Could Renewable Natural Gas Be the Next Big Thing in Green Energy?

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Written by Jonathan Mingle, Freelance Journalist and republished with permission of Yale Environment 360

In the next few weeks, construction crews will begin building an anaerobic digester on the Goodrich Family Farm in western Vermont that will transform cow manure and locally sourced food waste into renewable natural gas (RNG), to be sent via pipeline to nearby Middlebury College and other customers willing to pay a premium for low-carbon energy.

For the developer, Vanguard Renewables, the project represents both a departure and a strategic bet. The firm already owns and operates five farm-based biogas systems in Massachusetts; each generates electricity on site that is sent to the grid and sold under the state’s net-metering law. The Vermont project, however, is Vanguard’s first foray into producing RNG — biogas that is refined, injected into natural gas pipelines as nearly pure methane, and then burned to make electricity, heat homes, or fuel vehicles.

“Producing RNG for pipeline injection and vehicle fueling is the evolution of where everything is going” in the biogas sector, says John Hanselman, Vanguard’s CEO.

Biogas has been around for a long time in the United States, mainly in the form of rudimentary systems that either capture methane from landfills and sewage treatment plants and use it to produce small amounts of electricity, or aging digesters at dairy operations that might power a local farm and send some surplus power to the grid. But those are fast becoming outdated and out-produced by a new wave of large-scale renewable natural gas projects that are springing up around the country. These ventures are tapping into heretofore unexploited sources of energy: some are capturing the vast amounts of methane generated by manure from some of the 2,300 hog farms that dot eastern North Carolina; some are building biodigesters to turn clusters of large California dairy farms into energy hubs; and some are seeking to divert food waste from landfills and transform it into vehicle and heating fuels.

Biogas systems could produce enough renewable energy to power 3 million homes in the U.S.

Renewable natural gas is reaching a tipping point for several reasons: An increasing number of third-party operators like Vanguard are relieving farmers and landfills of the burden of running their own energy systems and are introducing more sophisticated technologies to capture methane and pump it directly into pipelines. Some states, including California, are passing laws requiring the development of renewable natural gas. And utilities across the country are starting to support these new initiatives, as evidenced by the new partnership between Dominion Energy and Smithfield Farms — the world’s largest pork producer — to develop new hog waste biogas projects. For proponents, the ultimate goal is to replace a significant portion of the fossil-derived natural gas streaming through U.S. pipelines with pure methane generated by human garbage and animal and agricultural waste.

“If you can recover energy before sending what remains back to the soil, that’s a great thing,” said Nora Goldstein, the longtime editor of BioCycle Magazine, which has covered the organics recycling and anaerobic digestion industries for decades. “You look at all those benefits and say, ‘Why aren’t more people doing this?’ The key is you need to do it correctly.”

The untapped potential — especially of the billions of gallons of animal manure and millions of tons of food waste generated each year in the U.S. — is immense. According to a 2014 “Biogas Opportunities Roadmap” report produced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Energy, the U.S. could support at least 13,000 biogas facilities, fed by manure, landfill gas, and biosolids from sewage treatment plants. Those new systems could produce 654 billion cubic feet of biogas per year — enough renewable energy to power 3 million homes. And a study by the World Resources Institute estimated that the 50 million tons of organic waste sent to landfills or incinerated every year in the U.S has the energy content of 6 billion gallons of diesel fuel, 15 percent of all diesel consumed by heavy-duty trucks and buses.

A truck delivers food waste to an anaerobic digester at a Massachusetts farm. VANGUARD RENEWABLES

Experts say that the growing utilization of biogas could help lower greenhouse gas emissions from some of the toughest sectors to decarbonize — transportation, industry, and heating buildings — even as it reduces heat-trapping methane emissions, keeps organic waste out of landfills, and prevents manure runoff into rivers and water supplies. Through anaerobic digestion, biogas can be made from any organic material — food scraps, agricultural residues, even the sludge left over from brewing beer. These materials are fed as a slurry into tanks where microbes feast on them in the absence of oxygen, destroying pathogens, producing methane and other gases, and leaving a nutrient-rich fertilizer as a byproduct.

