Cities and countries aim to slash plastic waste within a decade

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Written by Dr. Chelsea Rochman, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto and Dr. Diane Orihel, Assistant Professor, School of Environmental Studies, Queen’s University

If all goes well, 2030 will be quite a special year.

Global and local community leaders from more than 170 countries have pledged to “significantly reduce” the amount of single-use plastic products by 2030. Success would result in significantly less plastic pollution entering our oceans, lakes and rivers.

Today, societies around the world have a love affair with disposable plastics. Just like some love stories, this one has an unhappy ending that results in plastic bags, straws and takeout containers strewn about the global environment.

As researchers who study the contamination and effects of plastic pollution on wildlife, it would be nice if by 2030 we no longer heard about plastics showing up in the stomachs of dead whales, littering the beaches of distant islands and contaminating tap water and seafood.

Plastic doesn’t belong on the beach. Shutterstock

It is time for some good news about the environment, including stories about how cities and countries are managing plastics and other waste materials in more sustainable ways, and how children will have cleaner beaches to play on.

No reason to wait

Scientists have known about plastic pollution in our oceans for more than four decades. It is pervasive in rivers, lakes and soils too. Plastic pollution knows no boundaries, with small bits of plastic found from the equator to the poles and even on the remote slopes of the French Pyrenees mountains.

Plastic waste damages ecosystems, smothers coral reefs and fills the bellies of sea life. In the absence of action, the amount of plastic waste produced globally is predicted to triple between 2015 and 2060, to between 155 and 265 million tonnes per year.

As a welcome response, global leaders have decided to act. At the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi in March, environment ministers from around the world signed a voluntary commitment to make measurable reductions in single-use plastic products, including straws, shopping bags and other low-value plastic items that are sent to landfill after being used once.

Similar goals to deal with plastic pollution have been introduced by municipal, provincial, federal and regional governments across the globe. Non-profit organizations and industry leaders are making efforts to tackle the problem of plastic pollution. For example, Ocean Conservancy is uniting citizens and organizations around the world in cleanups to meet their goal of an ocean free of plastics by 2030, and Unilever has pledged to use 100 per cent recyclable packaging by 2025.

Canada joins the movement

Canada introduced the Ocean Plastics Charter at the G7 summit in 2018, committing nations to work with industry to make all plastics reusable, recyclable or recoverable by 2030. That means sending no plastic waste to landfill.

Vancouver aims to be a zero-waste city by 2040. Although the city has reduced the mass of waste going to landfill by 23 per cent since 2008, it still has a long way to go.

Ontario also has its sights on being waste-free by developing a circular economy, which means keeping materials in use for as long as possible. The province aims to cut the amount of waste sent to landfills in half by 2030, a reduction of 4.5 million tonnes, through reuse and recycling.

To propel Ontario into action, Ian Arthur, the member of the Ontario provincial parliament for Kingston and the Islands introduced a private member’s bill in March to eliminate Ontario’s use of non-recyclable single-use plastic products such as straws, coffee cups and plastic cutlery, which ultimately end up in landfills. These plastics do not feed into a circular economy.

In addition, school children in Ontario are working towards collecting 10,000 signatures on petitions to ban single-use plastics in the province.

Canadians would like to see more action against plastic waste. According to a recent poll, 90 per cent of Canadians were either very concerned or somewhat concerned about the environmental impact of plastic waste, and 82 per cent thought government should do more to reduce plastic waste.

Bye bye plastic waste

Our research, and the research of others, has found that single-use plastic products litter our beaches and coastlines, small pieces of plastics contaminate our Great Lakes and the Arctic Ocean, and microplastics are present in our sport fish and drinking water.

Ambitious global, regional and local collaborations are sorely needed to truly realize these goals. It’s time to commit to ending the love affair with disposable plastics.

Individual action does work. Quench your need for caffeine by using a reusable mug. Hydrate with water from a durable and refillable bottle. Purchase groceries that come in containers that can be reused or recycled. Plan your kid’s birthday party and your work meetings without using disposable single-use plastics.

A decade of positive habits could lead to a future where plastic is no longer waste, but valued as a material that can be reused and recycled — shifting our current paradigm to a more sustainable one that lasts far beyond 2030.



This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

About the Authors

Dr. Chelsea Rochman is an Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto. Previously, she was a David H. Smith Postdoctoral Fellow at the Aquatic Health Program at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Rochman received her PhD in a joint program with San Diego State University and UC Davis in Ecology.

Dr. Diane Orihel is an Assistant Professor, School of Environmental Studies, Queen’s University, Ontario. Dr. Orihel investigates human impacts on aquatic ecosystems through large-scale, multidisciplinary and collaborative research programs. She holds a B.Sc. (Honours) in Ecology and Environmental Biology (University of British Columbia), Masters in Natural Resource Management (University of Manitoba), a PhD in Ecology (University of Alberta). She was a Banting and Liber Ero postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa, and now holds the position of Queen’s National Scholar in Aquatic Ecotoxicology in the Department of Biology and School of Environmental Studies at Queen’s University.

Extended Producer Responsibility for Textiles? Not So Fast…..

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

In the Ontario Environment Ministry’s Reducing Litter and Waste in Our Communities Discussion Paper, the question was posed:

What additional materials do you think should be managed through producer responsibility to maximize diversion?

Stakeholders from across the used textile collection sector highlighted textiles as being a potential candidate for extended producer responsibility (EPR).

Given the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of used textiles being generated annually, it seems only logical that producers should be tasked with the physical and financial responsibility for managing these items at their end of life.   

However, when the university was asked to take a position supporting a producer responsibility scheme for textiles, I hesitated.

I want to preface this by saying that I feel that producer responsibility has a place in promoting a circular economy – In theory,  EPR is supposed to encourage design for the environment (have producers use more sustainable materials), promote positive environmental outcomes (increased diversion), and contain costs (incentive to minimize costs associated with end of life management).

Would EPR for textiles achieve these desired outcomes?

Before answering this, let’s remember what EPR is actually designed to do –  EPR is a cost recovery tool to finance the operational and administrative expenses associated with managing a material at its end of life.

Steward fees (what industry pays to finance a producer responsibility program) is based on net cost of material management. As an example, the fees associated with Blue Box materials are in direct proportion to the system costs attributable to said material. For packaging like plastics film and polystyrene, producers pay an extremely high steward “fee” because the net cost of material management is in excess of $1500 a tonne. Conversely, aluminum producers do not pay any fees, as they have a negative net cost (the revenue received supersedes the cost of material management).

Why this matters for textiles is that at present, net cost of material management for textiles is negative. Due to the high value of used textiles as a commodity, numerous organizations from across the for profit/not for profit sector collect used textiles, using a range of collection mediums.

Textiles, unlike most other waste streams, are being collected by third party operators, even in the absence of material specific legislation. The value of used textiles results in a self-sustaining collection network that ultimately negates the need for cost recovery schemes such as extended producer responsibility.

