Home Month and Year August 2022 Growing Company

Growing Company

Helps Shrink Emissions

Photo by Riverwood Photography

Things were very different when Alec McDougall started out as an engineer working in the solid waste industry in 1974. At the time, many municipalities handled garbage by burning it at dumpsites and were just transitioning to converting these sites to landfills. McDougall was on the forefront of waste management and ultimately recycling both in Canada and across the globe over the next two decades. After gaining expertise and experience during years in the business, he and five other like-minded colleagues at Stanley Associates Engineering decided to venture out on their own. In 1992, they established ECCO Landfill at the outskirts of the city, an area that is now in the heart of the industrial sector just east of Quarry Park.

At the same time, McDougall was the head of the Transportation Project Office (TPO), a public/private partnership between the City of Calgary and five construction and engineering companies. He oversaw major infrastructure projects like C-Train stations, tracks and roads across the city between 1999 and 2006 before he decided to focus 100 per cent on growing ECCO. Since then, McDougall, who is the only active partner left in the business, has expanded ECCO far beyond its private landfill genesis.
“We’ve always been recyclers in some form – from day one we used to collect all the pop cans and give the money to the communities. Then we got into wood and it evolved fast,” says Alec McDougall, president of ECCO Recycling & Energy Corporation.

That evolution thrust ECCO into a leadership position in the area of sustainability in waste management. The company explored new methods, opportunities and technologies for diverting materials from landfills to be repurposed as innovative commercial and industrial products. What was once ECCO Waste Systems developed into ECCO Recycling & Energy, a company producing products and services that aim to protect the environment and reduce emissions.

ECCO’s Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) is among the largest in North America at about 80,000 square feet. Being the only company in Calgary focused on construction and demolition waste, ECCO currently processes, recycles and repurposes about 250,000 tons of scrap building materials including paper, cardboard, boxboard, plastics, wood, metals and shingles per year. They have developed processes grinding asphalt shingles to specified requirements for use in asphalt and grinding wood materials into landscape mulch and animal bedding.

Bedding for feed lots and landscaping mulch have become a big part of the business as about half of all construction demolition waste is some form of wood that would otherwise end up in the landfill. Instead, ECCO grinds wood scraps into two-inch chips which are then coloured with all-natural vegetable and mineral dyes to create charcoal, chocolate brown or red brick chips at their facility in Aldersyde. It is then bagged for sale for commercial landscaping and personal use. ECCO produces up to 18,000 bags of landscape mulch every day and has diverted more than 100,000 metric tons from the landfill since the program’s inception.

“We’re a co-bagger and we have our own brand as well. We provide our ECCO Chips to stores like Walmart, Home Depot and Co-op,” McDougall says. “My grandson’s picture when he was about two or three years old is on the bag and he’s turning 17, so we’ve been doing coloured mulch since then.”

ECCO is also launching an initiative at the Aldersyde location in conjunction with a bulk soil, peat moss and compost vendor to bag soil for use in landscaping and gardening. The team is currently working out the details and this product will hit the market next year.

On top of the more than 110 employees in the Calgary area, the company employs 20 staffers in Lethbridge where ECCO has a contract to provide the manpower and mobile machinery for the City’s single stream (blue bin) material recovery program. This service extends to neighbouring communities like Medicine Hat and Coaldale as well. The Calgary plant’s single stream division is equally successful: that plant alone ships 250 tons of clean cardboard a week to paper mills on the west coast.

ECCO recently completed a brand new 45,000-square-foot facility in Balzac that includes a new Low Carbon Fuel (LCF) production plant taking construction and demolition materials including unrecyclable cardboard and plastics, wood and shingles and converts them into LCF. The new location also includes equipment to sort single stream blue bin-type materials to ensure the unrecyclable plastics and other materials don’t end up in the landfill. Along with the new facility, ECCO has also invested in updating the original location, adding new walking floors, chain trailers and the latest equipment to better reach its sorting and recycling goals in the highly mechanized facility.
“In the Quarry Park location, we’re now taking out the old equipment and putting in the same equipment that’s in the new Balzac facility. Even though it’s only 10 years old, there’s better equipment out on the market, more efficient, more effective, so we are updating everything,” he says.

The company has modernized and automated areas of the process and expanded its scope as society has demanded more environmental responsibility from businesses across sectors. ECCO has responded by focusing on ways to upcycle and reuse waste to deliver low carbon fuel to other companies to reduce their carbon footprint and keep waste out of landfills. The company’s most significant effort is one that was 15 years in the making – a partnership with LaFarge to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the Exshaw cement facility.

“We signed an MOU with LaFarge, who was making major changes to their facility in Exshaw,” McDougall says. “LaFarge’s top people wanted to be co-processing alternate fuels in all of their kilns worldwide, and Exshaw is a key one as it is a big producer of cement.”

ECCO modified its facilities to accommodate LaFarge’s needs, but the project was delayed first by a merger between LaFarge and Holcim and then by the construction of a new kiln. But it was worth the wait. After an investment of more than $30 million, LaFarge is now set to transition from coal and natural gas to low carbon fuel in early 2023, which is significant given that LaFarge previously burned 800 tons of coal daily to fire the old kilns. With ECCO’s new Balzac facility and upgraded Quarry Park plant, the company is prepared to provide Exshaw with up to 100,000 tons of fuel a year to start, and LaFarge expects to see an estimated CO2 reduction of 35,000 metric tons per year because of it.
“This is an important year; a banner year for us,” he says.

The company is also moving away from maintaining the landfill; it will cap the landfill after 2024 to focus on low carbon fuel production. About 85 per cent of materials that go to the landfill will be processed for fuel at Exshaw and ECCO plans to mine the materials in the 30-year-old landfill to produce more low carbon fuel. The team expects to take about 300,000 tons per year out of the landfill to produce LCF for LaFarge.
“There’ll be no shortage of fuel. We expect to mine out the existing landfill over the next 10 or 15 years, and then we’ll have 160 acres of land to sell and that’s what will pay for the landfill mining,” he says.

ECCO has been driven toward sustainability through recycling and repurposing since the beginning, but Alec McDougall has gone a step further in his efforts to protect the environment by housing several bee colonies on his properties. He has six colonies in Calgary and Lethbridge, each supporting 15 hives of 50,000 bees for a total of around 4.5 million bees. He has a beekeeper and an assistant who tend to the hives and McDougall proudly gives the honey produced by his bees to clients, charities and staff as a unique gift.

“Honey is our calling card. We give it all away. Give someone a business card or a jar of honey – guess who they remember,” McDougall says.

Being remembered isn’t a problem for ECCO. With its environmental stewardship and service to clients and the community for the past 30 years, Alec McDougall and the ECCO Recycling & Energy Corporation team are unforgettable.

10114 – 24th Street SE
403 263 3226