Calgary, Canada

Blue Cart Recycling, Clean Air, Sustainable Built Environment, just some of the things Calgary is looking at to improve the City...

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Welcome to Calgary…

Calgary is a city in the province of Alberta, Canada. With a population of around 1.2 million people, Calgary is recognized as the fifth largest municipality. What many don’t realize is that Calgary has gone to great lengths to be recognized as one of the world’s most sustainable cities. ‘Cold Garden’, as Calgary translates, has embraced recycling, air quality, resident input and improving the built environment.

Congratulations to the people of Calgary, between July 2009 and August 2014, they recycled 350,000 tonnes of materials. This was achieved through a mixture of educational resources, ‘blue cart’ recycling and community recycling containers. Throwing a number like 350,000 tonnes means very little when you have nothing to compare it to. The local authority revealed that this figure was a 70% increase on recycling when compared to the rates before.
That figure can be translated even further; all that material equates to 20,000 garbage trucks diverted from landfill. The recyclables that are collected fill up about 300 trucks a month to be sent to manufacturers to be turned into something new and useful. Of this material, 9,250 tonnes was made up of metal; this is the amount of metal needed to build around 10,000 cars.
Also in the contents of this recyclable material was 298,500 tonnes of paper and cardboard, which they claim is the equivalent of 400,000,000 notebooks and a saving of 5 million trees from deforestation.
The whole recycling scheme has been a great success for the city, with 94% of Calgarians voicing the opinion that Blue Cart recycling is an important service. 92% of Calgarians are happy with the service and 9 out of 10 households are using their recycling bins.
Canadian group ‘Love to Recycle’ have made this handy chart (right) displaying the different processes for recycling.

Mandated recycling for multi-family occupancies
That’s right, from 2016, recycling will be mandatory for families living in multiple-occupancy buildings, which essentially means in apartment blocks. At the moment, the people are responsible for their own recycling, which means taking their clean containers to deposits around Calgary. As you can imagine, this exertion of effort is not to everyone’s liking, and so a change has been organized.
The change proposes that landlords and tenants must organize for private collections from their homes. There are 163,000 units in Calgary described as multi-occupancy, so you can imagine that this is a whole lot of recyclable material, but it’s also a whole lot of truck journeys.
recyclingIntroducing the Blue Cart recycling programme and the multi-occupancy collection service has not appeased everyone, despite the increase in recycling rates. Read this extract from about why this move could be a negative one.
Before this year, Calgary was already diverting more than 20% of city waste from landfills through private arrangements. In terms of making an environmental difference, that’s getting close to what cities should aim for says J. Winston Porter, who, as former assistant administrator for America’s Environmental Protection Agency, was the first to establish nationwide recycling targets in the United States in the 1980s. His target then was 25%, and it’s a number he largely sticks by. Diverting 35% of waste into recycling is about as a high as any city can justify, he says.
Trying to recycle more can be wasteful, if not harmful, he says, even though many major cities are setting targets at 70% or higher.
People say you can’t recycle too much. It turns out you can,” says Mr. Porter, president of the environmental consulting firm, the Waste Policy Center, near Washington, D.C. “If you spend enough money, you can recycle anything. That doesn’t mean you should.”
The writer continues, informing Calgarians that all of the glass collected in their municipality went to landfill, because there is no market for recycled glass. He backs up this idea by informing us that “Glass is a “red herring when talking about recyclables,” a Recycling Council of BC spokeswoman conceded to the CBC this year; since it doesn’t break down, there’s no effect on air or water when it’s buried in landfills. A 2003 study by Enviros Environmental Consultants UK found that “from a global warming perspective, there is limited environmental benefit to using recycled glass” but continuing with the exercise of recycling was “an important part of the UK meeting its overall glass recycling targets.” That is, so politicians could meet their set goals, even if there was no environmental point to it.”
They make some good points, perhaps trying to recycle too much is not economically beneficial, but does that make it environmentally damaging?
The general theme of sustainability in Calgary is to fix one problem by tackling another. In a way, it’s like buying triple glazed windows to tackle the cold rather than turning the radiators up. It’s an idea more from the world of architecture, killing two birds with one stone, but it is clear to be seen in Calgary’s ‘2020 Sustainability Direction’ plan. This plan is a ten year guideline for how Calgary can ensure a high quality of life for their residents now and in future.
To make the air cleaner, they aim to to tackle congestion. To tackle crime, they aim to improve the local economy and lower unemployment. In a general sense, Calgary have accepted the Brundtland definition of sustainable development, ‘Sustainable development is development that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.
Calgary claim that they want to take sustainable development from an abstract idea to a concrete plan of action. They want to find approaches that are more holistic, offer multiple benefits (as mentioned before), are innovative and more efficient. It’s always easier said than done, so what is actually being done?
Triple Bottom Line
Back in 2005, The City begin the triple bottom line policy, focusing on social, economic and environmental concerns. This plan led to a shift in mentality for city planners, who now had to see the city as a whole, rather than the sum of its parts.
Outlined targets are separated into different groups. For example, in the group ‘Equity’, where they want residents to get their fair share, it is targeted that all low-income Calgarians have access to support programmes, all buildings will be adapted to the needs of people with disabilities, more park spaces will be built to create a bigger community feeling, and no adoptable animal will be euthanized.
In the area of Diversity, Inclusiveness and Creativity, targets include becoming an age friendly city, demonstrating inclusiveness in all programs and services, creating heritage sites around the city, acknowledging 600 festival days around the year for different beliefs and offering arts and culture programmes to anyone in any part of the city.

Another target is for a healthy and active city, something that every city really should aim for, as without healthy residents, they will not last for too long. The main plan for achieving this is to create more recreational facilities, especially in outer areas of the city where access is limited.
Many of the social, environmental and economic issues will be opened up and worked on with the active community through a variety of ventures that ask for community support.
Clean air
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one of Calgary’s priorities, and will likely prove to be one of the most difficult ventures they embark on. Reducing emissions in a growing city is never easy, and a target of 20% reduction between 2005 and 2020 will be a mammoth task. Ideas like reducing cars on the roads, using renewable energy sources and further assessing climate change can only do so much. The most effective method is to improve education of the people but also of businesses and encouraging a more resourceful use of energy.
In a project called ‘Brownfields’, gas station sites are being closed (25% so far) and developed into sites for community use. It’s not sure exactly what these sites will become, but this project is quite interesting.
It’s all because of the people
The whole ‘2020 Sustainability Direction’ plan was designed by asking Calgarians what they want from their city over the next century. 18,000 people were surveyed and their thoughts created 114 sustainable targets, with a little over 32,000 days left to achieve them. This concept is known as imagineCALGARY…
However, one group of exceedingly sustainable Calgarians have taken it upon themselves to begin a sustainable community out in Rock Ridge, north-west Calgary. The quiet cul-de-sac offers mountain views, ponds and trees, but close to the city. The Eco-homes have extra insulation, solar panels, rainwater collection and the ability to live a lifestyle that gives back to the community. The project, known as EchoHaven, offers homes that are low carbon, low amenities and high quality.
The mix of imagineCalgary, a 100 year plan for a perfect city, and the formation of eco-communities like EchoHaven encourage the notion that Calgary is working on some sort of Utopia.
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