Skip to content

Audit to analyze Canmore's waste, recycling, garbage effectiveness

“Residents do an amazing job. The folks that do it, do it right. Our contamination is really low.”

CANMORE – An audit will see how effective composting, garbage and recycling is in Canmore.

The third-party audit analyzed residential and commercial waste in Canmore to better understand where potential contamination may be happening in the different waste streams.

The audit, conducted by Calgary’s S-Cubed Environmental, will lead to recommendations at the end of the year on how to potentially improve the existing system and identify what’s working.

“Some of the take-homes will be if more education is needed or if it should be more targeted with different sectors, but also if more bins are needed and in certain areas,” said Simon Robins, the Town of Canmore's supervisor of solid waste services.

“If we see triple bins (garbage, recycling and composting bins that are together) perform really well at diversion, maybe we need to look at providing more options. If it doesn’t, then we may see the existing system is good the way it is.”

As part of the audit, areas of town were selected to get a breadth of information. It also looked at areas with garbage, recycling and composting bins that are together, but also areas that only had garbage or just had recycling and garbage bins.

It also is meant to collect information on areas of town where there are many multi- and single-family homes such as Cougar Creek and south Canmore or secondary homes in areas such as Silvertip.

“The samples we do are very specific. … They’re taken from a variety of bins in town. Each sample is only 100 kilograms, but it gets good coverage,” said Robins.

“We looked at each bin configuration to see if each stream was different, so they’ll compile all the data after and see if there are differences when people have more or fewer options.”

The intent of the audit is to help inform education campaigns to potentially reduce waste and improve the community’s environmental impact. The last audit was conducted in 2016, prior to the launch of Canmore’s composting program.

A 2016 regional waste characterization study by Hankins Environmental Consulting Inc. between the towns of Banff and Canmore had samples of material sorted by hand into 14 categories such as metals, food and soiled paper, yard waste and plastics.

It found material was largest in the summer for Canmore at 3,726 kilograms followed by spring at 3,327kg, 2,980kg in the fall and 2,005kg in the winter.

Food and soiled paper material was the highest for all four seasons and waste second highest. The two materials combined for between 54 and 60 per cent of total waste in the community.

In analyzing other communities, an estimated 35-40 per cent of organics and yard waste that’s put in the garbage could be diverted.

At its August meeting, Canmore council approved looking at its circular economy for the 2025 budget and directed staff to return with potential initiatives to divert waste from landfill.

The Town’s Climate Action Plan outlines the goal of reducing community-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 compared to 2015 GHGs. By 2050,the Town will reduce corporate and community emissions by by 50 per cent. 

The Town of Banff has a re-use it centre in its industrial compound that is open seven days a week. It’s been operating for several years and has seen success in diverting waste that would otherwise go to landfill. It allows residents to both drop off and find items to reuse such as books, toys, small appliances and outdoor gear.

Banff council updated its Zero Waste Action Plan earlier this summer, with the goal of seeing waste diversion of 70 per cent by 2028. About 52 per cent of waste in the townsite is being diverted and the remaining 48 per cent sent to landfill.

The towns of Banff and Canmore work together on garbage removal, with both communities individually collecting waste but transporting it together to West Dried Meat Lake Regional Landfill in Camrose County.

Along with the Town of Banff and the MD of Bighorn, the Town of Canmore is a member of the Bow Valley Waste Management Commission that oversees the Francis Cooke Landfill and Resource Recovery Centre, located outside of Exshaw.

The facility allows for disposal different materials, but is largely from the construction of industry and comprised mostly of asphalt, compost, concrete, drywall, glass, wood and topsoil. Only dry waste is permitted, but more than three-quarters of waste is ultimately diverted from landfill.

Robins said waste is regularly picked up and brought back to the Waste Management Centre off Bow Valley Trail, with the majority being residential.

Due to wildlife in the region, rather than having a once every five- or six-day pickup like other communities the bear-proof bins are collected at different times.

He said bins in different areas of Canmore will fill up at different paces, particularly at  end of the month when people are moving. In addition, the nature of a tourism town bringing thousands of people to the community on holidays and the end of ski season when people leave the area can lead to higher than normal waste.

“Over the years, we’ve figured out what areas fill up and at what pace. We might not tip all the bins in a certain community because some only fill up once a week, so it’s really been based on how fast they fill up,” said Robins. “Our service model is anyone should be able to show up to a bin and there’s capacity because if there isn’t, unfortunately, people will likely leave it outside and that defeats the purpose of the bear-proof bin.

“It’s tricky scheduling and you throw a long weekend in and it can change quite a bit, but we only get a few calls a month for overflowing bins, but we appreciate that since we can come and take care of it.”

The Waste Management Centre is leased from provincial lands and administered by Alberta Environment and Parks. The facility’s roof is covered in solar panels, which powers most of the energy that it uses.

In addition to waste, a truckload of mixed paper is taken out once a week for recycling, while cardboard is taken out every three weeks. Both are taken to pulp mills on the west coast. Plastics are taken to Lethbridge by EFS-Plastics where it’s reused and metal is taken out once or twice a year.

Prior to it being compacted and stored on-site, trucks will drop off the recyclable material that’s spread on the floor of the facility, sorted by hand where materials that aren’t meant to be together are filtered out.

The bulk of it is residential, Robins said, but smaller commercial businesses drop off materials as do larger places such as Canadian Tire, Flying Pigs Environmental Services and Valbella’s Gourmet Foods.

In the summer, there are 17 employees, reducing to 14 for the remainder of the year.

Canmore’s composting program began in 2019 when five large bins were placed in different areas of the community. Since then, it has grown to 24 with eight-litre kitchen bins available for residents.

The Town began a voluntary commercial food waste program in 2020 and by September 2022, there were 40 businesses taking part, increasing to 77 as of the end of August 2023.

A mandatory commercial food waste program was approved by council in the spring, but businesses have until Oct. 1 to be compliant with the updated recyclable and waste bylaw.

The bylaw also increased fines for not properly getting rid of commercial food and garbage to $1,000 for a first offence, $5,000 for a second offence and $10,000 for a third offence.

The fines came in after a mama black bear and her three cubs found food in the downtown core, which led to them being relocated about 200 kilometres away to a an area west of Caroline. The female bear and two of her cubs returned to Canmore within two weeks and were destroyed by Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers for public safety reasons.

Robins noted the last audit showed about 1,000 tonnes of food waste was in the garbage, significantly dropping to about 400 tonnes a year.

“Residents do an amazing job. The folks that do it, do it right. Our contamination is really low,” he said.

The Waste Management Centre often has school tours come in, which allow students to see what should and shouldn’t belong in garbage.

“It’s a great lesson for everyone since they see what can be recycled, what is garbage,” said Robins.

Food waste generates methane, which is roughly 25 per cent worse as a GHG than carbon dioxide. It means for every tonne of food waste that’s composted, it reduces about 1.18 tonnes of GHGs.

A staff report in late 2022 showed from 2015-21 the Town’s GHG levels declined by 25 per cent to 7,876 tonnes. The community had 221,594 tonnes of GHG use in 2021.

When S-Cubed Environmental returns with a final report, Robins said the municipality wants to see the data, but also recommendations on the waste management strategy.

"It’ll hopefully give us recommendations on what our next strategy could be for waste management," he said.