Fun with Waste: Trash Sport

Combining fitness with waste collection is growing in popularity around the globe. In Japan, a sport called supo-gomi taikai involves teams competing to see who can collect as much litter as possible. The inventor of the sport, Kenichi Mamitsuka, would often pick up litter and, in order to make the activity more fun, tried to collect as much trash as possible without extending his exercise time.  He thought making it a sport would make it more enjoyable and set up an organization for the sport.

A typical game could involve any number of participants that meet at a public place. Teams of three to five persons are made and everyone starts at the same location. At the signal, participants race around a pre-set area and pick up trash as quickly as possible in the allotted time. Points are awarded on not just the weight of trash but other qualities. For example cigarette butts have a high point value.

Around 70 participants ranging in age from 6 to 78 were divided into teams of between three and five persons. Everyone started at the same point in a public park, and when signaled to begin they started collecting trash within a 1-kilometer radius of that point. When a player found a piece of trash they called out their discovery, which was not limited by size. In fact, smaller items are often valued more because points are rewarded not just for the weight of the garbage collected, but the type as well, the idea being that certain items, such as cigarette butts, have a higher priority. So just because a team ends up with the most volume of trash at the end of the allotted time, it doesn’t mean they will win.


Kenichi Mamitsuka’s sports organization has, to date, overseen 639 events nationwide and abroad comprising about 76,000 participants.

Where does my Coffee Pod Go? Emissions Impacts of Pod Recycling

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

I want to preface this article by saying that I do not have any of Nespresso’s actual sales, collection or logistics data. All information used in this modeling is based on publicly available sources – if anybody has access to better data, I would be happy to re-run the analysis.

Coffee pod waste has become a particularly contentious issue as of late. The ubiquity of the coffee pod, coupled with its apparent difficulties being managed at end of life, has forced pod producers to develop packaging that can be readily recycled or composted in existing waste management systems.

Nespresso has proven to be a pioneer in this space, developing a readily recyclable aluminum pod, and investing in a “take back” infrastructure that allows consumers to return used coffee pods back to Nespresso. It is truly a novel solution to a growing problem – aluminum is not only readily recyclable, but offers a significant environmental benefit when comparing recycled vs. virgin sources (According to EcoInvent, recycling one tonne of aluminum using an Ontario energy grid mix abates 10.1 tonnes of carbon).

So all is good with the world, and we should embrace Nespresso as our sustainable pod manufacturer of choice? Not so fast….

Where the university became interested in the issue is when learning about Nespresso’s “take back” program in partnership with Canada Post. As per: https://www.nespresso.com/ca/en/recycling-process-red-bag, households are provided a bag to store used Nespresso capsules. Once they have filled the bag (with approximately 30 capsules), households can return this bag to a Canada Post office, where it will be delivered to 1 of 13 recycling facilities across the country that are equipped to compost used coffee grounds and recycle the aluminum. A separate “take back” program is available for commercial customers who operate in office buildings and retail spaces.

Being the keen researchers that we are, we decided to put this program to the test. After 10 days of coffee consumption (averaging approximately 3 pods per day between two people), we found that the average used capsule (net of coffee grounds) weighed 5.7 grams, and a “full” drop off bag weighed a shade over 280 grams. Once the bag was full, this bag was dropped off at a Canada Post office – it wasn’t readily apparent which facility this bag would be shipped to (which turns out, is the million dollar question).

Based on the materials used in the capsule and the bag (aluminum and LDPE film respectively), we calculated that the emissions credit (attributable to recycling) equaled:

Emissions Credit Single Pod Recycling (Aluminum) 0.00005706 TCO2e Emissions Credit Collection Bag (LDPE Film) 0.000004896 TCO2e Emissions Credit Per Consumer Bag Return 0.001716606 TCO2e

This is actually a pretty compelling finding – for every full bag of capsules returned to Nespresso, the emissions savings attributable to recycling is 0.001716606 TCO2e . When we think about the number of pods sold into the Canadian market – estimated in the hundreds of millions per calendar year – the potential environmental benefit from coffee pod recycling is enormous…… until we factor in the transportation emissions for getting those pods back to Nespresso.

The emissions impacts of waste collection is a significant component when calculating the life cycle impact of a particular waste management option. For curbside recyclable and waste collection, a specially configured truck will go from house to house, and when full, return to the transfer station/depot to empty it’s material before redeploying to the road. The efficiency of this approach is in having a “critical mass” of material (within a specified geographical boundary), that only requires collection when sufficient waste has been generated.