There is even an argument to be made that the low diversion rates for textiles is attributable to a lack of opportunity and awareness among households (as opposed to a lack of organizations willing to collect the material).

At present, there are no *net* costs to recover for used textile collectors, and EPR becomes moot.

Where this situation may change is in situations where used textile collectors begins to incur operational expenses that exceed the revenue that they receive from the material. This could be attributable to any number of things – management of low grade materials that have minimal value at end of life, a decrease in commodity value (due to either increasing supply of used textiles, or decreases in demand), and the development of domestic processing/recycling capacity that require infrastructural investments.  In these instances, EPR could be seen as a potential cost recovery tool.

Practical challenges to implementing a producer responsibility scheme for textiles

If EPR is adopted at a provincial (or national) scale, we must be cognizant of the enormous administrative challenges of developing such a program. The creation of an IFO/ISP, calculating and collecting fees, disbursing fees to service providers etc. are all necessary steps when developing a producer responsibility program.

Furthermore, the technical challenges of being able to readily quantify end of life material management costs, and then allocating those costs to specific stewards will require a fundamental overhaul in how we collect and interpret data related to textile generation/recovery. Of note, all EPR programs differentiate fees based on product or material type (i.e. a fee for a television is greater than the fee for a cell phone because of the differences in end of life management costs). This process would need to be replicated for all textile types being sold into the market in order to correctly allocate costs.

Simply put, formal programs for textile diversion are in their infancy, and we are still a long way from having the understanding to conceptualize what a producer responsibility scheme might look like. To provide context, Ontario’s Blue Box, which has had a (partial) producer responsibility scheme for the better part of two decades, continues to struggle with how to reconcile the opposing interests of both stewards and municipalities. It is a highly contentious process that is fraught with difficulty as stakeholders try to determine what is fair and reasonable.

Be careful what you wish for

While most stakeholders involved in used textile collection advocate for EPR, it is important to keep in mind that under a 100% EPR model, stewards will assume ownership of all recovered materials. While yes, they will be physically and financially responsible for all end of life material, they will also be entitled to the revenue received from the sale of that material.  

At present, it is unclear what the implications of a 100% producer responsibility model would be for used textile collectors, particularly in the charitable/not for profit space. Stewards may ultimately decide to rely on the existing collection networks in place (as opposed to doing it themselves), and designate certain organizations as a preferred service provider. It is entirely possible that charities/not for profits would then compete with other collectors to be a service provider, essentially reverting to a “bid/tender” process.

What should we do?

While the future of textile legislation, and what role EPR should play remains unclear, the key to developing a sustainable, circular textile market lies in flexible, non-prescriptive legislation. A necessary first step is to designate textiles as a priority material, but leave it up to the market to organically develop solutions to keep material out of landfill, and maximize the economic, environmental and social impact of recovery. Rapid changes in textile end markets, the types and quantities of textiles being generated, and technologies to recycle/reprocess textiles requires legislation that can grow and adapt to reflect the conditions of an evolving market place.

Note: This article reflects the sole opinion of the author. He does not speak on behalf of the university or any of its stakeholders.


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

Motor Oil Recycling: Barriers and Breakthroughs

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Written by Zachary Gray, B.Eng.Biosci., Chemical Engineering & Bioengineering

Motor oil changes are a sacrament in our car-obsessed modern life, while the mechanics working in the auto shops are their enforcers and evangelizers.  Every 5,000 to 8,000 kilometres, car owners begrudgingly schedule an oil change between busy work days and weekend errands.  

Primer of Motor Oil

During the 20-minute oil-change procedure, mechanics bleed the blackened, viscous motor oil from the bowels of the engine and replace it with pristine liquids from bright plastic packaging – eye-catching to some, but a far cry from the painted metal containers that furnish collector’s shelves.

Vintage Motor Oil Can, $31 (USD) on ebay

While the myriad of car oil brands available might suggest a wide variance in products, they differ only in the precise mixing of additives.  Motor lubricant is essentially 70-80% base oil with the remaining 20-30% consisting of supplements such as antioxidants, detergents, and viscosity enhancers, as well as rust inhibitors.

The quality of the motor oil degrades over time in a motor vehicle.  The build-up of debris blackens the oil, while the additive properties deteriorate over the driving cycle, dissipating heat and lubricating contact points between metal parts with less efficiency as time marches onward.  Water entrainment and oxidation of the base oil are also contributing factors.  

Changing one’s motor oil frequently, as the chorus drones on, ensures the longevity of the engine. One question remains as the mechanics dispense with the last of the used oil: what happens to it afterward?   Nothing much is often the answer. 

Motor Oil Re-refining

There are over 300 million registered vehicles in Canada and the United States alone, contributing to the nearly 2.5 billion gallons of motor oil disposed of annually throughout North America.  Of the almost 60% recovered, a mere 8% is recycled. The remainder feeds the 12 billion of gallons of lubricant reduced to toxic waste yearly.

Catastrophizing about the volumes quoted and their impact is not productive in and of itself.  Exploring ways to improve oil recycling figures is a better use of time.

In 2009, when the revered Scientific American explored whether motor oil could be recycled, the editors profiled Universal Lubricants (“UL”).  The Wichita-based company uses conventional refining techniques from upgrading crude oil when recovering the spent lubricant.  They essentially re-refine the used motor oil

UL processes over 45.4 million litres of used motor oil, or 28,600 barrels, per day.  In the re-refining process, used oil passes through a vacuum distillation unit which removes water from the base oil, accounting for 5-7% of the incoming volume. Next, contaminants are removed using an evaporation press.  In the final step, UL hydrotreats the decontaminated oil. 

Hydrotreating consists of applying high temperature and pressure (700 deg-F and 1,100 PSI) and enriching the carbon-backbone of the oil with hydrogen molecules in the presence of catalysts that aid in the chemical reactions. 

The final product resembles base oil, ready for lubricant merchants to add their additive concoctions and branding power.

Photo Credit: UL

Re-refining efforts, much like those by UL, accounts for only 10 percent of used oil management market.  The majority of used motor oil is either burned or dumped, depending on the jurisdiction and level of enforcement.  The emergence of re-refining technologies has done little in altering the outcome for spent motor oil — but why?

Barriers to Recycling

There are two main barriers to a broader adaptation of re-refining used motor oil.  The first is the capital expense in building and operating a facility on UL’s scale.  Investors should expect a final bill of tens of millions of dollars in replicating UL’s plant in Canada.  Recovering their investment is another issue: refineries derive their profits either from large volumes, amplifying small gains per unit of measurement, or upgrading cheaper base stocks.  With respect to the latter point, one could argue that the used motor oil would be a commodity instead of merely a waste product with broader market adaptation.  Such a classification diminishes the facility’s economic viability.

The second barrier to re-refining is the plant’s environmental impact.  A re-refiner has a similar environmental impact as an oil refinery.  To understand how difficult it is to get environmental approval for an oil refinery, one need to realize that the newest oil refinery in Canada is over 30 years old.

