Automakers Charge Headlong Into EV Battery Recovery

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Written by Jonathan D. Cocker, Baker McKenzie

There has certainly been rapid growth in the market for electric vehicles (EV), in part due to their associated (and celebrated) environmental attributes.  What receives much less attention, however, is the looming waste-management challenge, particularly for EV lithium-ion batteries (LIBs).  The proliferation of post-consumer LIBs has yet to fully materialize given the recent installation of long-life LIBs across multiple vehicle industries, but the environmental price for the switch to EV will soon be paid by EV makers.

Currently, brands are scrambling to both develop their EV offerings and determine their resource recovery strategies around LIBs, which will be a source of strategic elements and critical materials for key components in new EVs, as well as a coming materials efficiency compliance obligations internationally.  So just where does LIB recycling stand today?

Re-Use as Energy Storage or Charging Stations

Recently, there has been some positive attention paid to the re-use opportunities for end-of-life LIBS – either as energy storage units or as part of EV charging stations- which Re-use is an accepted method of resource recovery, including under regulated LIB circular economy laws so there may well be a portion (however small) of post-consumer LIBs which are deployed for these projects.

The metals content of LIBs, however, is sufficiently valuable and the coming demand for LIBs is so great that the lithium-ion battery recycling industry will necessarily take the lion’s share of available batteries, even though the content of the LIBs continues to rapidly evolve as the technology develops.  Specific recovery goals applied to LIBs is a moving target right now.

LIBs and Eco-Design

Remanufacturing is permissible, if not encouraged, as a resource recovery activity under most legal regimes. For LIBs, this usually requires the disassembly of the LIB to at least the module level.  This will require high-voltage training and specialized tools to protect the operators and the battery from electrocution and short-circuiting risks, respectively.  There are also potentially toxic gases released in the process.

All of which highlights a key industry question- will there be eco-design rules such as right-to-repair disclosure and accessibility obligations upon the brands and their LIB providers, particularly given the variance in LIBS emerging across the vehicle spectrum.  The EU Right-to-Repair obligations for other e-waste, such as lighting, televisions and large appliances are set to apply within Europe as of April 1st, 2020 under the EU Eco-Design Resource Efficiency Standards.  It can be anticipated that similar accessibility obligations, including perhaps labelling and design data disclosures, could apply to LIBs in spite of the acute safety concerns.

Recycling, But Without Common Standards

The recycling of LIBs is certainly complicated by the myriad of physical configurations, cell types and chemistries, however leading companies are beginning this challenge through innovative process technologies capable of recycling a diverse feed of lithium-ion batteries.  Still, design-for-recycling of LIBs is not likely too far away and there are already state-of-the-art processing facilities in Europe and North America that engage in some recycling combination of stabilization, opening and separation of the LIB.

Proprietary LIB Recycling v. Industry Solution

Like every resource recovery market, there are EV brands which are seeking to develop market leading “closed loop” processes for their materials, through significant direct capital investment and / or strategic partnerships with the LIB maker and the specialized recycler.  These processes involve centralization of receiving and processing, with a heavy reliance on custom automated processing which may permit sorting for some combination of remanufacturing, re-use and recycling.  In the near term, these investments are likely to remain proprietary to the individual brands with limited accessibility to the rest of the industry.

For the remainder of the brands, the resource recovery pull will come either from the LIB maker servicing multiple brands or the local LIB recycling industries quickly growing around the pending demand, whether driven by waste diversion or circular economy requirements.  For now, there is likely more splintering and less convergence in the near term as brands come to fully develop their EV offerings, leaving legacy challenges for LIB recyclers in the years to come.

Two regulatory pushes will eventually bring needed standardization to LIBs: consistency of EV charging as an accessibility right; and circular economy / materials efficiency obligations for end-of-life LIBs as environmental compliance for EV industries.  However, as to when common standards (and common chemistries) are adopted is anyone’s guess.

This article has been republished with the permission of the author. It was first published on the Baker McKenzie website.


About the Author

Jonathan D. Cocker heads Baker McKenzie’s Environmental Practice Group in Canada and is an active member of the firm’s Global Consumer Goods & Retail and Energy, Mining and Infrastructure groups. Mr. Cocker provides advice and representation to multinational companies on a variety of environmental and product compliance matters, including extended producer responsibilities, dangerous goods transportation, GHS, regulated wastes, consumer product and food safety, and contaminated lands matters. He assisted in the founding of one of North America’s first Circular Economy Producer Responsibility Organizations and provides advice and representation to a number of domestic and international industry groups in respect of resource recovery obligations.

Fun with Waste: Enviro Kids Camp

The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador offers a summer camp for kids called “Enviro Kids“. The summer camp activities are designed to engage children aged 5-8 years in environmental learning in a fun and interactive way. 

The camp includes opportunities for kids to discover the natural world and help protect our planet. In this fun-filled week, Enviro-Kids embarks on a journey of fun games and activities as they explore the 3Rs and composting. Camp participants also enjoy nature hikes, educational games, arts and crafts and discover the secret to organic magic.

Alberta Researchers develop method of accelerating anaerobic digestion up to 70%

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Researchers from the University of Alberta claim they have developed a method that accelerates the anaerobic digestion process by up to 70 percent. The key step to speed up the anaerobic degradation process is the addition of conductive materials to the feedstock such as granular activated carbon.

Environmental engineering master’s student Bappi Chowdhury (left) and supervisor Bipro Dhar in the lab with a “digester” they are developing that uses microbes to convert a mixture of food waste and fat, oil and grease into renewable biomethane. (Photo: Sean Townsend, Folio)

Environmental engineering master’s student Bappi Chowdhury and his colleagues at the University of Alberta found that the added activated carbon in the feedstock functions as a hub for microbes looking to dump or pick up electrons as part of biochemical processes. 