Going back to our Nespresso example, the university shipped a 280g bag back to a recycling facility via Canada Post. Assuming that Canada Post uses a standard parcel delivery vehicle using petrol, 0.00012 TCO2e of carbon are emitted for every kilometer traveled (EcoInvent). Using the above value, if our bag of used pods traveled more than 15km, the emissions impacts of transport supersede the environmental benefit of recycling (0.0018TCO2E transport emissions vs. 0.001716606TCO2e recycling credit)

With that being said, it is not likely that our package of used coffee pods was the only thing in that Canada Post truck (transport emissions need to be distributed across all items shipped), but it raises the questions of “How many shipments of pods are we making?” and “Where are we shipping those pods to?”

While I do not have the sales data for Nespresso, I would safely say that at least 100 million Aluminum pods are sold to Canadian households every year. Given that each of the pre-paid shipping bags can store approximately 30 used pods, that is 3.3 million bags that ultimately need to be shipped back to Nespresso for recycling. That is potentially 3.3 million unique trips, across hundreds (and possibly thousands of kilometers) to recycle something that may be doing more harm to the environment than good. The environmental viability of the approach is entirely contingent on shipping a critical mass of materials, 300 kilometers or less.

I genuinely don’t know if this is the case. Maybe households stock pile their bags and send them back only once a month? Or maybe Canada Post has hundreds of consolidation points, and only ship the bags back to Nespresso once they have sufficient materials? The point of this post is to highlight that we have to “look beyond the headlines” and ask meaningful questions about how the products we use are actually managed at their end of life.

Nespresso should be applauded for finding a recyclable alternative and innovating in a way that moves us away from single use plastic pods. However, as both consumers and decision makers, we have to perform our due diligence when evaluating whether our actions (in this case, recycling) are achieving our intended objectives (preferable environmental outcomes).


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

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.

Environmental Activist Organization oppose all forms for thermal treatment for waste

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Written by John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., Editor

In a recent response to the Ontario Environment Ministry’s Reducing Litter and Waste in Our Communities: Discussion Draft, a coalition of seven environmental activist organization spelled out their opposition of thermal treatment in all its forms as a means for managing waste in Canada.

With respect to thermal treatment of waste, the letter reads:

In our view, all forms of thermal treatment (e.g. waste incineration, energy-from-waste (EFW) facilities, pyrolosis, plasma gasification, industrial burning of waste as “alternative fuel”, etc.) should not be considered as diversion measures. Instead, these kinds of projects are – and must remain closely regulated as – waste disposal activities under Ontario’s environmental laws.

The coalition of environmental activist organization that signed the letter are as follows: the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the Citizens’ Network on Waste Management, the Grand River Environmental Network, the Toronto Environmental Alliance, Environment Hamilton, hej!support, and the Citizens Environment Alliance.

The opposition by these organization to all forms of thermal treatment of waste should be discouraging news to companies that have developed innovative thermal treatment technologies and advanced air pollution control technologies. It means that there will be continued pressure for more lengthy and costly permitting processes across the country.

The letter should also be discouraging to companies that utilize waste as feedstock in the production of recycled products. In the letter, the authors state that they reject alternative or streamlined environmental approvals process for proven technologies that recover value from waste. In the view of the authors, there is no “red tape” that needs to be cut when it comes to the environmental approval process.

Proponents and involved in the environmental approvals process in Ontario for innovative waste management technologies including waste-to-fuel, waste-to-products, and waste-to-energy often complain about the byzantine, expensive, and lengthy approvals process in Ontario compared to other North American jurisdictions.

As an environmental professional with over 25 years of experience working in Ontario, I see innovative environmental technologies that are being development to help with the waste management problems facing Canadians. I have also seen my share of bad actors and snake oil salesman that have hurt the environment industry.

I believe there is a need for environmental activist organizations and proponents of innovative waste technologies to become educated about each others concerns in an effort to bridge the divide that appears to exist to the environmental risks associated with various technologies.

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

Fun with Waste: A boat made from plastic waste

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The FlipFlopi Project is an ambitious initiative with an aim to inspire positive change to support the global movement against plastic pollution.

In June 2016 the founders of the FlipFlopi Project decided to try and build a boat entirely from plastic collected on beaches and roadsides in Kenya to show the potential of ‘already-used’ plastic. And two years later, using over ten tonnes of plastic waste and 30,000 re-purposed flip flops – they succeeded. 

The world’s first recycled boat gets its name, Flipiflopi, from the 30,000 recycled flip-flops used to make its rainbow-colored hull. The FlipFlopi Project was co-founded by Kenyan tour operator Ben Morrison, and the 9 meters long multi-masted boat was built by master craftsmen Ali Skanda, and a team of volunteers using more than 10,000 tones of recycled plastic. The boat has already sailed 500 km from Lamu to Zanzibar earlier this year and it is continuing to tour around the world.

The goal of the project and is to convince people that single use plastic does not make sense and that it can be given a valuable second life. The boat is currently embarking on a number of expeditions around the Indian Ocean.