Canadian Innovation

Besides re-refining, there are innovative and arguably more feasible solutions for recycling motor oil in development.  The Ottawa-based MemPore Environmental Technologies Inc. (“MemPore”) is one such example, scaling their locally-minded, membrane-based process.

MemPore’s solution is this: the used motor oil is kept in 5,000-gallon settling tanks and periodically shipped to their regionally-based operation.  The central locations reduce the amount of pollution from transporting oil over longer distances and eases logistical challenges.  After removing contaminants during the pretreatment process, consisting of a filter, centrifuge, and flash evaporators, the oil is sent to the membrane unit.  Once polished to a quality consistent with a regular base oil, lubricant mixers take the final product and infuse it with their additives.

Cement kilns take the waste sludge separated by the membrane. The 15 metric tonnes, or 148 barrels, per day system operates at low temperatures and pressures, thus reducing its running costs and environmental impact.

Mempore Used Oil Recycling System

Alastair Samson, MemPore’s CEO, eloquently summarizes the company’s position and value proposition:

“The MemPore System can, for the first time, recover and recycle this base oil with 71% reduction in pollution, from localized systems, using low energy, and at low capital and operating cost. This is an important contribution to the clean technology movement and the preservation of earth’s natural resources.”

MemPore’s community-centric and scalable solution, with the potential for handsome profit margins, offers a tangible solution to the endemic squandering of used motor oil.  They also provide the mechanics a new hymn during drivers’ reluctant excursion to the auto body shop.

Where will our next diverted tonne come from? Diversion with a purpose

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

Provincial diversion rates have largely stalled in the past five years, and in fact, is trending downwards for the first time in more than two decades. The reason for this stagnation is heavily debated – some point to the proliferation of light weight packaging, while others suggest municipal inefficiency and lack of applicable legislation. Whatever the cause, the reality is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to divert “the marginal tonne”- where will our next diverted tonne come from? What will it cost? And what will be the environmental, economic and social benefit?

What makes this issue particularly salient is that municipalities across Canada continue to set lofty diversion targets as a first step towards achieving a circular, zero waste economy.

The next tonne will not come from printed paper and packaging (Blue Box)

While Ontario’s Blue Box program has been an enormous success and should be heralded as a pioneering initiative with respect to recycling and stewardship, it is unlikely that future increases in recycling and diversion rates will come from Blue Box materials.

Much of this can be attributed to the “evolving tonne” of what we find in the Blue Box – increasingly, packaging producers are moving towards light weight, composite plastics, while generation of printed paper has fallen precipitously since the early 2000s. Infrastructure for the recovery of printed paper and packaging was largely designed around “core materials” -newsprint, OCC/OBB, Metals, Glass and PET/HDPE. As a result, municipalities have struggled to adapt to rapid changes in the packaging mix, resulting in rising operational costs and stagnant recycling rates. As shown in Figure 1, net costs for the program have more than doubled in the past 15 years, while recycling rates peaked in 2012, and have trended flat (or downwards) since. 

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To make a long story short – Ontario has essentially maxed out on what we are able to economically recover. Recycling rates for “core materials” are in excess of 90%, and households are already doing a great job of diverting materials that they readily recognize as being recyclable. While it is possible that future increases in diversion may come from composite/light-weight materials, doing so would have an enormous financial impact on the system. At a certain point, we have to ask ourselves, is recycling these materials worth it?

Organics is the next target waste stream

Given that future increases in diversion are unlikely to come from the Blue Box, the next logical choice would be to target the organics stream. While Green Bin programs have been adopted in several municipalities in both Ontario and across Canada, there is a significant opportunity to increase diversion (and achieve waste reduction) through initiatives that keep organics out of landfills (food waste avoidance, source reduction etc.)

Ontario has already signaled their intention to make organics a top priority moving forward, considering options such as an organics landfill ban, and encouraging the development of organics processing infrastructure. However, developing the requisite collection and processing infrastructure to divert organics is a resource and time intensive pursuit. While the organics stream is likely (and should be) where future diversion is likely to come from in Ontario, it is time for the province to think beyond the Blue and Green Box, and examine how to achieve incremental diversion through non-conventional waste streams

Textiles and Furniture – A Missed Opportunity

Textiles

At present, there are no legislative mandate for municipalities to manage textile waste. As a result, most municipalities across both Ontario and Canada do not include textiles as part of their diversion programs, largely due to a lack of both collection and processing infrastructure.

Textile waste is estimated to make up between 5-10% of the overall waste stream, with more than 1 billion pounds of textile waste going to Ontario landfill sites every year. As a result, it seems prudent that municipalities identify ways to divert this material from landfills, as it represents a significant missed opportunity.

Textiles, unlike most other waste streams, are a high value commodity, with numerous organizations from across the for profit/not for profit sector collecting used textiles. Despite the absence of a legislative mandate, service providers compete to collect textiles due to the potential financial incentive. Given that non municipal actors are willing to manage end of life textiles, what role can municipalities play in facilitating this collection in a way that maximizes both environmental and economic outcomes?

Municipal Branding

Unlike other waste streams, convenience is not the most significant predictor of household participation. This finding is atypical to any other waste stream (such as WEEE, or PP&P), as households have a “value attachment” associated with their used clothing. As such, households indicate a very strong preference for ensuring that their donations go to a cause they personally identify with (charitable, social, environmental etc.).

The primary impediment to household participation results from uncertainty surrounding the “outcome” of their donation. This uncertainty is attributed to the presence of charity masqueraders (for profit textile collectors), who deceptively brand themselves in a way to suggest that they are a charity. Many of these organizations lack transparency with respect to the destination of the material, or what is being done with the proceeds from the donation. This confusion is sufficient to deter households from participating in diversion activity. Stated alternatively, households would rather throw their textiles in the garbage, than donate their items to duplicitous textile collectors.

To specifically address this uncertainty, municipalities should designate preferred textile collectors within the community (using municipal branding on bins, or some other form of official recognition). This branding/recognition clearly communicates to residents that “approved collectors” are adhering to best practices in funding transparency, accessibility and service standards. The intent of this municipal vetting process is to reduce consumer uncertainty regarding both the collector of the material, and the destination of the donation.

Environmental Benefits

Given the sheer quantity of textiles that are ending up in landfills, increasing diversion rates will have a significant environmental benefits. The environmental impact from diverting 10,000T of textiles are shown in figure 2 below: 

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Keep in mind that there is an estimated 250,000T of used textiles available for collection each year in Ontario – diverting even a fraction of this material will help both municipalites and the province achieve carbon reduction and diversion goals.

Economic Benefits

The economic impacts of designating preferred collectors transfers all end of life management costs onto the service provider. Municipalities and retailers do not bare any direct costs – in fact, for every tonne diverted, municipalities save money through avoided landfilling and processing costs. The value of textiles as a commodity results in a self-sustaining collection infrastructure that negates the need for cost recovery schemes such as extended producer responsibility (EPR). This helps minimize the administrative burden of developing an EPR program, and allows for an approach that can be readily replicated in jurisdictions across Canada.

