Carts are just the start of reducing waste

How we can rethink waste before it ends up in our garbage

ANDREW WADDELL & MELISSA GORRIE

In 2021, Edmontonians will experience one of the most visible, impactful changes to residential waste management they’ve seen in decades. Single-family households will move away from bagged garbage collection and receive separate carts for food scraps and garbage, putting Edmonton in line with other Canadian cities. More importantly, Edmontonians will finally have limits placed on the amount of waste they can put out for collection. Lifelong Edmontonians may be taken aback at the drastic changes to their door-to-door collection; other residents may celebrate the long-awaited arrival of carts. But everyone can use this spring and summer to rethink the waste they produce and how it ended up in their black garbage cart.

The City of Edmonton’s own data reveals that significant changes to the waste management system are necessary, with the 90 per cent diversion target being grossly missed. In fact, we only diverted 21 per cent of our residential waste from landfill in 2019, down from 36 per cent in 2018. This is partly due to the fact that our current waste management system is a reactive one that does not focus on reducing the amount of waste produced, but focuses primarily on diverting waste once it has been created. 

We also live in a society where unnecessary consumption and waste is normalized, and where there are many hurdles that make it challenging for citizens to reduce their waste footprint. For example, many corporations create products swaddled in layers of unrecyclable, non-compostable, single-use plastic packaging or designed with planned obsolescence in mind, while municipalities and citizens bear the responsibility of disposing of them. 

We need to do better. The City of Edmonton needs a proactive approach to waste management that prioritizes waste reduction instead of waste diversion. This includes creating systems and policies that ensure low-waste living becomes the default, not the exception. More needs to be done so that waste-free lifestyles aren’t just a luxury only accessible to those with the time and resources to achieve it. The release of the City’s Waste Reduction Roadmap this spring will hopefully lay out a plan for creating that broader scale change. In the interim, the cart rollout is an important step by the City that provides an opportunity for us to change the way we think about and manage waste.  

Waste Free Edmonton is a volunteer-run organization committed to educating and supporting citizens in their personal waste reduction journeys. We know there are many ways for residents to adapt to the changes coming to Edmonton’s waste management system and reduce their waste footprint, including composting at home, exchanging goods and tools with neighbours, and purchasing products with little or no packaging. 

We also advocate for broader-scale policy and systems change, such as a single-use plastic bylaw and extended producer responsibility legislation, so that citizens don’t have to bear this burden alone. But we invite everyone to join us in pushing for broader change. When you wheel your cart out to the curb this summer, consider the big and small ways you can help: write a letter to your councillor, support businesses that provide low or zero waste options, or get involved in one of our waste reduction campaigns. 

To prepare for the cart rollout, visit edmonton.ca/waste for more information and wastefree.ca/take-action to learn how you can help reduce waste in Edmonton. Waste Free Edmonton can be found at @wastefreeyeg on social media.

Andrew and Melissa are Edmontonians and Master Composter Recyclers dedicated to preserving our environments and communities. Both Andrew and Melissa volunteer for Waste Free Edmonton.

Feature Image: Starting this spring and summer, Edmontonians will use separate carts for food scraps and garbage. | Supplied

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