There’s been a lot of interesting talk in the news these days about climate change. New governments, the price of oil, El Nino, and the falling dollar have led to some fresh perspectives on where Alberta, and Canada as a whole, is going with regards to the environment.

A surprising addition to the movement has come out of Fort McMurray—they’ve been talking a lot of trash lately. Literally.

From Trash Container to Fort McMurray’s Greenhouse Container:

If you were to drive by the Fort McMurray Landfill, you may, or may not be, surprised to find a shipping container on the grounds. What is surprising, however, is what’s inside; this isn’t your run-of-the-mill, ordinary, everyday shipping container. This container is part of a project the local government is describing as containerized aquaponics.  

Aquaponics uses waste from fish and other aquatic animals to supply nutrients to hydroponically grown plants. This greenhouse combines artificial lighting and heating with a circulating water system where tilapia live to grow vegetables.

For now, this container is utilizing the community’s electricity, but in the summer the plan is to really put the “green” in greenhouse, with the installation of a gasifier. In simpler terms, they are going to grow vegetables using garbage.


While it may sound like a trendy new technology, gasification dates back decades. The petroleum shortages of WWII resulted in Western Europe’s transportation industries using wood, or more accurately, biomass gasification to power delivery vehicles.

To produce energy, organic materials such as trees, crops, and garbage are heated in the gasifier at high temperatures with low oxygen to produce a synthetic gas comprised mostly of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and quite often some carbon dioxide.

Fort McMurray plans to start by burning the large supply of wood chips they’ve accumulated from pruning and removing trees to produce heat and electricity for the greenhouse. Eventually, they will put all unrecyclable waste in the gasifier.


Much of Fort McMurray’s food has to be transported due to the short growing season, and with the current state of the Canadian dollar, food prices are already on the rise. Finding alternatives to the dependency we have on outside suppliers, like Mexico and California, will help to soften the hit our pocketbooks are taking while at the same time getting us closer to our environmental goals. The world’s landfills produce approximately 30-70 million tonnes of methane per year, most of which comes from developed countries. In Canada, emissions from landfills make up 20% of our total methane emissions.

Achieving carbon neutrality in our landfills would help improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and decrease our reliance on fossil fuels.

The idea of gasification seems to be gaining steam in some parts of the United States, and has ignited more than just garbage. Environmental groups are taking issue with the Environmental Protection Agency’s classification of gasification plants as renewable energy sources, which puts them in a category with solar and wind power, since the plants emit a number of toxic substances, including mercury and lead (they do acknowledge that the new incinerators are an improvement to those of the past).

With many frowning upon the development of new landfills, and our obsession with convenience creating mountains of waste, it’s clear that new innovations need to be taken seriously.

Fully operational incinerating facilities are proving to be quite expensive, and the total cost of Fort McMurray’s greenhouse container project is not yet known. What is on the books though, is a goal of four fully-operational containerized aquaponic greenhouses and some new contributions to the local food bank and farmer’s market. During the initial test phase, the project has successfully grown lettuce in a shipping container, located at the community’s landfill.

About The Author

John Keirstead
John Keirstead
Serial Entrepreneur, Technologist and Inventor my objective is to develop useful products that have a net positive effect in the lives of those that use them and the environment that we live in. CEO of Mission LED Lighting Company Ltd.

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