Social Benefits

While numerous textile collectors are presently operating in the space – the social impact of used textile collection is unique to an approach that designates charitable/non-profit as a preferred collector.

Organizations such as Diabetes Canada, Salvation Army etc. utilize the proceeds of textile collection to develop and deliver programs that promote health and well-being for Ontarians.

As an example, in 2018, Diabetes Canada generated more than 10 million dollars from used textile collection, with 100% of those proceeds going into diabetes research and other support programs.

Furniture

Much like textiles, there is no prescriptive legislation for how furniture waste should be managed. In most instances, households bare the physical and financial responsibility for transporting furniture waste to landfills, and will often rely on “junk” collectors to provide this service.

While furniture waste generation is highly variable (depending on locality, season etc.), a review of Ontario waste audits suggests that furniture and white good waste makes up approximately 5% of the overall waste stream, representing approximately 125,000 tonnes of material annually.

However, unlike textiles, end of life furniture does not have a value (or at the very least, it is highly dependent on the item, and site/situation specific factors). As such, collectors have to be financially incented, with the generator (in most cases the household) paying to have items removed and sent to landfill.

Municipalities have traditionally played a limited role in managing these items, but what role can a municipality play in not only supporting keeping these items out of landfills, but maximizing social and environmental outcomes as well?

Charitable Initiatives – The Furniture Bank Case Study

Furniture Bank is a Toronto based charity and social enterprise that helps marginalized and at risk families furnish their homes. Furniture bank accepts gently used furniture and other household items, distributing them to families in need.

This initiative helps divert more than 1500 tonnes of material from Toronto landfills annually, but perhaps more importantly, serves more than 10,000 local clients in need on an annual basis.

In strictly economic terms, the City of Toronto benefits through avoided landfill tipping fee costs (as well as collection costs for large, bulky items), while the province benefits through the provision of a social service to marginalized communities (without incurring a direct cost).

Since 2010, furniture bank has diverted almost 10,000T of furniture/household wares from landfills, which has had an enormous environmental impact for Ontario (shown in figure 3): 

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Given that the vast majority of furniture waste (as noted earlier, in excess of 125,000 tonnes) is ending up in our landfills, there is an enormous opportunity not only to increase diversion rates, but achieve a truly sustainable outcome. 

Leveraging organizations such as Furniture Bank (to serve as a used furniture collector) provides a rare opportunity to address all three pillars of a sustainable waste management program. We are able to increase diversion from landfills (environment), while transferring costs away from local government (economic) and simultaneously support social impact initiatives (social).

As noted earlier, research suggests that Ontarians express a strong desire to support social initiatives and charities through waste donations (used textiles, furniture etc.). In a two year study conducted by York University, households were more than twice as likely to donate their used materials to a designated charitable collector. 

Diversion with a purpose

Waste management (at least in a Canadian context) has historically not been seen through the lens of social sustainability. It is largely seen as a service provided by municipalities, to help keep material out of landfills and promote circularity.

However, as we look to increase diversion rates, we have to ask ourselves two questions: 1) Where will the next diverted tonne come from? And 2) What do I want achieve by diverting more material?

As noted earlier, conventional means and mediums of diversion (i.e. Blue Box) have been exhausted – the next diverted tonne is not likely to come from newsprint or cardboard, but from organics, textiles and furniture.

In addition to finding new opportunities to divert material, what are we trying to achieve by doing so? Is it good enough just to keep material out of landfills, or should we seek to identify ways to maximize economic and social outcomes as well?

This article hopes to highlight that it is possible to “divert with a purpose” – municipalities (and the province) can play a critical role in supporting waste collectors that have a mission beyond “managing waste”, and look to improve the lives and well-being of Ontarians.

The opportunity isn’t just about the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of material not currently being diverted, but the thousands people that benefit through strategic prioritization of material streams and waste collectors.

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: where now and where next?

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Bettina Kamuk, Global Market Director, Waste to Energy at Ramboll

Waste-to-energy is the use of waste to generate energy, usually in the form of heat or electricity. In many ways it is the ultimate in renewable energy, because it recycles what we have already consumed in another form. It is, therefore, a key part of the growing ‘circular economy’.

The idea of the circular economy recognises that there is a limit to the possibilities of recycling. Even recycled goods wear out over time, and further recycling is often not possible. We therefore need a way to deal with the residual waste. We also need a way to deal with waste that is not currently recyclable or recycled. At present, worldwide most of it is sent to landfill. This not only uses valuable space, but also generates methane, a greenhouse gas.

Waste-to-energy offers an alternative—and one with a useful product at the end, in the form of energy. In other words, waste-to-energy has a double bonus for the environment: it reduces greenhouse gas emissions in two ways. First, there are fewer emissions from landfill, and second, it reduces reliance on fossil fuels.

Understanding waste-to-energy

The first incinerator was built in Nottingham, in the UK, in 1874, and the first in the US in New York in 1885. However, these early incinerators usually had little or no capacity to recover either energy or materials. Modern incinerators are able to do both. Many are used to provide heating for local sections of cities. They operate to very tight emission standards so are not polluting, and often reduce the volume of the original waste by more than 95%.

The precise volume, of course, depends on what can be recovered and reused from the ash. Technology to recover metals from ash has developed rapidly in the last few years. A new plant in Copenhagen on the island of Amager, where the Ramboll office is located, is able to recover metal particles as small as 0.5mm across. This is far better than the previous standard of 4mm and is an effective way to sort out metal that is difficult to separate manually before incineration.

Waste-to-energy around the world

At next week’s North American Waste to Energy Conference (NAWTEC), I am going to be part of a panel session on international opportunities for waste-to-energy. The idea of the panel session is to describe what is going on in waste-to-energy around the world, setting out ideas and opportunities for event participants.

Around the world, cities and countries are embracing waste-to-energy, with a number of new green-field facilities being commissioned or built. For example, estimates in Europe suggest that new waste-to-energy capacity of up to 55 mio will be needed to meet landfill directives and circular economy goals. Several Middle Eastern states, including Dubai, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, have either built or are in the process of commissioning new facilities. New facilities are also being commissioned as far apart as Lebanon, Singapore and Perth, Australia.

In South East Asia, there is a growing move towards waste-to-energy. China’s government has made a decision to move away from landfill, and has already established a number of waste-to-energy plants, mostly using Chinese technology. Thailand and Malaysia also already have waste-to-energy plants. The Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia have plans to establish plants in the foreseeable future.

Where next for waste-to-energy?

Despite these success stories, there are also parts of the world where waste-to-energy has been slower to grow, such as North America. This is partly because of lack of political will to move away from landfilling, which is perhaps what happens when you have plenty of space. It is also partly because there is less political acceptance that we need to move to a circular economy, with waste-to-energy as a key element. However, as this acceptance grows, there is huge potential in these countries too.

