Safety inspection shuts down Edmontons problem-plagued composting facility – Edmonton Journal

Safety inspection shuts down Edmonton\s problem-plagued composting facility - Edmonton Journal
Edmonton Composting Facility shutting down immediately due to rotten roof
Edmonton’s $97-million composting facility is being shut down after failing a safety inspection.

The problem-plagued composter was only operating periodically, but was expected to re-open for the summer season. However, a spring inspection found the building is unsafe, waste services branch manager Mike Labrecque said, speaking to media Wednesday.

A full report outlining short- and long-term plans for dealing with organic waste in the city will be presented to city council's utilities committee meeting in June, he said.

We knew this day would come. We were hoping to get a couple more summers out of operating it, he said. The facility was built in 2000, but its lifespan has been shortened largely because of design issues that have caused problems with the roof, Labrecque said.  

The 270,000-square-foot facility has mainly been offline since 2017, when engineers discovered structural issues with the roof, which was unable to handle the weight of the snow.

The short term plan is to process some organics at the city’s a new anerobic digestion facility, but it won’t be ready for use until mid-August. Anerobic digestion is when micro-organisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. The anerobic process in the new facility also produces methane, which can be captured and burned for heat and electricity.

Edmonton's troubled composting facility, which is less than 20 years old, is being shut down and decommissioned after failing a recent safety inspection, city officials say.

Once open, the $42-million digester still won’t be able to handle all of the Edmonton’s food scraps and grass clippings, and a replacement for the defunct compost facility isn’t expected to be built until 2023 to 2025. In the interim if the city can’t find other options for processing organics, excess will be shipped to the landfill near Ryley, about 85 kilometres southeast of Edmonton.

Labrecque said other diversion opportunities are being explored, and will be presented to city council’s utility committee in June.

The facility was expected to reopen for the summer, but a spring inspection found the building had deteriorated further and is no longer safe, the city said in a news release.

In February, the committee heard about multiple options for a replacement facility, and though a final decision has yet to be made by city council, the recommended option is to spend $215 million to construct a new anaerobic digestion facility on the site of the existing facility, and to install equipment that will generate renewable natural gas from biogas. Labrecque has previously said the city estimates it will need to have the capacity to process 180,000 tonnes of organics annually.

If the amount of organic waste coming in is more than the facility can handle, "the worst case scenario is it'll end up in the landfill," Labrecque said.

The 8,000 households currently participating in the citys waste separation pilot don’t have to change anything, Labrecque said. In April, single family homes in 13 neighbourhoods began separating food waste from trash and recycling as part of testing a program that administration hopes to eventually expand citywide.

"The structural integrity of the roof doesn't allow us to continue to operate," said Michael Labrecque, branch manager of waste services.

Reached by telephone Wednesday, Ward 8 Coun. Ben Henderson said the shutdown is unfortunate, but he’s glad the city won’t be without a solution for too long.

“We’re well on our way in the planning to replace it, but this is a year earlier than we would have liked,” he said.

"Our first steps is to shut it down," Labrecque said Wednesday. "Then we'll begin the process of decommissioning."

The city hasn’t yet confirmed plans to demolish the defunct composter building, but Henderson said perhaps the facility’s closure presents an opportunity to get demolition underway early.

The composter, built in 2000 at a cost of $97 million, was closed over the winter after structural problems with the roof were found.

The city announced Wednesday that, effective immediately, the Edmonton Composting Facility is ceasing operation and shutting down due to the roof being structurally unsound.

City of Edmonton waste services branch manager Mike Labrecque said the closure was out of an abundance of caution.

The City of Edmonton announced Wednesday it would immediately stop operations at the composting facility due to “changes to structural issues.”

He said each spring staff inspect the building, doing both visual checks and a 3D scan, and this year they determined the building was too far gone to continue to operate in the summer months.

Councillors have criticized the facility for leaving a level of contamination in the compost product, which made it harder to market.

“The safety of all employees and everyone on-site at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre is the number one priority, so, given this conclusion, waste services will begin the process of shutting down and decommissioning the facility,” Labrecque said.

In the past, the facility—located at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre—has been affected by several inefficiencies.

The facility, which opened in 2000 and was considered state-of-the-art at the time, was the largest of its kind in North America by volume and size, according to the city. But the heat and chemicals from the aerobic composting process has caused the roof to rot away.

The composter was closed over the winter of 2018 after fears of the roof collapsing under possible heavy snow, making it unsafe for staff and contractors to be inside.

Since then, the composter was operated seasonally, based on safety assessments. A report released last spring said the building can’t be salvaged, due to safety and financial issues.

Labrecque said the city had hoped to get a few more summers out of the building, but have been preparing to replace it for about two years now.

In the short-term, organics collected from single family homes will be partially directed to the Anaerobic Digestion Facility.

The city says construction is complete and the facility is currently in the commissioning phase, processing organic feed stock from municipal solid waste and generating bio-gas.

“Transitioning to the Anaerobic Digestion Facility has been the city’s plan for the future and now these plans will be expedited,” he said.

The anaerobic composting process is essentially decomposition or putrefaction – due to the lack of oxygen – similar to what happens in a stomach.

He noted the changes in how the city deals with compost will not affect the 8,000 homes in 13 neighbourhoods taking part in the Edmonton Cart Rollout pilot program, in which residents use separate carts and bags for the four main types of waste, including organics.

Waste services has been planning for an additional organics processing facility aimed at providing a long-term substitute for the composter. Labrecque said it wouldn’t likely come to fruition until around 2023 to 2025.