By Callum MacKendrick

Edmontonians have a reputation as pragmatists, so it is maybe not surprising that one of the things Edmonton does best (maybe better than anywhere else) is handling garbage. To be more precise, Edmonton has a group of world-class waste management facilities, a dedicated staff of city workers, and a unique program that trains volunteers to go out and help others do their part to keep Edmonton's environment clean.

I first became aware of just how advanced Edmonton is with respect to waste management when I signed up for the city's Master Composter Recycler Program (MCRP). The MCRP is a forward-thinking grassroots effort to bring the principles of recycling, composting, volunteering and environmental stewardship to the general public.

Want to know how to recycle and how recycling works in Edmonton? Want to know how to compost indoors and outdoors, with worms or without? Want to know where to take your used compact discs and leftover bread bag tags? The MCRP clued me in about these topics and a lot more.

Edmonton's MCRP is the longest-running program of its kind in Canada, the brain-child of senior city engineer Allan Yee, who also taught the more scientific aspects of composting. Garry Spotowski, the education coordinator, is a former garbage collector possibly better known to CJSR listeners as Garry the Garbage Guy anchored the team of friendly and knowledgeable city staff who lectured on a variety of topics including vermicomposting (composting with worms), grasscycling and the function of Edmonton’s Reuse Centre.  Together with other waste management branch employees, interns, local business owners and volunteers made up of past graduates, the MCRP provided a nearly complete education on the subject of urban environmental maintenance.

Around 35 Master Composter/Recycler candidates are chosen each year from the pool of applicants. I was humbled by the variety of talents and backgrounds of my fellow MCRs. There were master gardeners, activists, radio show hosts, and captains of industry. There were community leaders, visiting students, artists, and possibly a few like me, who had joined out of curiosity and a desire to do more than just Facebook a green lifestyle.

Volunteers got to tour Edmonton's Waste Management Centre (EWMC), the product of a long search for a new landfill in in the late 1980s. After spending $6 million to find a replacement for the Cloverbar landfill, the city knew it had to do something different, and the EWMC is the result. It is composed of several buildings on 233 hectares of land. Each facility divides the tasks of recycling or recovering useable materials from a variety of waste types, including electronics, electrical devices, landfill leachate, biosolids, construction, and demolition wastes. Planned expansions include the biofuels recovery facility that will produce methanol and ethanol from non-compostable or non-recyclable waste. When this is finished it is estimated that over 90% of all residential garbage will be diverted from the landfill. That strikes me as nothing less than a modern engineering miracle.

Including the EWMC tour, a series of demonstrations at the John Janzen Nature Centre, and a tour of the Reuse Centre downtown, the MCRP is an exhilarating blend of field trip and classroom learning. As if that’s not enough – it is catered. I am still scheming how I can sneak back in next year.

I've always been a proud Edmontonian, but it’s especially gratifying to know that my hometown is striving to become a beacon of environmental excellence for all of Alberta, and the rest of the world.

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