Today a lot of waste is still being sent to landfill or even dumped. The potential for new green-field waste-to-energy facilities is huge. Even in countries where there are already waste-to-energy facilities, old plants will eventually need replacing with modern and more energy-efficient plants. I think the future is bright for waste-to-energy, and I think there is growing acceptance that the future of the world will also be brighter for its increasing use.


About the Author

Bettina Kamuk is Global Market Director and Head of Department at Ramboll. Bettina is a highly experienced waste-to-energy project director and has been responsible for waste-to-energy projects worldwide, most recently in South East Asia and the Middle East. Currently, she is technical advisor for the National Environmental Agency (NEA) in Singapore during the development of the Integrated Waste Management Facility in Singapore planned for an annual capacity of 2 million tonnes of waste-to-energy recovery and more than 200,000 tonnes of bio-waste and recyclables for sorting. Bettina has been Board Member and Chair of the Scientific and Technical Committee for the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) and has for eight years been chairing ISWA’s Working Group on Energy Recovery.

AboutRamboll

Ramboll is a leading engineering, design and consultancy company founded in Denmark in 1945. The company employs 15,000 working from 300 offices in 35 countries and has especially strong representation in the Nordics, UK, North America, Continental Europe, Middle East and Asia Pacific. Ramboll is at the forefront of addressing the green transition and offers a holistic approach to energy that supports the sector on the journey towards more sustainable solutions. Ramboll has more than 50 years of experience in the planning, design and implementation of energy solutions, covering the full spectrum of technologies and all parts of the value chain from planning to production, transmission and distribution. Ramboll has worked on waste-to-energy projects in 45 countries, providing consulting services for 155 new units and retrofits.

Wood ash recycling program could help save Muskoka’s forests and lakes

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Written by James A. Donaldson, Canadian Wood Waste Recycling Business Group

Implementing a new residential wood ash program in Muskoka, Ont., to restore calcium levels in its forest soils and lakes could help replenish the area’s dwindling supply of crayfish and maple sap, according to new research co-led by York University.

Calcium levels in soil and lakes are essential for the growth of all forms of life, but the levels across central Ontario are declining due to decades of acid rain. It could take centuries for this calcium to rebuild on its own.

Researchers discovered that residential wood ash – a common household waste derived from wood-burning fireplaces and wood-fired ovens – was rich with the nutrients needed for restoring growth, including about 30 per cent calcium.

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The study, published on March 28th, 2019 in the journal FACETS, shows that adding controlled doses of cold residential wood ash to the watershed of Muskoka’s forests could help solve the calcium decline problem and boost forest growth.

“Calcium is an essential nutrient for all living things,” said Norman Yan, a senior scholar and professor emeritus of biology in the Faculty of Science, who co-led the study. “When you suffer from low calcium, you get osteoporosis and the ecosystem can suffer from osteoporosis as well. Many scientists have called this calcium decline problem ecological osteoporosis.”

Supplementing watershed soils with calcium-rich wood ash may also improve the region’s crayfish stock, water quality, seedling regeneration and sugar maple tree production of sap, used to make maple syrup.

“Lack of calcium has slowed the growth, reproduction and development of trees in Muskoka’s forests,” said Yan, Chair of Friends of the Muskoka Watershed, a not-for-profit environmental organization that has conducted the research with York University, Dorset Environmental Science Centre and Queen’s University.

While forest programs using industrial wood ash exist in areas of Europe such as Sweden, the use of the non-industrial residential wood ash has not been researched and tested until now, said the study co-author Shakira Azan, a former postdoctoral biology student and research associate at York University.

“A lot of people in Muskoka burn wood for heat and some send it to the landfill so, by collecting and recycling their wood ash, we are diverting waste from landfills,” said Azan, an environmental project lead at Friends of the Muskoka Watershed.

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The second phase of the research is AshMuskoka, a three-year pilot project that aims to be Canada’s first residential wood ash recycling program. The project team, which launched in January, is working on securing 200 homeowners to donate their wood ash. This fall, researchers will conduct small-scale wood ash additions to test dosage needs, develop tools to identify site-specific doses, and determine the benefits and harm of residential wood ash applications. The first test site will be three sugar bushes in Muskoka, where maple syrup producers are eager to see if the controlled doses will restore the bushes to good health and yield maple sap.

Friends of the Muskoka Watershed is working on the project with nine Canadian partners, including Trent University, the University of Victoria, Laurentian University, the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association, and York University’s Learning for a Sustainable Future.

About the Author

Jim A. Donaldson is the founder and CEO of Canadian Wood Waste Recycling Business Group, Canada’s leading Wood recycling, industry resource management business group. The organization brings the elite like-minded Canadian and International people, business, academia and government together to develop the “Canadian Wood recycling, Bioeconomy” as a viable eco-sustainable industry.

Jim is also the owner of Waste Reduction & Recycling Consultants Inc., a firm founded in 2009 to facilitate the emerging need by large and small corporations to outsource their environmental Waste management business requirements. Waste Reduction & Recycling Consultants is a multidisciplinary Environmental waste management consulting firm that specializes in providing a full array of environmental administrative Waste management advice AND project-specific Environmental waste management services.

Piling Up: How China’s Ban on Importing Waste Has Stalled Global Recycling

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Written by Cheryl Katz, Independent Science Writer

This article has been republished with the permission of Yale Environment 360, a publication of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. The original posting can be found at Yale Environment 360 website.


It has been a year since China jammed the works of recycling programs around the world by essentially shutting down what had been the industry’s biggest market. China’s “National Sword” policy, enacted in January 2018, banned the import of most plastics and other materials headed for that nation’s recycling processors, which had handled nearly half of the world’s recyclable waste for the past quarter century. The move was an effort to halt a deluge of soiled and contaminated materials that was overwhelming Chinese processing facilities and leaving the country with yet another environmental problem — and this one not of its own making.

In the year since, China’s plastics imports have plummeted by 99 percent, leading to a major global shift in where and how materials tossed in the recycling bin are being processed. While the glut of plastics is the main concern, China’s imports of mixed paper have also dropped by a third. Recycled aluminum and glass are less affected by the ban.

Globally more plastics are now ending up in landfills, incinerators, or likely littering the environment as rising costs to haul away recyclable materials increasingly render the practice unprofitable. In England, more than half-a-million more tons of plastics and other household garbage were burned last year. Australia’s recycling industry is facing a crisis as the country struggles to handle the 1.3 million-ton stockpile of recyclable waste it had previously shipped to China.

Communities across the U.S. have curtailed collections or halted their recycling programs entirely.