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

Fun with Waste: Feasting on Food Waste

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According to a report prepared by Second Harvest, approximately 60% of food waste is wasted. On an annual basis, this adds up to 35.5 million tonnes. Of that total the Second Harvest report estimates that 32% is edible food that could be redirected to support people in Canadian communities. The total financial value of this potentially rescuable lost and wasted food is a staggering $49.46 billion.

To raise awareness of the amount of food wasted in Canada that is actually edible, the Culinary Historians of Canada recently hosted an event at the George Brown College Hospitality and Tourism Campus called Food Waste – Past and Present in which patrons were able to Feast on Food Waste. Tickets for the event was $15.

Besides feasting of food waste, patrons learned about the history of food waste in Canada from Magdaline Dontsos, former faculty of the Food and Nutrition program at Centennial College as well as a member of the Ontario Society of Nutrition Management and the Canadian Society of Nutrition Management. Part of the discussion included an examination of the modern-day adjustments that could be made to make food production more sustainable.

The Culinary Historians of Canada (CHC) is an organization that researches, interprets, preserves and celebrates Canada’s culinary heritage, which has been shaped by the food traditions of the First Nations peoples and generations of immigrants from all parts of the world. Through programmes, events and publications, CHC educates its members and the public about the foods and beverages of Canada’s past. 

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.

Fun with Waste: Cartons to Carpets

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Serge Attukwei Clottey is the founder of Ghana’s GoLokal performance collective. His work explores the cross-cutting themes of environmental protection and social justice. His concept of “Afrogallonism is a celebration of the yellow gallon containers, initially used as cooking oil canisters and then recycled to collect water or fuel.

Found throughout Ghana and known locally as jerrycans, the plastic containers have become synonymous with serious water shortages in Accra, and block waterways when they are discarded. Their prevalence in rural and urban communities caught Attukwei Clottey’s attention. He began imagining them as objects of art, and then came up with the concept of creating plastic carpets from them.

Garrette ClarkUN Environment’s Sustainable Lifestyles Programme Officer in the Consumption and Production Unit, said: “Sustainability is here to stay. We hear about climate change, waste and pollution every day. And, we increasingly hear how people are living in new ways that are good for people and planet. Serge Attukei Clottey is one of these new voices highlighting our plastic waste issue through his art.”

Attukwei Clottey’s idea is to tackle plastic pollution, and create a growing artistic movement to raise awareness and #SolveDifferent. We asked him what inspired him to come up with his Afrogallonism concept, and his message for young people.

What is Afrogallonism, and how did you come up with the concept?

I want to find ways to inspire people to work with plastics, and recycling it in creative ways. Afrogallonism is a word I made up after working with discarded jerrycans for fifteen years, as this type of plastic takes a long time to decay. Over time, the gallon containers have become like my second skin, and I realized that the top of the container looks like a mask. We have traditional masks, but these are like masks of our time. Afrogallonism is the new Africa—the future of Africa, bringing to the forefront issues of water scarcity and the importance of protecting our environment.

What challenges did you face along the way, and how did you overcome them?

I wanted to think of a practical approach to the critical issue of plastic waste management that brings value to the country. It’s not just about collecting plastics, but sending a powerful message back to manufacturers: waste is becoming a problem every single day. As an artist, I want to explore and create a dialogue around the plastic issue, involving corporate or government officials who can support our work so that the benefits remain in Ghana. I face many challenges—including lack of space and even lack of African representation on a global stage. Some galleries are not interested in displaying African Art. My art is now getting international recognition because black people across the world can relate to the narratives I explore. One of the biggest challenges has been getting my community to understand the importance of my work, but this is changing in Ghana.

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The carpets claim space and raise awareness of plastic waste. Photo by Serge Attukei Clottey / Afrogallonism.

Can you give us some background on the scope of your work?

I currently have about 15 young men and women working directly with me, and dozens of others who collect plastic waste materials for the project, and they are paid adequately for the work done. I can’t tell if this project is going to be the solution to plastic waste—but at least we are taking that step to act. We collect the plastic containers along coastal beaches, as well as at dump sites. You see them ending up on the streets and in the ocean. For me, the materials play a very significant role in my work and I take care in repurposing the plastic.

What are alternatives to the use of jerrycans that could help us #SolveDifferent?

Let’s focus on the product, and raise awareness among companies making plastic cartons and containers. We need to know where these plastics are coming from and for me, taking the issue up with companies producing plastic products is key. Manufacturers must have a bigger interest in where their products end up.

At the United Nations Environment Assembly, UN Environment is urging people to Think Beyond and Live Within. Join the debate on social media using #SolveDifferent to share your stories and see what others are doing towards a sustainable future for our planet.