In the field of renewable natural gas, the U.S. is playing catch up with Europe, which has more than 17,400 biogas plants and accounts for two-thirds of the world’s 15 gigawatts of biogas electricity capacity. Denmark alone, a country of 5.8 million people, has more than 160 biogas systems. For a period last summer, 18 percent of the gas consumed in Denmark came from RNG produced by its anaerobic digesters. Flush with their success, Danish bioenergy firms estimate it will be feasible to fully replace the country’s natural gas with renewable natural gas within 20 years.

The former manager of the EPA’s anaerobic digestion programs, Chris Voell, was so impressed with Denmark’s biogas operations — which are highly engineered to digest a mix of household food scraps, residuals from food processing businesses, and livestock manure — that he now works for the Danish Trade Council to introduce Danish digester technology and business models to the U.S market.

As with most climate initiatives, California is leading biogas efforts in the U.S. The state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) — which provides incentives for fuel producers to increase the amount of low-carbon or renewable fuels they supply and sell — is a key component of the state’s ambitious climate plan and has catalyzed the rapid growth of a new, lucrative market for RNG as a vehicle fuel.

A growing crop of specialized firms builds, owns, and operates anaerobic digesters in the U.S.

Companies like Maas Energy Works and California Bioenergy have responded to these incentives by installing digesters at California’s dairy farms at a rapid clip. Maas has built 17 so far, with 12 more under construction and 32 others in development, according to its website. Both companies are racing to take advantage of valuable LCFS incentives.

And both are among a growing crop of specialized, investor-backed firms that build, own, and operate anaerobic digesters in the U.S. “With every day the industry is gaining more credibility,” Voell says. “We’re seeing more professional third-party companies. And in order to see this scale, it takes those professionals to come in and build 10, 20, 50 projects, and access a lot of equity investors. They want a portfolio of projects to invest in, not just one.”

In North Carolina, the abundant feedstock is hog manure. And the latest entrant in the RNG race is Smithfield, the world’s biggest grower of hogs. North Carolina is the second-largest pork-producing state (after Iowa). Each day, more than 2,000 of its hog farms flush manure from 9 million pigs into vast lagoons, which emit equally vast quantities of methane. Ninety percent of those farms are contract growers for Smithfield.

Late last year, Smithfield launched a joint venture, Align RNG, with a Virginia-based utility, Dominion Energy, to invest $250 million in covering lagoons and installing anaerobic digesters at nearly all of its hog finishing farms in North Carolina, Utah, and Missouri over the next 10 years. Construction is already underway on four projects that will produce enough RNG to power 14,000 homes and businesses.

A covered lagoon manure digester on Van Warmerdam Dairy in Galt, California. MAAS ENERGY WORKS

These systems will all be modeled on Optima KV, a biogas project in Kenansville, North Carolina, in the heart of hog country. Last year, Optima KV became the first project in the state to produce and inject RNG into an existing natural gas pipeline.

The factors that made Optima KV possible — along with the waste from 60,000 pigs on five nearby farms, and a centralized system to clean and upgrade the gas — include a state renewable energy portfolio standard law signed in 2007. That law contained a requirement that utilities source at least 0.2 percent of their electricity from swine and poultry waste by 2020. That mandate helped push Duke Energy, one of the biggest utilities in the U.S., to sign a 15-year agreement to purchase 80,000 million BTUs of RNG from Optima KV. That biogas will directly displace the use of fossil natural gas and generate 11,000 megawatt-hours of power in two of Duke’s power plants.

Vanguard’s new operation in Vermont represents an alternative model for scaling up RNG production. The company’s digesters are more complex and expensive — engineered to produce a consistent output of gas even as feedstocks and other conditions change — than the systems being built in California. The California systems basically cover huge dairy waste lagoons with plastic membranes and then extract, refine, and pipe the gas to customers.

“We take a more high-tech approach primarily because we need to produce a lot more gas from a much smaller footprint,” Hanselman says. “We don’t have the luxury of a 10,000-cow dairy.”

RNG has flourished in Europe because of generous subsidy programs that are lacking in the U.S.

Along with the daily stream of 100 tons of manure from the Goodrich farm’s 900 cows, and 165 tons of food waste, a number of factors have come together to make Vanguard’s Vermont project possible. In Middlebury College, Vanguard found a large customer eager to slash its carbon footprint. A new law about to take effect in Vermont will ban food waste from landfills starting in 2020, forcing grocery stores and food processors to find new places to send their waste.

