The Canmore Food Waste Collection Pilot in Canmore, AB, is the 2020 winner in the waste category of FCM’s Sustainable Communities Awards.

Located in important wildlife habitat, the Town of Canmore, AB, cannot offer curb-side waste collection due to the risk of attracting bears and other animals. Instead, residents take their garbage and recycling to wildlife-proof bins located throughout the community. To address residents’ requests for composting and achieve the community’s environmental goals, the Town introduced a residential food waste collection program and upgraded their transfer station to manage the high volume of a future commercial program.

Collaboration between residents, council and other communities was key

A local resident group was integral in getting the program started. The group researched best practices from other mountain communities and facilitated community education programs. The Town’s Arts and Events team helped launch a competition for local artists to create a design for the neighbourhood bins, to help residents connect to the program. The winning artist used a days worth of her own food waste to create mosaics of local mountain peaks – these colourful images now wrap the bins and are a clear prompt for what’s meant to go inside them. The Town also benefited from collaboration with other municipalities. Metro Vancouver shared materials from their successful Food Isn’t Garbage marketing campaign at no cost, and the neighbouring municipality of Banff agreed to transport Canmore’s food waste to a processing facility until Canmore’s transfer station is ready.

Project addresses waste reduction, strategic goals and resident needs

Since food and food-soiled paper account for over 35% of Canmore’s residential waste, diverting organics from garbage is important to achieving the Town’s waste reduction goals. It is also an important strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions created by organic material degrading in landfill. In addition, the organic waste program addresses long-time resident interest in diverting food scraps from landfill, since backyard composting is illegal due to wildlife concerns. Managing the impact of the urban footprint on local wildlife is one of the Town’s six strategic goals.

Pilot program already shows positive outcomes

 During the first year of the pilot project in 2019 with just five bins, Canmore has diverted approximately 800 kg of food waste per day to composting—a diversion rate of over 10%. Resident participation levels have been high, and the program already captures almost one-third of the estimated food and food-soiled paper available in the waste stream. Costs for the initiative will be recovered through existing recycling utility fees. Residents will pay $28 a year more, and fees for commercial organic waste collection will be similar to fees for garbage collection.

Creative solutions help overcome project challenges

The need to expand the transfer station was a major barrier to Council’s original plan to start the food waste collection program with restaurants and hotels. By shifting focus to the residential pilot program while the transfer station was upgraded, the Town was able to make progress on their overall goal. With the transfer station upgraded, commercial collection is slated to begin in the fall of 2020.

The residential program was challenged by higher participation rates than anticipated, straining collection capacity and causing the Town to run out of the kitchen collection bins they were distributing before the program even launched. And feedback from residents prompted the Town to test a minor change to the bins to make them easier to use. The residential pilot project will continue until 2021, allowing time to work out issues before adding more collection bins.

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