Across the United States, local governments and recycling processors are scrambling to find new markets. Communities from Douglas County, Oregon to Hancock, Maine, have curtailed collections or halted their recycling programs entirely, which means that many residents are simply tossing plastic and paper into the trash. Some communities, like Minneapolis, stopped accepting black plastics and rigid #6 plastics like disposable cups. Others, like Philadelphia, are now burning the bulk of their recyclables at a waste-to-energy plant, raising concerns about air pollution.

Even before China’s ban, only 9 percent of discarded plastics were being recycled, while 12 percent were burned. The rest were buried in landfills or simply dumped and left to wash into rivers and oceans. Without China to process plastic bottles, packaging, and food containers — not to mention industrial and other plastic waste — experts warn it will exacerbate the already massive waste problem posed by our throwaway culture. The planet’s load of nearly indestructible plastics — more than 8 billion tons have been produced worldwide over the past six decades — continues to grow.

“Already, we’ve been seeing evidence in the past year of the accumulation of plastic waste in countries that are dependent on exporting,” says the University of Georgia’s Amy Brooks, a Ph.D. student in engineering and lead author of a recent study on the impacts of China’s import ban. “We’ve seen increased cost to consumers, closure of recycling facilities, and ultimately decreased plastic waste diversion.”

The recycling crisis triggered by China’s ban could have an upside, experts say, if it leads to better solutions for managing the world’s waste, such as expanding processing capacities in North America and Europe, and spurring manufacturers to make their products more easily recyclable. Above all, experts say it should be a wake-up call to the world on the need to sharply cut down on single-use plastics.

Over the coming decade, as many as 111 million tons of plastics will have to find a new place to be processed or otherwise disposed of as a result of China’s ban, according to Brooks and University of Georgia engineering professor Jenna Jambeck. However, the places trying to take up some of the slack in 2018 tended to be lower-income countries, primarily in Southeast Asia, many of which lack the infrastructure to properly handle recyclables. Many of those countries were quickly overwhelmed by the volume and have also now cut back on imports.

Prior to China’s ban, 95 percent of the plastics collected for recycling in the European Union and 70 percent in the U.S. were sold and shipped to Chinese processors. There, they were turned into forms to be repurposed by plastic manufacturers. Favorable rates for shipping in cargo vessels that carried Chinese consumer goods abroad and would otherwise return to China empty, coupled with the country’s low labor costs and high demand for recycled materials, made the practice profitable.

“Everyone was sending their materials to China because their contamination standard was low and their pricing was very competitive,” says Johnny Duong, acting chief operating officer of California Waste Solutions, which handles recycling for Oakland and San Jose. Like most municipal recycling programs, those cities contract with Duong’s company to collect and sort recyclable waste at its materials recovery facility, where they are baled and sent to end-market processors. Before the ban, Duong says, his company sold around 70 percent of its recyclables to China. Now, that has fallen to near zero.

China’s action came after many recycling programs had transitioned from requiring consumers to separate paper, plastics, cans, and bottles to today’s more common “single stream,” where it all goes into the same blue bin. As a result, contamination from food and waste has risen, leaving significant amounts unusable. In addition, plastic packaging has become increasingly complex, with colors, additives, and multilayer, mixed compositions making it ever more difficult to recycle. China has now cut off imports of all but the cleanest and highest-grade materials — imposing a 99.5 percent purity standard that most exporters found all-but impossible to meet.

“Costs associated with recycling are up, revenue associated with recycling is down,” says an industry official.

“All recyclable plastics from municipal recycling programs have been pretty much banned,” says Anne Germain, vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for the U.S. trade group National Waste and Recycling Association. “It’s had a tremendous impact. Costs associated with recycling are up, revenue associated with recycling is down. And that’s not turning around in the next few weeks.”

The U.S. and Europe, where many cities have longstanding recycling collection programs, have been especially hard-hit. Decades of reliance on China had stifled development of domestic markets and infrastructure. “There are just not very easy or cost-effective options for dealing with it now,” says Brooks. “So if nothing is done to ensure efficient management of plastic waste, the cost-effective option is to send it to landfills or incineration.”

In the U.S., small town and rural recycling operations have been hit the hardest. While most continue to operate, rising costs and falling incomes are forcing some, like Kingsport, Tennessee to shut down. Others, like Phenix City, Alabama, have stopped accepting all plastics. Places like Deltona, Florida suspended curbside pickup. Residents in municipalities like these now must travel to collection points in sometimes distant locations if they want to recycle. Some are inevitably tossing their recyclables in the trash instead.

Most larger cities — such as New York, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon — have been able to either find alternative markets or improve and expand their municipal operations to process higher-quality and more marketable materials. But many have had to make changes, including dropping some harder-to-recycle materials from their programs. Sacramento, California, for instance, halted collections of plastics labeled #4 through #7 for several months last year at the city waste operator’s request. Residents were told to discard those items in their household garbage.

“That was a real eye opener for a lot of folks who love to feel good about putting their recycling in their blue bin and then it magically turns into something else,” says Erin Treadwell, community outreach manager for Sacramento Public Works. “We wish it was that easy.” Collection there resumed in November after a public education campaign on how households should clean and sort their recyclables.

In Philadelphia last year, when the city’s waste contractor demanded higher fees for collecting and processing recycled materials, the city sent half its recyclables to a waste-to-energy plant, where they were burned to generate electricity; the rest went to an interim contractor.

Displaced Chinese companies have announced plans to open new processing plants in South Carolina and Alabama.

Simon Ellin, CEO of The Recycling Association, a UK industry group, said these countries have struggled to cope with the volume displaced by the Chinese ban and were beginning to impose their own import restrictions.

Whether China’s ban leads to increased plastic pollution in the environment remains to be seen. “The plastic is now getting diverted to countries with a high risk of improper management and high leakage rates,” says Roland Geyer, an industrial ecology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management and lead author of a recent study on the ultimate fate of disposed plastics. Still, China, with its high volume of imports, had been the source of more than a quarter of the world’s mismanaged waste, Jambeck says. So if proper alternatives are found, plastic pollution could actually decrease.

Some options are beginning to emerge. Several U.S. materials recovery facilities are expanding operations, upgrading equipment, and adding workers to improve sorting and reduce contamination so that the materials are acceptable to more discerning buyers. Duong’s Oakland-based company — which handles paper, plastics, and some metals — has modified its equipment and devised better ways of separating materials. The company has developed new markets domestically and in places like South Korea, Indonesia, and India.

And displaced Chinese processors have announced plans to open new U.S. processing plants in Orangeburg, South Carolina and Huntsville, Alabama. The companies will shred or pelletize things like plastic food containers to make products such as artificial plants and hangers.

“There is the expectation that we’ll be able to expand domestic processing,” says Germain. “That’s the good news. [But] you don’t build a new facility overnight.”

A variety of new policies aimed at reducing plastic waste are also in the works. The European Parliament recently approved a ban on single-use plastics, including plastic cutlery, straws, and drink-stirrers. Several North American cities, including Seattle and Vancouver, and companies like Starbucks and American Airlines have taken similar actions. And many places around the world now restrict plastic shopping bags.