And Goodrich Farm will get free heat, monthly lease payments for hosting the system, and bedding for its cows from the leftover digested solids — cost savings that can offer a lifeline for dairy farmers in a period of disastrously low milk prices.

Hanselman, Vanguard’s CEO, says that a key element to expanding RNG is taking the burden of running the system off of farmers. Hanselman encountered many irate farmers who had negative experiences with a previous generation of digesters that had been sold to them as a low-maintenance, low-cost solution to their nutrient management problems. In fact, digesters are finicky machines, sensitive to changes in temperature and the variability of organic material in feedstocks. Says Hanselman, “We tell our farmers, ‘Your job is to make milk, healthy cows, and take care of your fields and soils. Let us run these machines.’”

RNG has flourished in Europe in part because of generous subsidy programs; such comprehensive policies are lacking on the federal level in the U.S., which has a chaotic patchwork of regional and state markets, utilities, incentives, and policies. But Hanselman and others foresee that in the next several years, more states will mandate renewable natural gas production, further strengthening the fledgling biogas market.

“It feels extremely similar to solar,” says Hanselman, who used to run a solar company. “We are in the early days of RNG. Everyone will be running from program to program trying to figure out which states are beneficial, and how to best get RNG into the marketplace.”

Market forces alone, however, won’t be enough to usher in a biogas revolution. The single policy that could supercharge the growth of biogas and RNG in the U.S., most industry observers and insiders agree, is a federally legislated price on carbon. But given that a carbon tax or comprehensive climate bill aren’t likely to emerge any time soon under the current administration, Hanselman says the next best thing the federal government could do is reinstate the investment tax credit for digester systems, which lapsed in 2016.

Despite these challenges, Voell thinks there is now enough momentum to see biogas finally gain widespread traction as a renewable energy source in the U.S.

“I’m more encouraged now more than ever, because I’m actually seeing some projects getting built,” he says. “The states are stepping up with policies. And we’re seeing a revolution now where gas utilities are coming on board. Utilities wield a lot of power. If they decide RNG is something they’d like to see more of, then we’ll start to see the needle move more on the policy front.”

This article has been republished with the permission of Yale E360. It was originally published at Yale E360.


About the Author

Jonathan Mingle is a freelance journalist who focuses on the environment, climate, and development issues. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, The Boston Globe, and other publications. He lives in Vermont

Canada-based Fund created for investing in Cleantech Start-ups

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To support the development of cleantech companies, four Québec-based institutions are investing US$29 million in the new US$156.5 million Spring Lane Capital Fund I. With their investments, BDC Capital (US$15 million), Fonds de solidarité FTQ (US$7.5 million), Fondaction (US$3.5 million) and Palomino Capital (US$3 million) are looking to finance the start-up and post-start-up phases of cleantech companies, essential actors in the field of sustainable development.

“BDC Capital is pleased to support the launch of Spring Lane’s inaugural fund,” said Alison Nankivell, Vice President, Fund Investments and Global Scaling. “We believe the Spring Lane’s combination of project finance and growth equity for small scale environmental projects will help address a genuine funding gap in the financing chain for cleantech companies.”

“With its innovative and pioneering model, Spring Lane Capital is addressing the main challenge faced by the cleantech sector when it comes to start-up and post-start-up financing. The Fonds de solidarité FTQ’s investment will further help the development of clean technologies right here in Québec,” adds Dany Pelletier, the Fonds’ Vice-President for Investments, Strategic Capital, Energy, Environment and Mines.  

“The model that Spring Lane Capital proposes will enable local companies that are developing innovative technologies to access capital and develop their markets in areas in line with our objectives of sustainable development and the fight against climate change. Furthermore, its expertise in project financing makes it an interesting model for expediting the positive shift in our economy,” continues Marc-André Binette, Deputy Chief Investment Officer at Fondaction.

“We are very happy to support cleantech companies, both locally in Québec and abroad, as they benefit from Spring Lane’s innovative financing model to help grow their business,” declares Gary Alexander, CEO of Palomino Capital.

About BDC Capital
BDC Capital is the investment arm of BDC- Canada’s only bank devoted exclusively to entrepreneurs. With over $3 billion under management, BDC Capital serves as a strategic partner to the country’s most innovative firms. It offers a full spectrum of risk capital, from seed investments to transition capital, supporting Canadian entrepreneurs who wish to scale their businesses into global champions. Visit bdc.ca/capital.

