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Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel pictured at City Hall is working towards the Edmonton City Centre Redevelopment. (Jason Franson for The Globe and Mail)
Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel pictured at City Hall is working towards the Edmonton City Centre Redevelopment. (Jason Franson for The Globe and Mail)


Edmonton looks for cash in its trash Add to ...

It’s a Canadian city’s $1.1-million gamble on a booming global industry: trash.

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel is in China this week, leading a delegation of municipal officials aiming to kick-start a new agency, one they hope will one day be a windfall for city coffers. The nascent arm’s-length corporation, Waste RE-Solutions Edmonton, is looking to sell the city’s expertise in handling garbage, recycling and e-waste.

In short, Edmonton officials want to be the world’s top trash consultants.

Waste management, however, is a crowded field, particularly in Canada. Efforts in Mississauga, Hamilton and St. John’s have each won industry awards in the past year alone. But Edmonton is hoping to jump ahead, with Beijing as its first prospective client.

“We’ve got great expertise here, so it’s an opportunity to sell something that can really develop into big business,” Mr. Mandel said.

Edmonton’s Waste RE-Solutions agency began with $1.1-million in seed money from taxpayers, covering 2013 and 2014.

Whether that will turn a profit, though, is unclear. A framework for a deal with Beijing has been reached, but no deal is finalized and Edmonton is still seeking other clients. A city delegation will also visit Manila to woo clients through the Asian Development Bank.

Mr. Mandel, who is visiting Beijing, pushed for Edmonton administrators to create the agency. He believes its revenue could one day match that of EPCOR, the city’s subsidiary power company, which generates $140-million a year. “It’s a pretty exciting opportunity,” Mr. Mandel said.

Edmonton’s waste management efforts won it an award in 2010 from the Air and Waste Management Association industry group, as well as a similar award, nine years earlier, from the American Public Works Association. The City of Edmonton frequently tours foreign delegations through its facilities.

From that, it hopes for a bigger slice of a global industry worth an estimated $390-billion annually, according to a 2009 report produced by a French environmental services company. China’s waste industry is estimated at $32-billion, or 10 times the Canadian municipal waste market. The figure is rising as emerging markets, including China, look to overhaul waste systems to handle pollution in rapidly growing cities. “It’s big business, everywhere in the world. We do it right here. And you want to copy someone who has done it the correct way,” Mr. Mandel said.

The city’s Beijing initiative, once finalized, will process waste from an industrial park called the Economic Technological Development Area, or “E-Town.”

The program servicing the sprawling manufacturing cluster will be a joint venture between the Edmonton and Canfit Resource Recovery Technologies, a company led by a Chinese-Canadian engineer.

Edmonton is, however, far from the first foreign government to counsel China on waste management, and the country has a long track record with mixed results. In particular, the types of trash generated by a given country are often unique, and techniques not easily transferable.

“There have been many failed projects that assumed similarities that do not hold up,” Chris Furedy, a retired York University researcher who studied waste management in Asia, said in an e-mail from her home in Australia. “I'd be surprised if Edmonton has anything very original to contribute to Beijing.”

Edmonton does have expertise, but waste management is a “complicated issue” globally, said Yujun Li, director of the Department of Environmental Economics and Management at Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Prof. Li is a visiting scholar at the University of Toronto and believes “the advanced technique of Canada is well worth learning for China.”

Mr. Mandel’s week-long China trip, which began on Jan. 3, includes a conference of winter cities in Harbin, joining a delegation with a local technical institute visiting Shanghai and a short vacation. His office’s share of the multistop trip is about $20,000.

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