New global rules curb unrestricted plastic waste exports

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Governments at the 14th Conference of the Parties (COP14) of the Basel Convention recently acted to restrict plastic waste exports by requiring countries to obtain prior informed consent before exporting contaminated or mixed plastic waste. A deluge of plastic waste exports from developed countries has polluted developing countries in Southeast Asia after China closed the door to waste imports in 2018.

Fourteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention

“With this amendment, many developing countries will, for the first time, have information about plastic wastes entering their country and be empowered to refuse plastic waste dumping,” said Dr. Sara Brosché, IPEN Science Advisor. “For far too long developed countries like the US and Canada have been exporting their mixed toxic plastic wastes to developing Asian countries claiming it would be recycled in the receiving country. Instead, much of this contaminated mixed waste cannot be recycled and is instead dumped or burned, or finds its way into the ocean.”

The unanimously adopted actions on plastic wastes include:

  • Removing or reducing the use of hazardous chemicals in plastics production and at any subsequent stage of their life cycle.
  • Setting of specific collection targets and obligations for plastics producers to cover the costs of waste management and clean-up.
  • Preventing and minimizing the generation of plastic waste, including through increasing the durability, reusability and recyclability of plastic products.
  • Significant reduction of single-use plastic products.

A group of cured resins and fluorinated polymers was not included in the requirement of prior informed consent, which means they can be freely traded without notification.

The theme of the meetings was “Clean Planet, Healthy People: Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste”. The meetings, attended by about 1,400 participants, from 180 countries, adopted 73 decisions.

$40 million Waste-to-Energy Research Facility Launched

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Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) recently launched a new Waste-to-Energy Research Facility that turns municipal solid waste from the NTU campus into electricity and resources.

Located in Tuas South, the facility is a $40 million project supported by the National Research Foundation, NEA, the Economic Development Board (EDB) and NTU, for its construction and operation over its projected lifetime.

Slagging Gasification

The first-of-its-kind facility in Singapore is managed by NTU and houses a unique slagging gasification plant, which is able to heat up to 1,600 degrees Celsius, unlike conventional mass burn incinerators which operate at around 850 degrees Celsius.

The high temperature of the plant turns waste into syngas (mostly carbon monoxide and hydrogen) that can be used to produce electricity, slag (a glass-like material that can potentially be used as construction material), and metal alloy granulates that can be recycled.

Led by NTU’s Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute (NEWRI), the research facility will facilitate test-bedding of innovative technologies for converting waste into energy and useful materials through unique plug-and-play features. These technologies, if proven successful and implemented, can enable more energy and materials to be recovered from waste, thereby prolonging the lifespan of Semakau Landfill.

In Singapore’s context, slagging gasification technology has potential to complement the current mass burn technology as it can treat diverse mixed waste streams that cannot be handled by these mass burn incinerators today.

This slagging gasification plant also demonstrates another first with the use of ‘clean’ biomass charcoal as auxiliary fuel – a unique combination not yet proven in the market.

Possible research projects at the new WtE Research Facility

Over the next few years, NTU scientists and engineers from NEWRI will collaborate with industry and academic partners to embark on various research projects aimed at developing and testing technologies in the waste-to-energy domain.

Unique to the research facility is the ability to test-bed new technologies in “plug-and- play” style, which includes the capability to process diverse feeds like municipal solid waste, incineration bottom ash and sludge; provisions for the evaluation of gas separation technologies to supply enriched-oxygen air; syngas upgrading and novel flue gas treatment techniques.

How the gasification plant works

Municipal waste from the NTU campus is transported to the facility, which can treat 11.5 tonnes of waste daily.

The waste is sorted, shredded and transported via a conveyor and a bucket lifted to the top of the furnace tower to be fed along with biomass charcoal that helps maintain the high temperature of the molten slagging layer at the base of the furnace.

The waste is dried and gasified as it moves down the furnace. About 85 per cent of the waste weight will turn into syngas, 12 per cent into slag and metal alloy, and the remaining 3 per cent into fly ash.

The syngas flows from the top of the furnace to the secondary combustion chamber, where it is burned to heat a boiler to generate steam.

The steam then drives a turbine-generator to generate electricity to offset the energy consumption to operate this research facility. In a commercial larger scale plant of this type, the amount of electricity output can be significant enough to self sustain the plant operations with the excess channelled into the electricity grid.

The exhaust flue gas from the boiler is then treated with slaked lime and activated carbon and passed through bag filter, before being discharged as cleaned gas through a stack into the atmosphere.