About the Fonds de solidarité FTQ
The Fonds de solidarité FTQ is a development capital investment fund that channels the savings of Quebecers into investments. As at May 31, 2019, the organization had $15.6 billion in net assets, and through its current portfolio of investments supports 215,104 jobs. The Fonds is a partner in 3,126 companies and today has more than 700,000 shareholder-savers.

About Fondaction
Fondaction distinguishes itself through its investments, which are aimed at supporting, promoting and encouraging sustainable development. It manages assets in excess of $2 billion collected as retirement savings from more than 170,000 shareholders.
Fondaction supports the development of more than 1,200 SMEs, many of which are social economy enterprises. It helps create and maintain jobs and reduce inequalities, and contributes to the fight against climate change. Fondaction reduced the carbon footprint of its equity market investments by 51% between 2015 and 2018. For more information, go to fondaction.com or visit our LinkedIn page.

About Palomino Capital
Palomino Capital Corp. is a Montreal-based family office. We deploy proprietary capital across a broad spectrum of asset classes including alternative asset managers, bespoke private credit facilities, direct private equity and real estate.

New Guideline related to Construction, Renovation, and Demolition Waste Management

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The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) has posted a Guide for Identifying, Evaluating and Selecting Policies for Influencing Construction, Renovation and Demolition Waste Management.

Construction, renovation and demolition (CRD) wastes make up one of the largest solid waste streams in Canada. This waste comes at a significant cost: it is expensive to manage, poses risks to human health and the environment, and represents a missed opportunity to recover value from
discarded materials. Consequently, there are strong social, economic and ecological imperatives to both reduce the rate of CRD waste generation and increase the quantities diverted from disposal.

This guide provides decision-makers with high-level guidance for identifying, evaluating and selecting effective policies for influencing CRD waste management. This includes reducing the amount of waste generated by CRD activities, decreasing the amount of CRD waste that is disposed, lessening the environmental impacts of the CRD waste that is disposed, and
strengthening the markets for, and value of, diverted CRD materials.

Reducing the amount of CRD waste heading to landfill is a complicated task, and there is no single policy that can address the issue on its own. CRD waste reduction and diversion requires a comprehensive approach. Successful jurisdictions use a combination of policies that are tailored
to their unique regional political, economic and market conditions. Policymakers can leverage a three-step process for evaluating CRD waste management policies:

  • Assess: The starting point is to assess the regional context to determine the current state of CRD waste management and identify the materials and systems with the greatest potential for reduction or diversion.
  • Prioritize: The second step is to establish a set of goals and select a short list of strategies and policy measures that are most closely aligned with the regional priorities, needs and context. This may include setting diversion targets and identifying priority materials, construction life-cycle stages and actors for action.
  • Evaluate: The final step is to assess the potential benefits and impacts of each policy and decide on a path forward.

Looping you in on Loop: An evolution in waste management, or a work in progress?

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Written by Calvin Lakhan, Ph.D, Co-Investigator: “The Waste Wiki” – Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University

Terracycle’s Loop program has turned the world of packaging waste on its head, largely seen as the first major initiative to encourage the reuse of consumer packaging in lieu of recycling. The initiative has been warmly received by both CPG companies and consumers alike, with initial reviews touting it as being an evolution in how packaging is designed and used by households.

For those who may not be familiar with Loop (although that would genuinely surprising given the press it has received), it is premised on developing reusable packaging solutions for common consumer items such as detergent, hand soap, cereal, condiments etc. The program, which is backed by industry giants such as Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, Coca-Cola and more, promises to help move consumers away from a consumption-disposal model, to one in which we strive for zero waste.

Participating households are able to place an order online, and receive various durable products (ranging from groceries, general household items and personal care) which is shipped in Loop’s exclusively designed shipping tote. After use, consumers can place the empty containers into their Loop totes, and go online to schedule an in home pickup. These items are then returned to a Loop partner facility where the package is then sanitized, cleaned and refilled, and finally shipped back to the consumer to be reused again.

Why was Loop created?

