Bidulock - Big Data and the Environmental Impact of City Recycling

Guest Columnist - Daniel Bidulock -


Something's been bugging me since Calgary first rolled out the blue carts seven years ago… Is our city recycling program really helping the environment?

With the carbon tax and the new green carts, the question becomes that much more pertinent.

How much carbon do all the blue/black/green carts produce? 

Let's recap...

Before the blue carts we had one truck collect garbage from our homes each week. Now we have two: one for trash and one for recycling. There are twice as many trucks rolling along the same routes. Do we now consume twice as much fuel and produce twice as much carbon? The new green carts are going to change all that. There will be bi-weekly pickup and probably three specialized collection trucks.

If the intention of the carbon tax is to improve air quality and reduce fossil fuel consumption, then we need to know if blue cart recycling is working.

Are we, in fact, having a positive impact on the environment by collecting and shipping our recyclables for reprocessing?

It may seem counterintuitive, but we might discover that it is more carbon-efficient to simply bury all our trash in landfills. But without the numbers, we cannot know for sure.

This is one of many questions I'd like to ask my councillor, Ward Sutherland, but he's a busy guy. After all, he represents a population the size of a small city in a city of over a million people. With access to the right data, I could find answers myself and approach him with the information he needs to present to Council. Being equipped to approach our elected representatives with concerns informed by real data can only strengthen our democracy and optimize operations at City Hall.

Calgary is moving in the right direction on the open data front, but even relevant data is sparse. For example, there is some broad information on landfills and recycling, but nothing that reports on the fuel consumed by all the waste collection vehicles. This data is being collected, because tax payers have to pay for fuel, but it's likely not yet consolidated and structured.

Naturally, organizing all the data the city collects and generates will take time. With this in mind, the question I pose to city councillors is this: When will we see a policy framework for city departments on structuring and disseminating their data to all Calgarians?

As citizens we must set the basic expectation that the data collected (and generated) by city departments will be presented in a timely and well-structured manner. Our beautiful city is taking the right steps, but it will take attention and political will to stay on course. With that in mind, send your councillor a message and ask for the data that interests you.

City data belongs to all Calgarians because we paid for it. Let's use it to help ease the burden of our elected representatives and make our city even better.

TaxReformYYC suggests that independent analysis of property tax assessments in Calgary has shown a loose correlation between a property's characteristics and the value assigned by assessors.

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