The City of Calgary works hard for the benefit of the environment.
“We have a very high standard,” said Sharon Howland, the leader of the program management in the waste and recycling Services for the City of Calgary.
Howland works at Dartmouth Place, which is the home of the waste and recycling Services. Her team consists of seven individuals that are responsible for the for the blue cart recycling program.
The number of households that receive this service is 320,000 in Calgary. Some of the team goes out and inspects the carts to make sure there are no contaminates in them.
Howland’s team is responsible for making sure new residence moving into Calgary get new blue carts and know how to use them; the team is also responsible for ordering blue carts from the manufactures, doing the long term planning around them, making sure everything meets the high standards that the team has set, and managing the contract with the material recovery facility (MRF).
MRF is where the recyclables are taken and processed. They are sorted into the different commodities that can then be marketed out to the manufactures. The MRF in Calgary is run by a private company named Cascades Recovery.
Cascades Recovery sorts all of the materials and does the marketing for Howland’s team.
“In some cases recyclables can’t be sold, so we have to pay for them to be turned into something new,” said Howland.
In Calgary, 60,000,000 kg of recyclables a year are recycled and sent out into the market to be made into new products.
The city of Calgary has a goal of 70 per cent diversion across all sectors by 2025. This means that all of Calgary as a whole, only 30 per cent of the waste that is produced will go to landfills.
On average of what people generate for waste, about 30 per cent of it is recyclables, about 50 per cent is food and yard waste (compostable materials), and about 20 per cent is actual landfill/non-recyclable garbage and special waste.
“Not much of people’s waste has to go to the landfill,” said Howland.
Collection days for the blue carts are Tuesdays through Fridays from residential. The collection trucks collect all morning and then they generally arrive at the Material Recovery Facility at around 1-2 p.m.
The trucks load their collections onto the tipping floor, which is a big concrete floor. The loader pushes the material into piles and then up to a conveyer belt.
The very first room the material goes to is called the pre-sort room. In this room, people look for dangerous items such as saw blades, garbage, tires, batteries, and other things that should not be in a blue cart.
The rest of the facility is for sorting the materials is highly automated, and Calgary’s facility is one of the most high-tech facilities in North America. They use a series of optical sorters to separate the material into a fiber line, for all of the paper and cardboard, and a container line, for all of the plastics, tin cans, and glass.
The electronic sorters then separate the two lines into more specific categories. For example, in the fiber line, it is sorted into newspaper, cardboard, and mixed paper.
The sorted materials then all end up in bunkers, and then gets bailed up. When there is enough material to fill a semi-truck trailer, the material is shipped off to the market.
“The material goes all over the world to be manufactured,” said Howland.
Cardboard and paper usually stays within North America. Plastics tend to go to somewhere in Asia. Glass is manufactured in Canada. Tin and steal is handled with the scrap metal industry which is the oldest recycling procedure.
One of the biggest additions made to the blue cart program since 2009 is that paper coffee cups were added last October. The team is very happy about that because most people use paper coffee cups every day, said Howland.
What brought Howland to start a career in the recycling business was her passion for the environment. When Howland was in elementary school in the 1990 era, it was known as the second wave of environmentalists. Recycling was one of and still is the most common environmental procedure.
When Howland when 10, she remembers being told to protect recourses today so that future generations have resources. This had a huge impact on her. Recycling in particular is interesting to Howland because people understand recycling.
“It’s an easy way to have a big impact,” said Howland.
Recycling is an environmental concept that individuals understand because they know that a magazine was a tree and it can be recycled into another magazine again and again without having to cut down another tree.
She started as a summer student working for a recycling depot doing different projects for them. After she graduated University with environmental studies, she got a job with the Recycling Council of Alberta.
After that job Howland got into Municipal government, and ran the recycling programs in Cochrane for 7 years. Howland has now worked with the city of Calgary for a year and a bit running the Waste and Recycling Services program.
To learn more about all what can be put into the blue bins, visit the city of Calgary’s website and go to their environment page.