For much of the past 30 years, the waste management system has tended to fixate on the “recyclability” of packaging. In spite of the waste management hierarchy which prioritizes waste reduction and reuse over recycling, recycling has largely been promoted as the preferred end of life scenario for consumer packaging goods. While this approach has been reasonably successful, the proliferation of difficult to recycle light weight and composite materials, coupled with deteriorating end markets for recycled goods, has forced the waste management industry think of new and innovative ways to promote diversion.

Loop offers a convenient solution to this problem, in that it is premised on a closed loop system where products can be reused again and again, to assist in both minimizing packaging waste and reducing the need to generate new packaging.

Conceptually, this seems like a great idea – encouraging both brand owners and consumers to embrace a reuse model has the potential to radically transform our waste management system. However, is the program successful (and feasible) in practice? Let’s find out.

An issue of efficiency, economics and equity

I want to preface this next section by saying that I am actually supportive of what Loop could represent and achieve in the future. There is certainly a need to pursue new avenues with respect to diversion, and reuse seems like a logical choice with respect to packaging waste.

However, if we begin to examine both the economic and environmental impacts of Loop’s logistics and collection network, the benefits of the program become a lot more murky.

Simply put, it is extremely inefficient to have an individual product shipped to a consumer, and have that product subsequently shipped back at the discretion of the household. This issue is exacerbated in instances where take back facilities are not located in close proximity to markets in which the product is being consumed.

A distance too far: Environmental and economic impacts of transportation

As an intellectual exercise, consider the following scenario. A household that subscribes to Loop’s program decides to purchase reusable cereal and oatmeal containers. Every other week, this household will return these containers back to Loop, where the containers are then cleaned and refilled, and subsequently shipped back to the household. That is 52 unique trips in a calendar year (to both send and receive the reusable package), in which containers are traveling potentially hundreds of kilometers per trip before arriving at its destination.

Now imagine if this same household decides to tell 10 of their family and friends to join the Loop program. Unless all households coordinate when to send and return their packaging, we now have 520 unique trips in which reusable packaging is being transported.

While I do not have any specific data with respect to where Loop take back facilities are located, let’s consider a scenario wherein the take back facility is located 100, 250 and 500km away.

Every year, the reusable containers being used by each household are being transported between 5200km, 13000km and 26000km respectively (depending on the transport scenario). This is for a single household, using a single product that weighs between 150 and 400 grams (weight is contingent on the material being used for the reusable containers).

The carbon footprint of transportation is potentially enormous, sufficiently so that it offsets the environmental savings of using a reusable package. In our above scenario (assuming that the average reusable cereal container weighs approximately 400g), it would take roughly 2500 packages to make up just one tonne of material. That one tonne of material represents more than 13 MILLION kilometers traveled to collect and resend reusable packaging, assuming each package is shipped back individually (using an assumption of every other week, and a default transportation distance of 100km). This translates into roughly 1950 TCO2e of transport emissions per tonne managed. This figure only becomes more astronomical the further away the take back facility is away from the point of generation.

I wish I could say the above represented a worst case scenario, but the reality is that take back programs must find ways to economically consolidate and transport their material, and ensure that receiving facilities are located in close proximity to the market in which the reusable package is being sold.

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 its 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.

However, the nature of Loop’s take back program is that households are asked to return their used packaging back to specific facilities to be cleaned and reused. There is no clear guidance regarding how much or how often material should be shipped back, as that is largely left to the discretion of the consumer.

From a convenience perspective, this has been a significant boon for well-intentioned citizens who want to participate in reuse initiatives without disrupting consumption and disposal habits.

The obvious drawback is that such a system is neither environmentally or economically tenable.

In June of 2019, York University published a white paper that specifically examined the merits of decentralized logistics networks, and used coffee pods as a case study to calculate the environmental and economic impacts of take back programs (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1rfERnYLOIhPsHcPA7JHf-BxPvErSiezB/view)

This study goes into greater detail surrounding how to quantify environmental and economic impacts, but the key take away is that the cost (both environmental and economic) is prohibitive unless households are able to transport large volumes of material at once. In the absence of achieving that “critical mass” of material, the take back model does not work in the vast majority of instances (a potential exception is when a receiving facility is located in the same market in which the product is being sold).

An issue of equity: Environmentalism for those that can afford it

Setting aside concerns surrounding the practical economic and environmental impacts of Loop, what is of greater interest to me on a personal level is that a subscription service excludes some households from participating on the basis of cost.

