Beaver Regional Waste Management Services Commission
You might think a landfill is nothing more than a few acres of land assigned to collect mounds of garbage. But after talking with the folks at Alberta-based Beaver Regional Waste Management Services Commission, it is clear that landfills are significantly more complex. There are politics, health considerations, environmental concerns and financial issues.
Forrest Wright has been the Chief Administration Officer since the Beaver Regional Waste Management Services Commission (BRWMC) started in 1992. “The Commission was established because Edmonton was looking for additional landfill space, and we wanted to get involved,” says Wright. “The Village of Ryley already had a regional landfill with four other shareholders, including the Town of Tofield, the Town of Viking, the Village of Holden and Beaver County. Combined, our population is 10,000.”
Like many municipal landfills, the Beaver Regional landfill was expensive to operate. Landfills profit from volume of waste they bring in, and with such a small population, the Beaver Regional Waste Management Authority—only taking in 5,000 tonnes per year—was struggling with to make a profit, especially in the face of increasing operational costs. When word spread that Edmonton needed the extra space, light appeared at the end of the tunnel.
“We’re within an hour’s distance of Edmonton, which is close enough to justify the travel,” says Wright. “Plus, we had two elements in the list of critical criteria for establishing a landfill: impenetrable bentonite clay and no sustainable aquifer underneath. The geology out here (which is a bearpaw formation, for curious geologists) gives us a tougher surface on which to put waste. Those factors are essentials in where you want to site a landfill, because you need to minimise environmental impact.” Such impacts include leachate, the liquid the drains from landfills, containing high concentrations of ammonia.
Landing the contract
Although Beaver Region was in an ideal location, the landfill would have to be expanded to accommodate more waste. Unfortunately, landfill expansion is as expensive as it is time consuming. As Wright puts it: “It’s a daunting process; in fact, we couldn’t afford it, as a region.”
But Edmonton waste disposal companies were becoming antsy, especially since the Aurum landfill proposal was rejected. “Edmonton was in a tough position,” Wright adds. “It was then that Laidlaw Waste Services (now known as Canadian Waste Services) decided to get involved. We entered a contract with them, agreeing that if we support them, they would fund us to achieve expansion of our permit and obtain a Sanitary Landfill Class II status. We went through four years of hearings, public input, appeals and counter appeals, and in October of 1995, Laidlaw hauled its first load from Edmonton into a newly engineered cell at our landfill.”
History wasn’t made just yet. In 1999, an Industry Canada Competition Tribunal ruled that Laidlaw had an effective monopoly in the Alberta Capital Region and therefore must forfeit the operation of the Beaver Regional landfill as of December 31, 2005. That’s when the Commission took over the operation itself in January, 2006. Today, the landfill takes in close to 100,000 tonnes of waste per year. “Our principle customer is the City of Edmonton,” says Wright. “We have a 20-year contract with an option to renew for another 10 years. We also have similar contracts with surrounding communities from the capital region, and are always willing to add more community contracts.”
The BRWMC can confidently attract more contracts because it has acquired so much property that it controls a considerable percentage of the air space in Canada. For those unaware, landfill airspace is defined as the volume of space on a landfill site which is permitted for the disposal of municipal solid waste. In the provision of solid waste disposal services, landfill airspace is depleted by being filled up with waste. In the case of public sector, landfill airspace represents a community resource to be wisely and economically used.
“We have a huge track of land,” explains Wright, “so much, in fact, that we don’t know exactly how much air space we have. One engineer did a calculation and if 40 million tonnes were brought to Beaver Regional Waste, we would still be operating in a century.”
“Our landfill has the second-largest capacity in North America,” affirms BRWMC Councillor Bob Young. “Interestingly, if it wasn’t pointed out to you, you probably wouldn’t notice it’s here. I’ve seen more gulls at a fast food place than here,” he laughs.
‘No longer villains’
For the BRWMC, it’s a sad fact that few people really understand what the landfill entails. “A lot of people think that landfilling is a bad thing,” says Wright. “But modern science and technology is making it better.” Gasification, for example, uses the waste to produce alternative energy. Landfill operators siphon off methane gas that is given off by decomposing organic trash. Incinerators burn garbage to produce steam that turns a turbine that makes electricity.
“The BRWMC landfill, which is ISO-certified, meets and exceeds environmental standards,” says Young. “We have a tree farm we’re using the compost material for, and we even have a Saskatoon patch open to locals.”
“The Beaver Regional landfill will continue to enhance the benefits of this community,” Wright continues. “Socially speaking, we provide well-paying operating jobs and good pensions. We run a sound operation and we have won awards for it. Landfills are no longer villains. They are exciting places for the future, and we believe our landfill will lift that stigma.”