Moving forward, NTU expects to partner more companies to develop and trial new solutions at this open test-bed facility that aims to contribute to Singapore’s quest to be a more sustainable nation.

Waste Not, Want Not: Recycled vs. Recyclable

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Written by Calvin Lakhan, Ph.D, Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University

This past weekend, at a gathering with friends, the topic of recycling came up.

“Did you know that they can recycle cigarette butts now?”

Being known as the “garbage man” among my peers, eyes turned to me to confirm this seemingly revolutionary advancement in recycling.

I hesitated, knowing that my answer was about to make me a “Debbie Downer” and open a can of worms about what it really means to recycle something.

“No – cigarette butts cannot be recycled in conventional recycling systems” – I made sure to add the latter as a qualifier.

“But I heard about a program that takes back used cigarettes and turns it into new forms of plastic and compost!”

What my friend was referring to was the breakthrough program offered by Terracycle (read more about it here: https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/brigades/cigarette-waste-recycling).

And with a heavy heart, I launched into a lecture about the difference between something that can be recycled, versus something that is recyclable.

By the end, the disappointment in the room was palpable – I was the proverbial wet blanket that ruined the “feel good factor” of trying to do the right thing.

My feelings towards Terracycle and other similar organizations are heavily conflicted. On one hand, they are innovative, transformative and committed to finding new uses for problematic materials. The accolades they receive are well deserved, but I also think it creates a dangerous perception among the public about what items can (and should be) recycled.

Most materials can technically be recycled – be it cigarette butts, laminated coffee cups, chip bags etc. Given the resources, infrastructure, technology and time, we can find ways to re-purpose problematic materials.

It is in this space that organizations such as Terracycle thrive – they have forged literally dozens of partnerships with companies across the globe to successfully “recycle the unrecyclable”.

Win, win situation, right? Wrong.

While it may seem novel to turn ocean plastic into shoes, or chip bags into handbags, the hard truth is that this type of recycling cannot be readily replicated at scale. The processing technology involved is economically prohibitive, and really only available in jurisdictions in which the collection program is being offered.

The latter point is also why the environmental and economic impact of a decentralized logistics network is questionable – take back programs that ask consumers to ship things like coffee pods, chip bags, razors etc. hundreds of kilometers can be both inefficient and costly.

Going back to our cigarette butt example, there is no recycling facility in Canada (that I am aware of) that can economically recover the material… which is why it is so imperative that we distinguish between something that can be recycled, versus recyclability.

To me, the former is a technical question – does the technology exist to recycle a particular good? The latter however is a much more nuanced question that requires us to consider the economic, environmental and social impact of recycling activity.

As an example, 99.99% of people who work in waste will tell you that glass can be recycled, but I would bet that a significant portion of those people would question whether it should really be recycled (at least in a curbside collection system).

Why this matters is that the average consumer has difficulty differentiating between recycling and recyclability. Much like my well intentioned friends, once people hear that something can be recycled, they assume that to be a universal truth. When Keureg teamed up with Recycle BC to pilot a recycling program, people across the country thought that they could now put K-cups in their Blue Bin (which was never the case).

Perhaps a more insidious example of how this consumer confusion can result in catastrophe, is in the green washing of packaging. My social media feed is full of examples of CPG companies partnering with Terracycle (and others) to pilot new recycling programs. The dangers of this is that companies may be more concerned with the “optics” of recyclability, as opposed to developing products that can be sustainability managed at end of life. The key to a successful pilot is accountability and transparency – I don’t want a headline announcing a partnership, I want to know how much is being diverted, where it is being diverted and at what cost.

I want to impress upon the reader that this post is not about bashing Terracycle or any other company attempting to develop new ways to recycle problematic materials. Their work is critical in promoting consumer awareness, and has successfully married CPG companies and recyclers to work collaboratively.

However, we have to remember that recycling is only one of many tools we have to promote a circular system. Inordinately focusing our attention and resources on recycling may be at the expense of other, more sustainable options. Consumers have an intense appetite and interest in doing the right thing and keeping material out of landfills, but we have to be honest with both them and ourselves regarding the role recycling can play.

About the Author

Calvin LAKHAN, Ph.D, is currently co-investigator of the “Waste Wiki” project at York University (with Dr. Mark Winfield), a research project devoted to advancing understanding of waste management research and policy in Canada. He holds a Ph.D from the University of Waterloo/Wilfrid Laurier University joint Geography program, and degrees in economics (BA) and environmental economics (MEs) from York University. His research interests and expertise center around evaluating the efficacy of municipal recycling initiatives and identifying determinants of consumer recycling behavior. Calvin has worked as both a policy planner for the MOECC and as a consultant on projects for Stewardship Ontario, Multi Material Stewardship Manitoba, and Ontario Electronic Stewardship. Calvin currently sits on the editorial board for Advances in Recycling and Waste Management, and as a reviewer for Waste Management, Resources Conservation and Recycling and Journal of Environmental Management.

