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.

Xerox is working to reduce, reuse, and recycle

Post ImageI suspect that for most people, the term “xerox” conjures up images of paper thanks to the American document management company of the same name. Xerox (the company) is more than just photocopiers and printers though – the company has a long history of research and development. And they are at it again, this time trying to apply the Three R’s to paper:

[Brinda Dalal’s] research is part of a three-year-old technology development effort to design an add-on system for an office copier to produce “transient documents” that can be easily reused. The researchers now have a prototype system that will produce documents on a specially coated paper with a light yellow tint. Currently, the process works without toner and produces a low-resolution document that appears to be printed with purple ink.

The printed information on the document “disappears” within 16 hours. The documents can be reused more quickly by simply placing them in the copier paper tray. The researchers said that individual pieces of paper had been printed on up to 50 times, and the only current limit in the process appears to be paper life.

The idea makes sense to me. Companies have already reduced the amount of paper they need to use, so Xerox sees an opportunity to help them reuse and recycle it too. The end goal is to try to reduce the amount of paper that companies actually use.

Those of you who know me fairly well are probably confused because normally I am championing the death of paper, not reading about ways to extend its lifetime. As much as I would like to have everything stored and presented digitally, I realize we’re not there yet. And, as the article points out, a complete change to bits and bytes isn’t likely to happen anytime soon:

“People really like paper,” said Eric Shrader, a computer scientist who is area manager for printing systems at the Hardware Systems Laboratory of the research center, which is known as PARC. “They like the way it feels.”

Until e-paper is perfected, this paper erasing technology Xerox is working on might work quite well indeed.

Read: CNET

Waste Reduction Week in Canada

Post ImageDid you know that October 17th-23rd is Waste Reduction Week in Canada? I didn’t until yesterday when I happened to be walking through the Students’ Union Building on campus and came across a display. Municipalities can declare the week in their town or city, schools and businesses can register to participate, and of course we as individuals can do our part. Looks like Edmonton proclaimed the week last year.

There isn’t much on their website about the event or it’s history, so I don’t really know that much about it. You can however check the website for events and activities. They’ve also got some activities you can do yourself, like the Home Waste Audit and the Ecological Footprint Survey.

With almost perfect timing, an article in today’s Edmonton Journal gave an idea of where Canada ranks in the world on waste and energy use:

Canada’s environmental performance ranks almost dead last among major industrialized countries, according to a sweeping new study. The report, prepared by Simon Fraser University and published Tuesday by the David Suzuki Foundation, puts Canada 28th among 30 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.

Researchers looked at 29 environmental indicators to make their determinations, placing Canada 26th or lower in 12 categories. It ranked Canada dead last in the production of nuclear waste, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds. It was 29th in per-capita water consumption, sulphur oxide emissions and energy use.

Basically, we’re not doing that well in terms of reducing waste! The United States finished last, and Turkey finished first, with Switzerland and Denmark in second and third. Some other interesting things to note from the article:

  • Canada did not finish first in any environmental performance category and got failing grades in 24 of 29 indicators.
  • Its best ranking was second in the volume of timber harvested per square kilometre and fifth in the ratio of timber harvest to forest growth.
  • Canada has not improved its environmental performance relative to other OECD countries since 1992, when it was also 28th.

On that note, Happy Waste Reduction Week!

Read: Waste Reduction Week