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.

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