Waste to Energy Market Forecast 2019-2029

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Visiongain, a business intelligence provider based in London, UK, recently published a report entitled Waste to Energy Market Forecast 2019-2029.   In the report, the global waste-to-energy (WtE) market is forecast to experience capital expenditure of $16.4 billion in 2019.

The interest in WtE is growing as an option for sustainable waste management practices. Population and waste growth will be major drivers for the development of WtE technology, especially in developing countries. During the last several years, increased waste generation and narrowed prospects for landfill have brought strong growth prospects for the WtE industry.

Not only is the world population growing, but it is also becoming increasingly more urban. This leads to greater levels of waste being generated globally, in more concentrated levels and in close proximity to large urban areas. These issues are focusing more attention on waste management frameworks, with increased interest in alternatives to landfill. As a result, municipalities worldwide are considering the functionality of WtE plants to help deal with mounting waste being generated.

Today, waste-to-energy projects based on combustion technologies are highly efficient power plants that utilize solid waste as their fuel as opposed to oil, coal or natural gas. Far better than burning up energy to search, recover, process and convey the fuel from some distant source, waste-to-energy technology finds worth in what others consider garbage.

With reference to this report, waste-to-energy (WtE) facilities are considered as plants using municipal solid waste (MSW) as a primary fuel source for energy production. This includes direct combustion and advanced thermal, but not biological processes. The report covers the CAPEX spending of new and upgraded WtE plants globally. The report also forecasts MSW-processing capacity for global, regional and national markets from 2019-2029.

The report will answer questions such as:
• What are the prospects for the overall waste-to-energy industry?
• Where are the major investments occurring?
• Who are the key players in the waste-to-energy industry?
• What are the market dynamics underpinning the sector?
• How consolidated is the sector amongst the large industry players?

The report provides detailed profiles and analysis of 13 leading companies operating within the waste-to-energy market including Covanta, Suez Environment, Veolia Environmental, Wheelabrator, and others.

Covanta WTE Facility, Region of Durham, Ontario

The study reveals where companies are investing in waste-to-energy and how much waste-processing capacity from WtE is expected. Analysis of three regional markets, national markets plus analysis of many more countries is included in the report. There is a section that forecasts the Canadian Waste-to-Energy market.

The independent 270-page report includes 237 tables and figures examining the waste-to-energy market space. It also includes municipal waste processing capacity forecasts from 2019 to 2029.

Global Food Waste to Energy Market Growth (Status and Outlook) 2019-2024

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LP INFORMATION (LPI), a market research company, recently published a report entitled Global Food Waste to Energy Market Growth (Status and Outlook) 2019-2024.

The report presents a comprehensive overview, market shares and growth opportunities of Food Waste to Energy market by product type, application, key companies and key regions.

With some 70 percent of food waste around the world still going into landfills, there is a lot of potential feedstock to keep this environmentally friendly carbon neutral fuel source coming. Food waste is indeed an untapped resource with great potential for generating energy.

Graphic by Russ Thebaud/UC Davis

The report presents the global revenue market share of key companies in Food Waste to Energy business. Companies mentioned in the report include Jonassen Industrial Projects Limited (JIPL), Quantum Biopower, Biogen, Clarke Energy, VAN DYK Recycling Solutions, H2Flow Equipment Inc., JBI Water & Wastewater, GWE Biogas, and Impact Bioenergy.

The report is a study and analysis of the global Food Waste to Energy market size by key regions/countries, product type and application, history data from 2014 to 2018, and forecast to 2024.

The report focuses on the key global Food Waste to Energy players. It describes the value, market share, market competition landscape, SWOT analysis and development plans in next few years.

LP INFORMATION (LPI) is a professional market report publisher based in America, providing market research reports with competitive prices to help decision makers make informed decisions and take strategic actions to achieve excellent outcomes.

Fun with Waste: Tire Sculptures

Artist Nkwocha Ernest is an artist that specializes in sculptures from used tires. He lives in Lagos Nigeria and is a graduate from Auchi Polytechnic.

His artwork, which is driven by a desire to clean up Lagos, is gaining popularity in Nigeria. He started by creating small parts with the tire material and wanted to show Nigeria that he could create something out of nothing, and he was posting on his personal facebook page what he was doing. 

