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A Different Stampede: Considering Waste Management in Calgary

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

Opinion by Aryan Bajpai

Waste management is a necessary avenue of public policy that should be treated with increased urgency to decrease the amount of waste that is thrown out. Incredibly, while Calgary has seen the amount of garbage sent to landfills per capita decrease by 48 per cent since 2008 (1), the total amount of waste has actually increased due to the city’s growing population. The City of Calgary has recognized this problem and through their effective waste management programs and proposed “pay-as-you-throw” program there is hope that the situation could change.

Calgary’s increased garbage creation despite their per capita production decrease can be attributed to its growing population. In 2008, Calgary had an estimated 1,279,058 people while in 2017, it had an estimated 1,568,766 people (3). Those numbers point to an increase of approximately 290k people over nine years, and Calgary’s population is set to continue growing. Over that same nine year period, Calgary dumped over 59,000 tonnes more garbage annually. In 2008 Calgarians dumped 209,000 tonnes of waste whereas in 2017 Calgarians dumped 267,900 tonnes (2).

That’s not to say that the issue concerning increasing amounts of waste has gone entirely unnoticed by the City of Calgary. They have had waste management programs running which have contributed positively to the issue. For example, the Blue Cart program which has been in place for 10 years has seen Calgarians recycle over 600k tonnes of material over this time according to the city website (4). 85% of Blue Cart recyclables are sorted and recycled by Cascades Recovery+, a division of Canadian company Cascades Canada (the remaining 15 per cent are items put in the wrong bin) (5). The city’s website proudly exclaims the following as a result: “With the introduction of the blue and green carts, black cart garbage has reduced from an average of 783 kg/household to 350kg/household – a whopping 50 per cent drop” (7). With this in mind, however, David Bell of CBC News writes that in 2014 a city sample study found that “about 80 per cent of what went into the landfill-destined black carts could have been diverted: food (36 per cent) and leaf and yard trimmings (29 per cent) along with recyclables (15 per cent)” (8). The city had recognized that there was more work to be done there, and in 2015 approved waste diversion targets of 70 per cent across four sectors by 2025 as follows: single-family households, multi-family households, business and organizations (IC&I) and construction and demolition- 40 per cent (9). There’s certainly action being taken by the City of Calgary in accordance with the data they collect, but more needs to be done. Particularly with a rising population in mind, Calgary needs to seek more ambitious targets on waste diversion across all sectors.

An interesting idea for one of the more ambitious targets on waste management comes from Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, a non-partisan research group that seeks to tie in policy-minded economics with environmental prosperity at all levels of government (10). The idea proposed for Calgary, more specifically, is a ‘pay-as-you-throw’ program which would entail something that the City of Calgary has already been considering but has not yet progressed for want of more financial details. It is described by Robson Fletcher of CBC News as folks being “charged a new fee each time we have garbage that needs to be picked up. The thing is, if you don't put out the bin for collection, you don't get charged the fee” (11). If a pay-as-you-throw program were to pass, then Calgarians would be punished for throwing out more and would therefore try to be more mindful of how full their bins are.

This idea has already brought mixed reactions from Calgary's City Council. For example, Ward 2 Councillor Joe Magliocca raised concerns of people seeking to avoid fees and tossing their garbage into neighbours’ bins, saying “They're not going to pay for it. And it's not going to happen just in my neighbourhood, it's going to happen, probably, all over Calgary” (12). Ward 14 Councillor Peter Demong disagreed with Magliocca and said the following: “I've been contacted from a number of constituents because they're really quite interested in this and they think it's a fantastic idea and, unlike Ward 2, they actually want to go forward with a new system” (13). A pay-as-you-throw program must also take into account Calgarians of lower-income households, even if it has savings for the city on waste management in the longer run. Fletcher’s article also touches on how city staff brought up a sliding scale of fees for city services to remedy this (14). Ecofiscal’s idea of a ‘pay-as-you-throw’ program may see application in Calgary’s municipal politics in the future.

Calgary must be pressured to undertake more ambitious waste management policy avenues to reduce what goes in the landfill. This must be done particularly in the context of the climate crisis and environmental preservation efforts. Calgary’s targets for sectors in relation to waste diversion are good starting points for more specific policies, and they should be adjusted as new strategies and statistics arise. Hopefully, in the near future, more sustainable practices of waste management will become commonplace in Calgary and the municipalities beyond. However, it is our duty as residents of such cities to transform ideas into action to make it happen sooner. So then what to do about all of the waste? In the years to come, we will need sustainable policies, actions, and practices.

Writer’s Note: If you would like to read more policy recommendations on how to save money while improving waste management in Canadian municipalities, as well as read the entire Ecofiscal ‘pay-as-you-throw’ report referenced in this article go to:

  1. Bell, David. 2018. “Calgarians cut landfill waste by half — but much of what is thrown out still shouldn't go to the dump.” CBC News (Calgary), July 15, 2018. 3#:~:text=The%20city%27s%20population%20has%20grown,181%2C900%20tonne s%20to%20the%20landfill.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Calgary Economic Development. n.d. “Demographics: Population.” Calgary Economic Development. Accessed December 9, 2020. lation/.

  4. City of Calgary. n.d. “Calgary Recycling Facts.” Accessed December 9, 2020. cycling/recycle-facts.html#:~:text=Did%20you%20know%3A%20In%202019,recyclab les%20are%20sorted%20and%20recycled.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Bell, David. 2018. “Calgarians cut landfill waste by half”.

  9. City of Calgary. n.d. “Leading Calgary to zero waste.” Accessed December 9, 2020.

  10. Fletcher, Robson. 2018. CBC News (Calgary), October 16, 2018. fiscal-report-1.4863765.

  11. Ibid.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Ibid.

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