December 28, 2018 9:00 am

Edmonton ditches its world-wide garbage management plan: ‘Some things shifted in China’

Chipping pallets at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre's recycling facility, October 2017.

Kendra Slugoski, Global News
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In 2013, it was considered a great idea: an opportunity for Edmonton to make tens of millions a year in revenue by selling its waste management expertise to China. But the plan to have integrated garbage management in Beijing was quietly mothballed by city council in its final regular meeting of the year.

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When the concept of Waste RE-Solutions was hatched, then-Mayor Stephen Mandel and chief financial officer Lorna Rosen said the potential of a waste-focused city-run corporation could be as big as EPCOR — returning an equal dividend to offset Edmontonians’ property taxes.

READ MORE: Edmonton looking at whole new garbage collection system 

In 2016, Edmonton made a deal to have Waste RE-Solutions build a facility in China to turn garbage into recyclables and fertilizer. The city-run company was going to design and oversee integrated garbage management in a major Beijing industrial park.

READ MORE: EPCOR starts turning dirty Edmonton water into fertilizer

In early December of this year, council quietly passed a bylaw to repeal an earlier bylaw that would have seen $1.2 million loaned to Waste RE-Solutions.

“In the end, really some things shifted in China that looked very promising for a while and then eventually it started to look like they wouldn’t pan out,” Mayor Don Iveson said.

“There was some major strategic re-positioning with the project in Beijing that would have been massive and when it didn’t pan out, it really was time to put the company on hold and not pursue it any further.

“It was a valiant attempt to see whether we could leverage our expertise in waste management out there in the world and China was the big bet, and in the end it didn’t pan out, so we said let’s quit before it goes any further.”

READ MORE: Alberta recycling industry adapts to China’s new policy on importing recycle waste

Iveson said there was nothing untoward in the business dealings in China.

“It’s garbage; not technology,” he explained, making sure to not connect this decision to the current problems Canada is having with Huawei.

Watch below: Edmonton may be a leader when it comes to recycling, but is our effort to be green clean enough? New standards from one of the city’s biggest buyers of recycled goods means some changes. Vinesh Pratap reports. (Jan. 26, 2018)

None of that $1.2 million ever left city coffers. Instead, the company is dormant, just in case the opportunity ever comes up again where someone somewhere needs a city-based consultant for waste management.

Iveson said in the New Year, more critical thought will be given to the 87 areas of business the city is currently in.

“It was an interesting concept at the time but one of the things that we need to get better at as a city is when something’s not working out, we need to be prepared to stop and fail and move on and learn from it.

“In this case, I think that’s what’s happening with Waste RE-Solutions.”

READ MORE: Edmonton’s long-praised waste management system struggling to divert 50% of residential garbage

“That’s a theme you’ll see in the New Year when some of those reports come back and there’ll be some other things that we’re getting out of.”

One of the things that has come and gone in the city’s performance and service review was the closure of swimming pools and the laying off of life guards. That is, until the public spoke up.

READ MORE: Chamber questions cost effectiveness of City of Edmonton rec centres

“It’s time, with 87 different lines of business in the program and service review that we’re doing that we’re adding in other areas. We need to be prepared to stop doing things.

“So there’ll be some other examples of us saying: ‘Okay, that’s enough, this is not working for us. It’s not achieving the objectives that we had hoped for, so it’s time to stop spending any more money on this.’

“That’s one example of it and there’ll be a few more.”

Iveson said there’s no dollar amount the review will target. The goal he said is to find things we shouldn’t be doing anymore and reinvest that money into things we should do more of, like transit.

The review, he said, has been ongoing for five years and will continue as a constant re-evaluation of the city’s core business.

Watch: The City of Edmonton used to be known for its recycling facilities but over the years, the city has fallen behind when it comes to diverting waste. Sarah Kraus explains. (Aug. 16, 2018)

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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