Products offered by loop require a mandatory deposit, ranging in value from $0.47 for a Coca Cola bottle to $47 for a Pampers Diaper Bin (https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2019/01/business/loop-reusable-packaging-mission-ahead/index.html).

Households are also required to pay a shipping fee of $15 unless a minimum of $100 worth of product is purchased.

While these sums may not seem like much, by its very nature, it will exclude households who are unable to absorb an increase in costs for their groceries and other household necessities. Waste management suddenly becomes a tiered model – pay to participate in reuse initiatives, or rely on municipal waste collections services who may not offer reuse as an option.

Most recent academic research shows that stated levels of environmental concern is consistent across all income groups. The vast majority of people, irrespective of income, want the opportunity to be good environmental citizens and participate in activities that lead to more sustainable outcomes. However, poor and marginalized groups often have impeded access to waste management services (i.e. lack of clean waste rooms, lack of recycling and green bin programs in multi residential buildings etc.).

Programs such as Loop further reinforce the notion that environmentalism is a luxury for those that can afford it, and it’s not entirely clear to me how such a program can be scaled out without addressing how to be inclusive and ensure participation of vulnerable and low income groups.

In waste management, we often forget that sustainability is made up of more than just environmental and economic considerations. The social dimension of sustainability is equally critical, and in my opinion, it would be in the best interests of both brand owners and service providers to address issues of inclusion.

The road to the landfill is paved with good intentions

Despite the aforementioned criticism, Loop should be applauded for pioneering the field of reuse for consumer packaging. Historically, printed paper and packaging has never been seen as a durable good, and has almost exclusively been characterized as single use. Loop offers the opportunity to think “Beyond the Blue Box”, and get both households and brand owners to think about the importance of reuse as a diversion strategy.

If we are to have any hopes of achieving a zero waste future, reuse will inevitably play a critical role, however, we have to be extremely careful about what systems we have in place to encourage it.

As noted in this piece, there are serious concerns surrounding the economic and environmental tenability of Loop’s current approach. Perhaps more alarmingly, nobody seems to be questioning whether this is a good idea or not (and whether it needs to be re-examined). The uptake by major CPG companies in both supporting and promoting Loop has been unprecedented – companies recognize the utility of attaching themselves to an initiative that seemingly provides a solution to the single use problem. However, in the rush to be seen as an innovator in the reuse space, we may be losing sight of what we are ultimately trying to achieve.

The goal of a waste management system should ideally be to promote optimal environmental, economic and social outcomes. Emphasizing either recycling, or reuse only matters when that particular approach helps us achieve our overarching goals of sustainability. If it doesn’t, we have to be prepared to “throw it away” and try something new. 


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.

Toronto wants to power its trash trucks with food waste

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Written by Charlotte Edmond, World Economic Forum

Toronto residents’ trash will soon be powering the collection of yet more trash. The Canadian city says it wants to become one of the first in North America to convert biogas created from organic waste into fuel to power its refuse collection vehicles, generate electricity and heat homes.

The closed-loop system is set to be operational from March 2020, when the city’s food scraps and biodegradable waste will start being taken to a newly constructed anaerobic digestion facility for processing. The biogas released will be captured and converted to renewable natural gas (RNG) – and then injected into the city’s natural gas grid.

The system will significantly reduce the carbon footprint of Toronto’s waste fleet, with estimates suggesting the facility will be able to produce enough gas each year to power the majority of its collection vehicles.

Since 2010, Toronto has been gradually transitioning away from diesel-powered trucks to quieter, more environmentally friendly ones. The city has also constructed a number of RNG refuelling stations.

Once in the grid, the gas could also be used for electricity or heating.

A circular approach

Both biogas and gas created by waste in landfill can be upgraded to create RNG by removing carbon dioxide and other contaminants. The biogas produced from Toronto’s food waste is currently flared – or burnt off – which the city notes is standard industry practice, but does not take advantage of its potential as a renewable power source.

As part of its ambition to become a circular economy, Toronto hopes to create four RNG processing sites, producing gas from two of its anaerobic digestion facilities for organic waste and two of its landfill sites. Once they are up and running, the city says they will be able to produce the gas equivalent of taking 35,000 cars off the road for a year.

