On a hot Tuesday morning, the tipping floor at the Banff waste transfer site is about as empty as it gets, the pile of garbage in the corner representing about a day's worth of trash.
All of it is ultimately destined for the landfill, which means the discarded apples, cardboard boxes and plastic bottles that peek out from the cornucopia of trash are a source of frustration for Carla Bitz.
"What you can see here is a good chunk of this material could have been composted or recycled," said Bitz, the town's environmental coordinator.
Banff has big plans to change that.
Like other Alberta municipalities, the town has set ambitious waste reduction targets, aiming to divert 70 per cent of its landfill waste by 2028 and ultimately sending no waste to landfill at all by 2050.
The town has already cut its landfill waste by about 30 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels, Bitz said.
But continuing to move the needle will mean creating its own path forward as a town within a national park that has its own unique set of circumstances.
"We can't necessarily just look to the solutions that worked in other communities and apply them in ours," said Bitz.
Here for a good time, not a long time
Bitz spoke to CBC News during a tour of the town's waste transfer site, an initiative intended to build transparency about where the town's garbage and recycling ends up.
The site itself isn't a final destination — rather, it's a pit stop en route to somewhere else — but Bitz said they aim to keep materials within the province. Plastics are sent to a Lethbridge facility run by EFS-plastics, cardboard goes to Calgary-based Capital Paper and mattresses are sent to another Calgary recycler, Re-Matt.
Deciding what to do with those mattresses was hardly a minor decision. Between hotels upgrading their furniture and seasonal workers moving in and out of apartments, the waste transfer site gets at least 500 mattresses per year.
They're one indicator of the waste-related challenges that arise in a community where people are frequently moving in and out.
Someone might move to Banff for a six-month contract and need houseware and furniture while they're in town, said Bitz. Once that job ends, they need to get rid of those items just as quickly.
"We see a lot of those items ending up in our landfill," she said.
Businesses making progress, residents need work
While the town recently banned businesses from putting recycling and compost in the garbage, Bitz said it would be tough to do the same at a residential level. Unlike in communities that have curbside pickup, people in Banff use communal, bear-proof bins, which makes it all but impossible to enforce mandatory compost and recycling.
"We think that would probably be helpful, but it's very hard to do because the system's anonymous," she said.
The current waste diversion rate for the town's business sector is 55 per cent, and 32 per cent for the residential sector.
To get from here to net zero, Bitz said the town needs to not only divert more residential waste, but come up with solutions like the "reuse it centre" at the town's waste transfer site: a place where people can drop off unwanted furniture and pick up used household items for free.
"More importantly, even, than composting and recycling is that piece around looking at how we consume and reducing consumption," she said. "That's really the root cause of all of this."
While there are challenges ahead, Frederick Sinfuego, Banff's resource recovery foreman, is confident. He's worked at the waste transfer site for 12 years and has already seen a night and day difference in how people handle their trash.
"People before, they just drop their garbage without considering sorting it," said Sinfuego.
"With the town's 100 per cent support for the [zero-waste target], I think it's doable."