“Reducing the amount of waste we generate in the first place is the most important thing we can do,” says Lance Klug, information officer for California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. The agency has been working with manufacturers for the past decade to reduce the discarded packaging that makes up about a quarter of what’s in the state’s landfills, he says, adding, “We’re trying to get industry more involved in the end-of-life disposition of their products.”

Britain is planning to tax manufacturers of plastic packaging with less than 30 percent recycled materials. And Norway recently adopted a system in which single-use plastic bottle-makers pay an “environmental levy” that declines as the return rate for their products rises. The bottles must be designed for easy recycling, with no toxic additives, only clear or blue color, and water-soluble labels.


About the Author

Cheryl Katz is an independent science writer covering climate change, energy, earth sciences, and environmental health. A former newspaper reporter, she has reported from Iceland to Africa on topics ranging from new geothermal technology to rapidly warming lakes. Her articles have appeared in Scientific American, National Geographic News and Hakai Magazine, among other publications.

What drives household textile diversion?

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Written by Calvin Lakhan, Ph.D., Faculty of Environmental StudiesYork University

In December of 2018, York University undertook extensive household survey testing/questionnaires pertaining to attitudes towards textile waste, clothing donation bins and factors affecting bin utilization.

This study was seen as the conceptual follow up to the Fall 2016 study conducted by the university, which was originally designed to identify the primary determinants to textile donations and explore possible impediments/barriers to participation. 

Salient findings from the 2016 study include: 

1) Unlike other waste streams, convenience is not the most significant predictor of household participation

2) Unlike other material streams (such as waste WEEE, or PP&P) households have a “value attachment” associated with their used clothing. As such, households indicated a very strong preference for ensuring that their donations were going to a cause they personally identified with (charitable, social, environmental etc.)

3) The presence of charity masqueraders results in significant confusion for households. This confusion was sufficient enough to deter household participating in diversion activity *Note: While there is no formal definition for what constitutes a charity masquerader, these are often operators who deceptively brand themselves in a way to suggest that they are a charity, without being transparent regarding the destination of the material or what is being done with the proceeds from the donation. Numerous communities across Canada have expressed concerns surrounding the presence of 3rd party bins, as they often do not adhere to regular service schedules or bylaw licensing requirements.

With these findings in mind, York University, in collaboration with Diabetes Canada and a coalition of charitable actors, partnered with municipalities across Canada to launch the first municipal textile donation program. 

The underlying premise of this program is that municipalities would designate preferred textile collectors within the community (often through municipal branding on bins, or some other form of official recognition), which clearly communicated to residents that “approved collectors” were adhering to best practices in funding transparency, accessibility and service standards. The intent of this municipal vetting process was to reduce consumer uncertainty regarding both the collector of the material, and the destination of the donation. 

Phase 2 of this study wanted to gauge how (if at all) household attitudes towards textile donation have changed, particularly in light of the formal municipal programs being offered in communities across Canada. 

Study design

Three broad geographic regions were selected on the basis of relative population distribution, proximity to existing (both branded and unbranded bins) and overall population densities to reflect medium – large urban markets. 

These groups were selected on the basis that they provide an adequate geographic representation of the province, and provide the greatest opportunity to interview the broadest cross section of both sociodemographic and socioeconomic groups. 

These groups included:

  1. Large Urban (Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, York Region)
  2. Urban Regional (Ajax)
  3. Medium Urban (Barrie)

Survey questions were organized into four main areas: (1) Awareness/Attitudes (2) Accessibility; (3) Motivation for use and (4) demographic information related to age, ethnicity, education and income. 

Questionnaires were pre-tested and refined prior to conducting the official survey. The pre-test allowed for wording refinements and changes to the ordering of the questions. The finalized survey was conducted over a four week period beginning in the second week of December 2018 and running through January 2019. Teams of two enumerators and one site supervisor were sent to each municipality for a period of four days each, spending 6 h at each survey site.

Questionnaire “booths” were set up in spaces with high foot traffic (namely malls, arenas and public commons areas). Enumerators were asked to approach members of the public, explain who they were and the purpose of the study, and requested approximately 10–15 min of the participant’s time to complete the survey. A five dollar Tim Horton’s Café and Bake shop gift card was used to incent participation. 

A mix of convenience and quota sampling was employed to ensure that survey participants reflect the relative proportions of Ontario’s population. Survey responses were recorded by hand and later electronically archived and analyzed using Provalis Word Stat, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Word.

A total of 901 responses were successfully recorded (out of 2422 approached) for a response rate of 37.2%.

Generally speaking, Likert scales using ordinal ranking were used to classify survey responses.

It is important to note that the data gathered from our surveys is based on self-reported behavior, and not observed behavior. Self-reported measures of environmental awareness and participation tend to be overstated. This phenomenon is known as the value action gap. 

A summary of select survey results are shown below.

Levels of Participation and Motivators for Participation

Figures 1 through 4 below summarize household responses regarding self-reported levels of textile donation and stated motivators for participation

Fig 1.

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Fig 2. 

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 Consistent with the findings from the 2016 survey, surveyed households report participating in textile donation to some degree (at least once every three months) , with the most popular reuse method being “hand me downs” to relatives and friends. The primary motivator for making a donation was rooted in altruistic motives “helping less fortunate”, or providing assistance to members of a broader kinship network. 

Of note, donations made to a clothing drop off bin or a physical retail site accounted for approximately half of all used textiles reported by our respondents. 

Credibility and Awareness

The majority of survey respondents indicated that having “municipally approved branding” (on clothing donation bins, in the store etc.) would directly incent participation, by reducing uncertainty regarding the operator and destination of donated material (as shown in figures 5 and 6). 

More than 65% of all respondents agreed (or strongly agreed) that municipally branded bins would encourage them to donate more, while 60% of all respondents felt that municipal branding reduced uncertainty. As noted in the 2016 study, uncertainty regarding what happens to a donation is sufficient to discourage diversion behavior, as households want to feel that their donations are being used in a socially, environmentally and economically responsible way.  

Fig 5. 

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Fig 6. 

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 Of note in figure 7, households still have extreme difficulty distinguishing between charitable and non-charitable bins, exacerbating the confusion and frustration on the part of the consumer regarding who are legitimate collectors, and who are charitable masqueraders. This ultimately impedes household participation in textile diversion initiatives, as shown in Figure 8. 

Fig 7. 

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Fig 8.

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Responsibilities of Municipalities and Retailers in educating the public about textile diversion

Perhaps the most salient finding from the follow up study is that households feel that both the retailer (steward selling the clothes) and municipalities bare a shared responsibility in educating households about what to do with textiles at end of life (as shown in figures 9-10)

Fig 9. 

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Fig 10. 

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Lack of Access/Opportunity

Despite efforts on the part of both municipalities and clothing collectors, majority of survey respondents indicated that they did have readily available access to clothing donation bins (or other drop off points) in their neighborhoods. 