RNG is considered a carbon negative product, because the overall reduction in emissions from not using fossil fuels and sending organic waste to landfill outweighs the emissions from using and creating RNG.

The problem of food waste

Globally, food makes up a huge part of our waste. Around a third of all the food produced globally is never eaten.

Image: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

If food waste were a country it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. When you take into account the carbon footprint created by growing, harvesting, transporting, processing and storing food, the waste is almost equivalent to global road transport emissions.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum. This article has been republished under the permission of the World Economic Forum under their Terms of Use. It was first published on the World Economic Forum website.


The plastic dilemma: half of the 348 million tons of plastic produced per year becomes waste

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According to a report recently issued by Statista, the world is experiencing a severe plastic waste crisis, primarily due to the enormous amount of plastic manufactured and the state of plastic waste management. Globally, manufactures produce 348 million tons of plastic each year, compared to 1.5 million tons in 1950. In Europe, only 30% of plastic waste gets recycled, meaning it is collected and treated but not entirely returned into the production system. In the most recent DossierPlus on the topic, researchers from Statista present the status quo of plastic waste treatment and how plastic impacts the environment.

Europe alone produces 60 million tons of plastic. Drastic measures taken by the European Environmental Agency (EEA) have shown to be vital in reducing potentially ruinous levels of waste generation. The measures aim mostly on reducing the use of single-use plastics and packaging, as those are the biggest culprits when it comes to plastic waste. The data reveals significant differences in selected EU countries when it comes to waste treatment. In Germany, for instance, only 0.1 percent of plastic packaging ends up in landfills, while Spain reported 38.2 percent of packaging in landfills.

Data looking at the trade of plastic reveals the potential impact of China banning the importation of foreign plastic waste in 2018. The measure shocked the global scrap trade and forced western countries to rethink the recycling agenda. According to the University of Georgia’s forecasts, by 2030, almost 111 million tons of plastic waste worldwide will need to be processed elsewhere, if China continues its ban of plastic disposal.

The DossierPlus also investigates the negative impacts of plastic production on the environment, including its impact on emissions and therefore climate change, as well as health risks caused by pollution.

Discarded plastic degrades into small particles that contaminate the environment. These microplastics end up in oceans, fishes’ organs and even the human food chain and are intentionally added to a long list of products in the cosmetic industry. Most clothing is also made from synthetic fabric containing plastic microfibers which additionally end up in wastewaters.

With bio-based plastic as a controversial alternative for sustainability, the report suggests rethinking the lifecycle of plastic products starting from material design. The full report is available here.

Fun with Waste: Beach Scavenger finds waxy lump of waste worth $800,000

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According to an article in the Daily Mail, a Thai man scavenging a beach in south Thailand found a waxy lump of waste purportedly worth 800,000 (Cdn.). The waxy lump is believed to be whale vomit. If that is the case, it could be very valuable as whale vomit is used in the perfume industry.

Beach scavenger Surachet Chanchu (pictured) found a 37 lbs waxy lump that he believes is valuable whale vomit worth more than $800,000 (Cdn)

Windsor scores a 96% recycling rate in demolition of its Old City Hall

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96.5% waste recycling rate for old city hall demolition saves money, helps environment. Hardly anything except hazardous material went into a landfill from demolition of the old Windsor city hall, a recycling feat being hailed as “truly remarkable.

Most of the old city hall building has been recycled.

When the project began, the city was hoping to achieve an 80 to 85% recycle rate from materials left behind from the demolition of the old building, including crushing the concrete on site and reusing it is as backfill where the old foundation was removed.

This effort was made to save money on both backfill and the cost that would have been involved to transfer material to the landfill, not to mention the environmental benefits.

Budget Environmental Disposal, the contractor tasked with this project, reports that the actual waste diversion achieved was 96.5%.

Of 8,301.13 metric tonnes of waste, only 283 ended up in landfill.

HSBC Canada launches Green Finance products to support Canadian businesses

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HSBC Bank Canada is supporting Canadian companies to meet their environmental and sustainability goals with the launch of new Green Finance products, the first of their kind in Canada aligned to the Loan Market Association’s Green Loan Principles.

The new range – available for businesses of all sizes from small to medium enterprises (SMEs) through to large corporates – includes term loans, commercial mortgages and leasing products.

