for The Way We Green is now online – you have until August 20 to fill it out. The two questions being asked are about the challenges we face and the major changes we may have to make to address them.

You can learn more about The Way We Green here. On Twitter, follow the #yegeco hashtag.

How green are Edmonton’s festivals? (Blog Action Day 2009)

Today is Blog Action Day, which means that bloggers around the world are writing about the same issue – climate change. The purpose of the initiative is to create a discussion. For my post, I’m hoping to stimulate a little discussion about how “green” Edmonton’s festivals are.

I first wrote about this topic back in December, when I noted a number of the changes BrightNights had made to become more environmentally friendly:

The City of Edmonton hopes to have a number of events operating green within three years, and BrightNights is just the first. I hope more festivals and events in Edmonton follow suit.

One of the big local stories this week is that BrightNights will no longer be taking place due to rising costs. I’m not at all sad to see the event go (the food bank and hot lunch program will be impacted in the short-term but will be fine I think). Even if they managed to make the event carbon-neutral (primarily by purchasing carbon credits, it should be noted) it still encouraged people to sit in a running car for an who knows how long. That’s not very green!

What about the rest of Edmonton’s festivals? What are they doing to be more environmentally friendly? If you have any links or other information, please post them in the comments!

As Canada’s Festival City, I think we have an opportunity (maybe even a responsibility) to lead the way in ensuring our events are green and sustainable. Let’s set the bar high and encourage others to follow suit!

Upcoming Climate Change Events

October 24th is the International Day of Climate Action. People all over the world are holding events pledging action on the science of 350:

350 parts per million is what many scientists, climate experts, and progressive national governments are now saying is the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere.

We’re currently at 387 parts per million, and rising (check out the Pew Center’s Global Warming Facts & Figures for more). There are six actions listed for Edmonton so far.

Of course, the main event this year is the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15), which takes place from December 7th to 18th in Copenhagen.

Your Guide to ICLEI World Congress Edmonton 2009

Edmonton is hosting the ICLEI World Congress 2009 from Sunday, June 14th through Thursday, June 18th. More than 500 mayors, councillors, and other delegates from more than 800 cities around the world will visit our city to discuss environmental sustainability. The conference takes place every three years, and provides opportunities for peer exchanges, knowledge sharing, on-site visits, and more.

For the City of Edmonton, this event is a chance to show off just how “green” we are to the rest of the world. There have been a number of related announcements over the last few weeks from the City:

I’d expect more announcements from the event. Each day of the conference has a theme:

More than 20 speakers have been announced, including Mayor Stephen Mandel, Alberta’s Minister of Municipal Affairs Ray Danyluk, Deputy Mayor of Vancouver and ICLEI President David Cadman, and the founder of ICLEI, Jeb Brugmann.

I’ll be blogging and tweeting some of the more Edmonton-focused sessions next week, and will be attending a number of the events that have been planned to coincide with the conference. Here are some of the things you can check out:

Lights Down Stars Up – photography exhibit
On display at City Hall until Thursday, June 18th, FREE

Gone Green – art exhibit
On display at City Hall until Wednesday, July 1st, FREE

That’s Edmonton For You – live music and entertainment
Sunday, June 14th from noon to 3:00pm at Louise McKinney Riverfront Park, FREE

Pecha Kucha Night – Edmonton Volume #4 – ideas inspiring sustainability
Tuesday, June 16th from 6:30pm to 10:30pm at the Shaw Conference Centre, $9

2009 Emerald Awards Ceremony – recognizing Albertan environmental initiatives
Tuesday, June 16th at the Citadel Theatre, $?

Resilient Cities: Responding to the Crash, Climate Change, and Peak Oil
Thursday, June 18th from 7:00pm at the Shaw Conference Centre, FREE

Bikeology Festival Day – velo-love in Edmonton
Saturday, June 20th from noon until 5:00pm at Beaver Hills House Park, FREE

Reuse Fair – bring your unwanted household items (pdf)
Saturday, June 20th from 10:00am to 3:00pm at King Edward Park Community League, FREE

The Works Art & Design Festival 2009 – sustainability is a theme this year
Friday, June 26th to Wednesday, July 8th at Sir Winston Churchill Square, FREE

Also, June is Bike Month in Edmonton.

To learn more about ICLEI and the World Congress happening in Edmonton, check out the following links:

Earth Day 2009 in Edmonton

Happy Earth Day! This annual celebration of our planet is observed in 175 countries, according to Wikipedia. There is an event here in Edmonton to mark the occasion of course, but this year is particularly important as we’re hosting the 2009 ICLEI World Congress from June 14th to 18th. The conference takes place every three years and provides governments from around the world with an opportunity to discuss environmental sustainability. For Edmonton, it’s an opportunity showcase just how green we are!

Leading up to ICLEI, there are are a number of green events happening in Edmonton, starting with the 20th anniversary of our Earth Day celebration:

Featuring 6 hours of mainstage entertainment, a blend of environmental, wholistic, animal and human rights exhibitors, hands on environmental education activities for the kids, body friendly food and more – this is one of Canada’s largest environmental festivals.

Head down to Hawrelak Park on Sunday, April 26th from noon until 6:00pm to join in the festivities, and check out the Facebook group for more information. You might also want to visit the ETS Community Fair on Saturday, April 25th to celebrate the opening of the latest LRT extension.

