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From poop to perfect compost: Edmonton’s world-class facility

WATCH ABOVE: More than half of what we throw out doesn’t end up in the landfill. Michel Boyer gives us a look at the city compost.

Edmonton Off Limits is a special series that takes you behind closed doors to places that are usually forbidden or too dangerous for the general public.

EDMONTON — You would be surprised to learn what lengths the city goes to in order to keep your trash from ending up in landfill – specifically your food.

Crews at the Waste Management facility recover the organics in the garbage and send it to the composter, through a mechanical screening process.

Garbage and organic waste arrives at the city composter on the tip floor. Organics are sorted out at a later stage.
Garbage and organic waste arrives at the city composter on the tip floor. Organics are sorted out at a later stage. File/Global News

“This is the tip floor of the composter. This is where all of our organics, all of our food and yard waste come in after they’ve been sorted out of our garbage,” said Erika Droessler, Education Programs Supervisor with Waste Management Services.

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Thousands of students visit the facility every year, but the composter is off limits because of the dangerous gasses inside.

On top of garbage, the facility takes sewage (yes, what you flush down the toilet) and puts it through a process to get rid of the fluid that comes with it.

“So what they’re doing is they’re taking in those wet biosolids, spinning them around really fast,” Droessler explained. “Water goes one way, those biosolids- which are now a lot more concentrated – go another way.”

The dried waste is then mixed in with wood chips and taken to the aeration bay.

Organic waste, biosolids and wood chips are in the bay for about a month before decomposing and turning into compost.
Organic waste, biosolids and wood chips are in the bay for about a month before decomposing and turning into compost. Global News

This is where the compost is happening,” Droessler said inside the smelly bay. “So those biosolids, that organic waste, wood chips – they come in here. And they’re in here for about a month as they start to decompose.”

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The smell of that decomposition creates toxic gasses like ammonia. Exposure levels are monitored regularly and if levels exceed acceptable standards, the bay is evacuated.

It isn’t unusual for eyes to water and noses to burn inside the bay – the smell does hit you like a brick wall.

composter-map

“Sometimes, on hot summer days, it can go up to 55 degrees in here and 95 per cent humidity,” Droessler added.

But where do all the smells go? The answer is simple: outside.

Air that goes through the bay passes through a biofilter before mixing in with outside air.
Air that goes through the bay passes through a biofilter before mixing in with outside air. Global News

A huge system of fans sucks all the thick, dense and toxic air and pushes it through conduits that lead to the outdoors. But instead of forcing neighbours to smell the stench, the air is filtered through a metre of wood chips that also contain odour-eating bacteria.

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In celebration of Environment Week, the City of Edmonton is inviting residents to come for a free tour of the Edmonton Waste Management Centre (EWMC) and see why Edmonton is a world leader in turning waste into resources.

Dates: Monday, June 1 – Friday, June 5, 2015
Tour Times: 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Location: Edmonton Waste Management Centre (13111 Meridian Street)
Admission: Free – Reservations are required. Please call: 780-496-5698.

If you have any Off Limits story ideas for our next series, please email us at edmontonofflimits@globalnews.ca.

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