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Courtesy of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo


In the midst of the carbon heavy oilsands industry, Fort McMurray is on a mission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by turning its garbage into energy and heat, and plans to eventually close its landfill. The two big steel shipping containers at the city landfill, one green and one blue, are deceptively unassuming, yet they reflect a promising future.

Engineer Travis Kendel squeezes inside the green one, filled with tanks and pipes that will con-vert vast amounts of used cooking oil into biodiesel. That fuel will be used to run a generator for electricity to power the blue container, soon to be filled with water, fish and tiny lettuce and cucumbers plants.

In this way, the most northern aquaponics project in Canada will provide veggies for Fort McMurray dinners. Soil, sun and fertilizer aren’t required. Instead, the vegetables thrive on fish fertilizer, heat and light inside the container.

There’s plenty to work with. Fort McMurray households generate the most municipal garbage per capita in Canada — in fact, Albertans overall generate the nation’s highest per capita municipal garbage. Work camps housing 40,000 people also need better solutions for handling their waste.

It’s also a region with no local supply of fresh vegetables — that is, until Edmonton-based Sustainitech arrives with two more aquaponics units in shipping containers this fall, says CEO Joey Hundert. His company, which already uses vegetable oil to run carnival rides, won the gardening contract that’s a key part of Wood Bufffalo’s new waste treatment system. [1]

“You always hear [negative] stuff about the oilsands, but these things that we are doing, are making it better," says Ashley Boyd, sustainability associate with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Eventually, all the waste in Fort McMurray that cannot be recycled will go through the gasifier. “It’s using everything we have," says Boyd. “It’s taking our waste, putting it through the gasifier, giving it back to the greenhouse to produce vegetables." The plan is to operate greenhouses in four shipping containers. The vegetables will be given to the local food bank or sold at the farmers’ market. [2]


[1]      Pratt, Sheila. “Winter Gardens.” Edmonton Journal, July 6, 2013.

[2]     “Fort McMurray Greenhouse to Turn Garbage into Veggies | CBC News.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, March 12, 2015. https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/fort-mcmurray-greenhouse-to-turn-garbage-into-veggies-1.2984722.


Additional information:

“Energized Crops Being Fuelled by Alternative Heat Sources.” Greenhouse Canada, December 10, 2019. https://www.greenhousecanada.com/energized-crops-being-fuelled-by-alternative-heat-sources-30502/.


“How Canada’s Tar Sands CAPITAL Turns Trash into Vegetables.” Inhabitat Green Design Innovation Architecture Green Building. Accessed August 26, 2021. https://inhabitat.com/from-garbage-to-garden-how-canadas-tar-sands-capital-turns-trash-into-vegetables/.


“Landfill Bio-Gas to Heat and Power Greenhouse in Fort MCMURRAY, AB.” Greenhouse Canada, December 10, 2019. https://www.greenhousecanada.com/landfill-bio-gas-to-heat-and-power-greenhouse-in-fort-mcmurray-ab-20217/.


“The Sustainitech Complex.” Sustainitech, n.d. https://sustainitech.com/#complex.


Project Title: Containerized Aquaponics
Artists: Sustainitech
Year: 2013

Place: Fort McMurray, Alberta

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