Celebrating Earth Day is great, but it would be better to make every day Earth Day. Here are some local tools to help you go green:

Carrying a reusable bag to the store and using a reusable coffee mug are a couple of other simple things you can do. I take my reusable coffee mug to work every day, but I usually make my coffee at home. On Earth Day however, I always go to Starbucks for free coffee!

Finally, as my Mom likes to say: reduce, reuse, and recycle!

Earth Hour 2009 in Edmonton

Edmonton is one of five Canadian cities taking part in Earth Hour 2009, the “lights out phenomenon” led by the World Wildlife Fund. No matter your take on the event (I’m not a supporter), many people in our city will be shutting off their lights and other electronics for an hour on Saturday evening. The official time is from 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM on Saturday, March 28th, 2009.

Here are some Earth Hour events taking place in Edmonton:

Know of any others? Let me know!

It’s a little silly to think that we still need to raise awareness for climate change (in my opinion), but that’s all Earth Hour can hope to accomplish. Last year, Epcor initially said that power consumption increased during Earth Hour but later revised that to say that consumption dropped 1.5%. In other words, it had no real effect. I doubt this year will be any different.

You can learn more about Earth Hour in Canada here or on Facebook, and if you’d like to register online, you can do so here. According to the Edmonton Examiner, just 1400 Edmontonians registered for Earth Hour 2008.

Edmonton’s BrightNights goes green

Holiday Light Up!Ever since the BrightNights festival opened for the year on November 22nd in Hawrelak Park, I’ve been meaning to write about it. Not because I love it and am keen to promote it, but for quite the opposite reason actually. I attended back in 2006, and came away unimpressed. I’ve got two major issues with the event – it’s relatively expensive and it’s terrible for the environment. Or at least it was.

This year, the organizers went with a “green theme” to make the 2008 edition of the festival the most environmentally friendly ever (didn’t you know green is the new black!). I noticed a video on the site recently talking about the improvements and changes (unfortunately they don’t use permalinks so I can’t link to the video) and took some notes:

  • BrightNights is operated as a not-for-profit.
  • The drive-through lights display runs from November 21st until January 4th, and covers 2.5 km of road.
  • Food Bank donations are encouraged, and any extra funds go to the hot lunch program.
  • The goal this year is to be carbon neutral. They’ve purchased carbon credits to offset emissions from both the power used in the park and from vehicles driving through.
  • All the lights are on timers this year, to avoid human error of forgetting to shut them off. Also, the hours of operation have been reduced from 6 per day to 5.
  • Enmax has joined as a sponsor for three years, and is working to ensure energy consumption is powered by wind.

The website also mentions high-efficiency lighting and certified forestry managed paper for marketing materials. Additionally, BrightNights has teamed up with Climate Change Central to help educate Edmontonians about going green at home.

Apparently the cost has gone up from $15 per vehicle to $20, so the event hasn’t become any more affordable. I’m not sure what kinds of displays they have, but I suspect it is similar to previous years.

Even though I’m still not that excited about BrightNights, I am quite happy to see the changes they’ve made to become more environmentally friendly. The City of Edmonton hopes to have a number of events operating green within three years, and BrightNights is just the first. I hope more festivals and events in Edmonton follow suit.

Making an effort to use sleep mode

sleep mode Events like Earth Hour raise awareness about our “planet in peril”, but as I’ve said in the past, they don’t have a positive impact on the environment. You need to do the little things to truly make a difference. I try to do my part. I always take a stainless steel mug to Starbucks in the morning, for example. There’s always room for improvement though.

For a little over a week now, I’ve been trying to break one of my worst habits. I don’t know how it started, but I’m one of those people that never turns the computer off when I’m not using it. For some reason I just got into the habit of always leaving it running. Laptops are a different story, because you shut the lid and it goes to sleep, but I’ve always left my desktop on for some reason. I’ve always had it configured to turn the monitors off after a while, but never the computer itself.

I guess I like having the computer immediately available when I want to use it. Really though, waking up from sleep mode doesn’t take very long at all. Slightly longer on my desktop than on either of my laptops, but still not bad.

I’ve been really good about using sleep mode for a week now, and I think I can keep it up. I’m going to kick my “leave the computer on” habit for good.

Happy Earth Day!

globeDid you know there are actually two Earth Days? I didn’t (or else I forgot) but as usual, Wikipedia has the answers. Evidently the March equinox (around March 20th) is also called Earth Day, though I think today is the more popular and commonly celebrated day.

Earth Day is a name used for two different observances, both held annually during spring in the northern hemisphere, and autumn in the southern hemisphere. These are intended to inspire awareness of and appreciation for the Earth’s environment. The United Nations celebrates Earth Day, which was founded by John McConnell in 1969, each year on the March equinox, while a global observance originated by Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in, and since January 1970 also called Earth Day, is celebrated in many countries each year on April 22, including the U.S.

Like most of these events lately, companies are not shy to take advantage of them for marketing purposes. Starbucks has historically celebrated Earth Day by offering free drip coffee to customers with personal cups, but not this year:

On April 22, Earth Day, Starbucks will donate five cents to Conservation International (CI) for every purchase made that day with a Starbucks Card at any Starbucks store in the U.S. and Canada.

Why couldn’t they just abolish splash sticks, balance print-outs for Starbucks card holders, and other environment unfriendly practices? I guess that would be too easy.

The official site of the March Earth Day is here, and Canada’s Earth Day site is here.

And hey, what better way to celebrate than by venturing out into our fourth day of blizzard-like conditions!