U.S. EPA Announces New Version Of An Interactive Excess Food Opportunities Map

The USDA Economic Research Services estimates that 133 billion pounds of food at the retail and consumer level in the United States goes uneaten every year. The accumulated total value of that loss and waste from three main food groups consists of $48 billion worth of poultry, meat, and fish, $30 billion of vegetables, and $27 billion in dairy products.

The U.S. EPA recently announced a new version of a mapping tool designed to assist in the reduction of food waste by displaying facility-specific information about potential generators and recipients of excess food. 

According to the U.S. EPA, the Excess Food Opportunities Map serves as an online “matching” service, linking, for example, owners of anaerobic digestion facilities with people looking to dispose of organic waste, including excess food. These anaerobic digestion facilities control organic decomposition in an oxygen-free, sealed tank to produce bioproducts and biosolids for on-site use or sale.

The updated interactive map identifies and displays facility-specific information about potential generators and recipients of excess food. For example, with additional follow up by the user, it may work as a kind of online matching service linking those who own and run anaerobic digestion facilities with those looking to dispose of organic waste, including excess food. In an anaerobic digestion facility, the process of organic decomposition is controlled in an oxygen-free, sealed tank so that the byproducts—biogas such as methane, and biosolids, which can be used as fertilizers—can be collected and sold or used on site.

The interactive and easy-to-use map was initially designed in 2014 by the Office of Research and Development’s (ORD) Regional Sustainability and Environmental Sciences Research Program (RESES). Since then, it was taken over by the Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) and has evolved from a regional tool to a national one.

The recently updated version 2.0 now includes nearly 1.2 million potential excess food generators, including correctional and educational facilities, healthcare operations, food wholesalers, restaurants, and more. Some 4,000 recipients are identified including composting facilities and food banks.

About the Interactive Map

The U.S. EPA Excess Food Opportunities Map supports nationwide diversion of excess food from landfills. The interactive map identifies and displays facility-specific information about potential generators and recipients of excess food in the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors and also provides estimates of excess food by generator type.

The map has been updated to Version 2.0 and now displays the locations of nearly 1.2 million potential excess food generators. These include:

  • correctional facilities.
  • educational institutions.
  • food banks.
  • healthcare facilities.
  • hospitality industry.
  • food manufacturing and processing facilities.
  • food wholesale and retail.
  • restaurants and food services.

The map also displays the locations of communities with source separated organics programs, as well as more than 4,000 potential recipients of excess food. These include:

  • anaerobic digestion facilities.
  • composting facilities.
  • food banks. 

The mapped establishments and their locations are provided for informational purposes only. The Agency does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided as it has not been verified.

Developing Recycling Solutions for Fiberglass

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KWI Polymers, headquartered in Boisbriand, Quebec, recently received $150,000 in funding under the Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge to develop a possible solution for recycling fiberglass. The CPIC is funded by the Innovative Solutions Canada program. The end result could potentially turn transformed materials into street furniture, railings, sidewalks and decking.

There are few options for recycling and disposing of boats made of glass fiber-reinforced plastic, commonly referred to as fiberglass. Most of these boats end up in a landfill, or worse, abandoned on land or in the water. To address this issue, Transport Canada issued a challenge to Canadian small and medium-sized businesses to develop innovative solutions for recycling or reusing fiberglass in an energy-efficient way which recovers as much material as possible. KWI Polymers was a Canadian company that took up the challenge.

A 2007 report by the International Council of Marine Industry Associations estimates that a well-kept fiberglass boat easily can last 50 years, during which time it likely will change owners several times. But “even the best-constructed craft someday will have to end its life,” the report notes.

Statistics from 2016 compiled by the National Marine Manufacturers Association estimates there are 8.6 million boats in Canada. Most of the boats are constructed from fiberglass.

KWI polymers is a company that manufactures polymers from from both virgin and recycled materials. This includes thermoset, thermoplastic, elastomer and rubber polymers.

One aspect of the business of KWI polymers is regrinding. Regrind is material that has already undergone a process such as extrusion or molding and then is chopped up to the appropriate size for repurposing. KWI Polymers offers regrind of consistent quality that can be separated by color and reach a purity level of 95%. These purity levels that are rarely, if ever, attained by other companies in North America. The advantage of using regrind is that it generally comes at a lower cost, and reduces stress on the environment because of the reuse of existing material as an alternative to creating new material.

milled plastic goods with color sample plates (Source: KWI Polymers)

The Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge

The Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge is a $12.85-million initiative supporting research projects that aim to address plastic pollution through new and innovative technologies. This initiative is funded by federal departments and agencies, through the Innovative Solutions Canada program, and invites Canadian small and medium-sized businesses to develop innovative solutions in response to specific challenges related to plastic waste.