Linda Seymour, Head of Commercial Banking at HSBC Bank Canada, said: “As companies look to become more sustainable, they are investing in green projects and activities. We can continue to support their aspirations through our Green Finance products, which support businesses as they pursue sustainable and environmentally-focused activities.”

HSBC’s latest Navigator survey reveals that 95% of Canadian businesses are feeling the pressure to be more sustainable. Their top motivations in implementing sustainability practices are to grow sales (29%), improve their employer brand (24%) or improve transparency and traceability of their products (22%).ii

The Green Finance range includes:

Term Loans
The minimum Green Loan starts at $500,000, enabling a broad range of companies to access finance to support sustainability projects.

Commercial Mortgages
Access loans for purchasing new property, as well as refinancing or making sustainability improvements to existing buildings.

Leasing
Leasing allows companies to use their working capital to keep their business running, instead of financing long-term green assets.

A green loan allows customers to showcase their green credentials to stakeholders by demonstrating that a portion of their funding is ring-fenced for green activities. Green credentials are becoming increasingly important for businesses providing goods or services to large enterprise customers, as these organizations need to demonstrate their supply chain’s sustainability credentials, either to employees or investors.

Targray, a major international provider of innovative materials for photovoltaic manufacturers – and a long-time HSBC Canada customer – is the type of company that might benefit from HSBC’s Green Finance products. CFO Michel Tardif, said: “Targray is focused on supporting the growth and sustainability of novel energy industries through collaboration, innovation and value creation. To do that, we need partners who understand how to financially support companies in their sustainability efforts. We are glad to be working collaboratively with HSBC to create new solutions that fuel the world’s transition towards sustainable energy. Their green loan offering is certainly a step in the right direction.”

Linda Seymour added: “Businesses have asked for products that are aligned to their sustainability goals, and we are confident this suite of Green Finance products will support them.”

HSBC Bank Canada has aligned its Green Finance offering to the Loan Market Association’s Green Loan Principles – a set of market standards and guidelines providing a consistent methodology for use across the wholesale green loan market. This initiative forms part of HSBC’s global commitment to provide $100 billion in sustainable financing and investment by 2025.

Eligible activities include:

  • Renewable energy, including storage and smart grids;
  • Pollution prevention and control, including reduction of air emissions and greenhouse gas control;
  • Clean transportation;
  • Climate change adaptation;
  • Sustainable water and wastewater management;
  • Sustainable management of living and natural resources and land use;
  • Waste prevention, reduction, recycling; waste to energy; products from waste.

HSBC Bank Canada
HSBC Bank Canada, a subsidiary of HSBC Holdings plc, is the leading international bank in the country. We help companies and individuals across Canada to do business and manage their finances internationally through three global business lines: Commercial Banking, Global Banking and Markets, and Retail Banking and Wealth Management.

City of Kamloops to ban cardboard in Landfills

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The City of Kamloops, British Columbia is the latest municipality looking to ban a recyclable material from landfill. In the case of this south-central BC community of 90,000, IC&I cardboard is the target.

In an interview with Kamloops This Week, Glen Farrow, the city’s environmental services manager, stated: “We’re still seeing some businesses, some loads coming to our landfills from some of the other private haulers in town, with a large percentage of all their waste is cardboard,” city environmental services manager Glen Farrow told KTW. “In those particular cases, why can’t that be separated? Why can’t that be diverted?”

Currently, the City collects residential cardboard curbside and delivers it to the Emterra waste processing facility, the only location in Kamloops that recyclings cardboard. Cardboard generated by the IC&I sector is collected by the City on a piecemeal basis. Most businesses pay to have their cardboard hauled privately.

The city is considering the ban on cardboard in landfills as part of a region-wide initiative,that will put the onus back on businesses to find an alternative way to dispose of the material.

“It’s the lowest-hanging fruit,” Farrow said in his interview with Kamloops Today. “We’ve been talking about commercial recycling for years and, based on the global markets, soft plastics, mixed paper — all those are challenging in finding an end market. The product that has the greatest value and the ability to be pulled out more easily from your product mix is cardboard.”

With Emterra being the only cardboard recycler in the City, there are issues when cardboard loads are not accepted at the facility due to contamination. If a landfill ban is in place, there will only be expensive out-of-city options for cardboard management.