This suggests that clothing collectors continue to work with municipalities in placing collection points in high density, well trafficked areas to maximize access for the public. 

Fig 11. 

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The full results of this study are expected by late Spring – the purpose of this pre-publication is to better understand what drives household diversion behavior, and what opportunities exist to develop economically, socially and environmentally desirable collection infrastructure for used textiles.


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 .

British Columbians and Nova Scotians are Canada’s best recyclers

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Written by John Mullinder, Executive Director, The Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council

Nova Scotia might have the country’s highest diversion rate as a province (44%) but British Columbians recycle more as individuals.

Diversion rate per person by province

An analysis of the latest data from Statistics Canada shows that the average British Columbian diverted 377 kilograms of waste in 2016. That’s 60 kilograms more than the average Nova Scotian and twice as much as people living in Saskatchewan. The average Canadian diverted 263 kilograms of waste, the equivalent of about one heavy (50 pound) suitcase a month.

The “waste” includes used paper, plastic, glass, metals, textiles, organics (food scraps), electronics, tires, white goods such as fridges and appliances, and construction, renovation and demolition materials like wood, drywall, doors, windows and wiring.

There are some interesting differences between Canada’s two waste diversion leaders. Nova Scotia’s population is quite concentrated within a relatively small area compared to British Columbia, which would seem to give the waste diversion advantage to Nova Scotia. BC’s recycling results, on the other hand, are spread more broadly and thus less reliant on major tonnage diversion coming from just one or two material streams.

For example, while paper and organics are the major material streams diverted in each province, there’s a marked difference in their relative contribution to the provincial total. In British Columbia, paper recycling and organics diversion represent about one-third of the total each. But in Nova Scotia, organics recovery alone is responsible for over half (53%) of the province’s resulting diversion. Without that substantial diversion of organics, Nova Scotia would slip down the provincial rankings.

The data thus indicate opportunities for improvement as well: for BC to boost its organics diversion (it’s currently ranked  third behind Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in organics diversion per person) and for Nova Scotia to focus more attention on collecting materials other than organics (for example, it’s ranked sixth out of the eight reporting provinces in diverting paper).

Of course, better data, particularly on the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC & I) side would help. We believe that the diversion of paper in Nova Scotia is significantly higher than the Statistics Canada numbers indicate.

Diversion Rate for BC and NS
StatsCan Data



This article is republished with the permission of the author. It was first published at PPEC website.


About the Author

John Mullinder the Executive Director of the The Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPPEC), a national trade association representing the environmental interests of Canada’s paper packaging industry. He has over 25 years progressive experience in environmental and sustainability issues. He is the author of Deforestation in Canada and Other Fake News (2018), The Inconvenient Truth about Packaging Waste in Canada (a selection of blogs written between 2010 and 2018).

The Elephant in the room: Where are we going to get waste/diversion data for the IC&I sector?

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by Calvin Lakhan, Ph.D., Faculty of Environmental StudiesYork University

Note: For those who may not be familiar with the term, the IC&I sector refers to Institutional, Commercial and Industrial waste generators such as factories, hospitals, hotels, manufacturing plants etc. It is estimated that the IC&I sector makes up approximately 3/4th of all waste material generated in Canada

Coming out of the CCME conference last month, stakeholders from across the country are starting to develop coordinated efforts for promoting a plastics circular economy.

As noted during the consultation sessions, there are literally millions of tonnes of plastics going to landfill, and we have reached a crisis point with respect to how we can work towards a zero waste future. There can be no more delay.

However, before these conversations can even begin, let’s start with a simple question? How much plastics waste is being generated in Canada for both the residential and IC&I sector (Institutional, Commercial and Industrial).

Based on the Waste Management Industry Survey and modeling done by Deloitte Canada, it is estimated that approximately 3.8 million tonnes of plastics are generated annually, of which only approximately 12% are diverted. This paints an alarming scenario.

But let’s dig a little bit deeper into how those numbers are estimated, and what data that it is based on. Without going into an excessively long technical explanation, the figures used by both Statistics Canada and Deloitte are modeled estimates. Due to the absence of actual data, stakeholders are required to use data analogs and proxies to provide an “order of magnitude estimate” – this is a perfectly reasonable approach, but it is worth reminding everyone that the data surrounding plastics generation/recovery in the IC&I sector remains extremely poor. There is very little consensus regarding who is generating plastics waste, how much is being generated, and how much is being diverted. The latter is actually an extreme point of contention among IC&I establishments, who claim to divert material using on site material management activities.

While much of the focus surrounding plastics waste has tended to focused on the residential sector, it is estimated that the IC&I sector represents more than 75% of all plastics (and material in general) generated. The reason for this paucity of credible and verifiable data is that there is no formal legislative requirement for the majority of the IC&I sector to report the quantities or types of waste being generated, diverted or disposed to provincial authorities.

In Ontario for example, only large IC&I establishments are regulated under existing legislation (which requires establishments to have a formal waste diversion plan and conduct waste audits). However, it is estimated than 80% of waste generated from the IC&I sector comes from small and medium sized establishments, and thus, fall outside the purview of existing regulation. This issue is exacerbated in other provinces which have no formal legislation that monitors the IC&I sector, and relies on voluntary reporting to keep track of waste generation data.

In short, the majority of the plastic waste being generated across Canada is not being formally tracked – which poses an obvious obstacle to understanding the size/scale of the plastic waste problem. Is the assumption then that most of this material is not being diverted by the IC&I sector?

On site recovery, reuse and recycling

Despite the fact that there is very little formal data for plastics waste that is being tracked, many IC&I generators claim to (particularly in the industrial and manufacturing sector), rely on on-site waste management programs to reuse and recycle plastic waste. True to the spirit of a circular economy, many producers use plastic waste outputs from one part of their production process, as inputs for the next. Anecdotally, many producers claim diversion rates close to 100%, as any material of value is reused, recycled or reprocessed internally. It is estimated that more than 50% of all IC&I material being generated is managed using on-site options. While this makes sense intuitively, it is difficult to gather any firm data regarding the quantities or scale of on-site material management for plastics. As noted previously, existing legislation does not require this information to be reported, and as such, any data that is available is left to the discretion of private companies and associations to share publicly.

Understanding what data we have, what can we do with it, and how can it be improved

A critical first step in this process will be deciding what constitutes “Good enough” with respect to the quantity and quality of the data that we will use to inform our decisions. Is it “good enough” to rely on modeled estimates provided by reputable agencies and consultants, or do we need to engage in primary data gathering with both generators and waste service providers (who can provide access to material manifests etc.)?

Access to data (particularly from the IC&I sector), is going to be instrumental with respect to developing effective policy and legislation for a plastics circular economy. However, we must also be weary of “information paralysis”, where a lack of data prevents stakeholders from making any decisions. As a sector, we must recognize these challenges and face them head on, but be prudent with respect to understanding what data we have, where it came from, and what we are able (and willing) to do with it.   


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 .