Innovations Solutions Canada

There are 20 participating federal departments and agencies that will issue challenges through the Innovative Solutions Canada program. These challenges are designed to seek novel solutions and not commercially available products or services. Together, the funding from federal departments and agencies represents a $100-million investment for each of the next three years, to fund innovative challenges focused on various issues across all sectors including pollution from plastics.

Survey suggests some Ontario Municipalities are open to hosting a landfill

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A recent survey of municipal politicians and Chief Administration Officers commissioned by a coalition of over 70 Ontario municipalities has found that four in ten municipalities are open to the idea of acting as a host to a new landfill.

The coalition was formed to lobby the Ontario government into allowing more municipal control on the approval process for landfills in the Province. The coalition calls itself the Demand the Right Coalition of Ontario Municipalities. It commissioned Public Square Research to conduct the survey.

The survey involved a random selection process, with 325 participants. Invitations to participate in the survey were sent to a list of over 1,700 Mayors, Reeves, Councillors and chief administrators in Ontario.

Currently in Ontario, a private sector company is required to go through an environmental assessment process and then a technical environmental approval process before being permitted to develop a landfill site. Both of the processes are managed by the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks (MOECP). No municipal approval is required.

The current timeline for approval for a new landfill in Ontario is anywhere from five to ten years. Extensive public consultation is required as part of the process as is discussions with municipal government officials. Many private sector proponents would likely see another level of government approval for landfill development as an added time and cost burden with very limited environmental benefit.

In November 2018, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation, and Parks published its Made-in-Ontario Environmental Plan. The plan included a proposal to provide municipalities with the right to approve new landfills. Further details of the proposed change were released for public comment in the follow-up Discussion Paper on Reducing Litter and Waste in Our Communities, published in March 2019.

The results of the survey found that the chief concerns of municipal leaders for new landfill approvals are environmental (27%), site location (19%), and financial considerations (15%). Other issues of importance included resident opinion (9%), odour controls (9%), and public safety (8%).

“We can now confirm that municipal approval will improve landfill operations, not eliminate them,” said Ted Comiskey, Mayor of Ingersoll and Chair of the Demand the Right Coalition. “By placing municipal governments on a level playing field with private waste management companies, councils and staff can negotiate for enhanced environmental protections, better site selections, and improved financial considerations on costs such as tipping fees and municipal services.”

Comiskey said, “Municipalities want the right to say yes or no, as we do with casinos, cannabis stores, and nuclear waste sites. This will be good for all concerned, as it means that communities will be given real choices. There will also be a cost impact on waste management. If the cost of landfill goes up, there will be a financial incentive for everyone to reduce their waste. Currently, there is none.”

70 Ontario municipalities are members of the Demand the Right Coalition

 

Atlantic Power Acquire two U.S. Contracted Biomass Plants

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Alantic Power Corporation, headquartered in Dedham, Massachusetts
(NYSE: AT and TSX: ATP) recently announced that it executed an agreement to acquire, for $20 million, the equity ownership interests held by AltaGas Power Holdings (U.S.) Inc. (“AltaGas”) in two contracted biomass plants in North Carolina and Michigan. The acquisition is subject to the approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Craven County Wood Energy is a 48 megawatt (MW) biomass plant in North Carolina that has been in service since October 1990. Atlantic Power will acquire a 50% interest in the plant from AltaGas. The remaining 50% interest is held by CMS Energy. Craven County has a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Duke Energy Carolinas that runs through December 2027. The plant burns wood waste, including wood chips, poultry litter, forestry residues, mill waste, bark and sawdust.

Craven County Wood Energy, North Carolina

Grayling Generating Station is a 37 MW biomass plant in Michigan that has been in service since June 1992. Atlantic Power will acquire a 30% interest in the plant from AltaGas. The remaining interests are held by Fortistar (20%) and CMS Energy (50%). Grayling has a PPA with Consumers Energy, the utility subsidiary of CMS Energy, which runs through December 2027. The plant burns wood waste from local mills, forestry residues, mill waste and bark.

Grayling Biomass Generating Station, Michigan

Both plants are operated by an affiliate of CMS Energy. There is no project-level debt at either plant.

About Atlantic Power

Atlantic Power is an independent power producer that owns power generation assets in nine states in the United Statesand two provinces in Canada. The generation projects sell electricity and steam to investment-grade utilities and other creditworthy large customers predominantly under long‑term PPAs that have expiration dates ranging from 2019 to 2037.