The results from the granular activated carbon to the organic feedstock of the anaerobic digester resulted in decomposition times being reduced from 20 to 25 days to just seven. The researchers also tested the degradation rate with the addition of the rock mineral magnetite and found similar, although not as effective, results.

Researchers also experiments with different levels of food waste with fats, oils, and grease (FOG). Based on there testing, they found that a mixture of 70 percent food waste and 30 percent FOG resulted in the fasted anaerobic digestion.

The supervisor of the research, Dr. Bipro Dhar, noted in an interview with Folio, the U of Alberta journal, “More work will first be needed. That means looking for even better and cheaper conductive materials, economic feasibility studies and scaled-up pilot projects.” 

Ontario Company Fined $10,000 for unapproved waste site

Coco Paving Inc., a paving company that operates an asphalt plant in Belleville, was recently fined $10,000 plus a victim surcharge of $2,500 for burning waste at its site without an Environmental Compliance Approval from the Ontario Environment Ministry.

The initial investigation stemmed from Environment Ministry staff responding to a complaint from the public about smoke coming from the site. A site inspection revealed that the company was burning various waste materials from its business processes.  Environment Ministry records showed that Coco Paving did not have a valid ministry approval to be carrying out these activities. 

An investigation resulted in one charge being laid which resulted in one conviction. 

Economic Study of Canadian Plastics Industry, Markets, and Waste

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You may have missed a significant study published by Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC) last year on the Canadian plastics industry that included an examination of the waste. The scope of the study encompassed most plastics types used across all key sectors. It attempted to shed light on the entire plastics value chain in Canada, from raw material production and products manufacturing to use and end-of-life.

The study concludes that landfilling 87% of plastic waste represents a $7.8 billion lost opportunity. By 2030, it is estimated that Canada’s lost opportunity related to unrecovered plastics could rise to CA$11.1 billion, under a business as usual scenario following the same end uses and value recovery performance as the current baseline.

Domestically recycled “secondary” plastics output accounted for approximately CA$350 million in sales in Canada in 2016. In comparison with the sales of its primary resin competitor, it is 30 times smaller. The recycling industry focuses on polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP) and is predominantly located in large end-markets providing easier access to plastic waste feedstock, such as in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

The main generating sectors for plastic waste are packaging (43 percent of total plastic waste), automotive (9 percent), textiles (7 percent), and electrical and electronic equipment (EEE 7 percent). The construction sector, while an important end-use market (accounting for 26 percent of plastic put on the market), is not yet a large plastic waste generator (5 percent), given the fairly recent incorporation of plastics in construction (in the 1980s and 90s) that remains ‘stocked’ in houses and buildings; this situation could change in future years with construction renewal. Under a business as usual situation, the linear profile of the Canadian plastics economy is not going to improve given forecasted trends in waste streams and economic drivers.

Ambitious Recycling Plan

An ambitious 2030 scenario was developed as part of the study to model the potential costs and benefits of achieving zero plastic waste. This scenario used a 90% landfill diversion rate as a proxy for zero plastic waste and assumed that: i) plastics production and end use applications increased but followed the same patterns as in 2016, ii) mechanical recycling was quadrupled from its business as usual level; iii) chemical recycling was significantly scaled up, taking into account readiness levels and associated learning curves and iv) energy from waste was leveraged to deal with the remaining volumes and hard-to-recycle plastics.

The 90% recycling scenario is not a prediction or a recommendation: it is an illustration of what zero plastic waste could look like given current product designs and emerging value recovery technologies. Changes in plastic production and design would open the door to higher value recycling and recovery options. However, even without such changes, a preliminary comparative analysis shows that 90% recyclingwould deliver significant benefits to Canada in comparison to business as usual: CA$500 million of annual costs avoided, 42,000 direct and indirect jobs created, and annual greenhouse gas emissions savings of 1.8Mt of CO2 eq.

About the Study

The report then describes future scenarios up to 2030, highlighting potential paths for the plastics value chain, in particular relating to end-of-life performance. The report then presents a high-level economic, environmental and social impact assessment to discuss the scenarios and their feasibility. Finally, the report introduces a review of policy measures that could be implemented to support the growth of the secondary plastics markets in Canada.

ECC funded and coordinated the study. It was conducted by a consortium the included Deloitte and Cheminfo Services.

CleanFarms sets up plastic recycling pilot for Alberta Farms

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The Agricultural Plastics Recycling Group (APRG) through Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) are moving ahead with their three-year pilot to collect plastic twine and grain bags from Alberta farmers.  The program is being run by CleanFarms, a Canadian non-profit industry stewardship organization committed to environmental responsibility through the proper management of agricultural packaging and product waste.

Funding for the program is coming from the Alberta government and the administered by the Alberta Beef Producers are responsible for administering it.

Under the pilot program, farmers can drop off plastic at 20 collection sites around the province. Details on collection sites are online at the Collection Sites page at cleanfarms.ca.

Cleanfarms, who is responsible for running the Alberta pilot program, also runs grain bag recycling programs in Saskatchewan, and empty container recycling in Manitoba and Quebec.

Grain bags and twine represent 50% of all plastics generated on-farm in Alberta. The other 50% of plastics not included in the pilot collection are bale wrap and silage plastic, netting, supersacks, greenhouse film and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) containers.

Currently, there are two facilities in North America recycling grain bags; one in Canada and one in the USA. Current markets are washing and pelletizing grain bags for use in other blow-molding applications. More infrastructure is currently being built in Western Canada.

With respect to twine recycling, there are two recycling facilities in the United States. One recycler is washing and pelletizing for re-manufacture and the other is cleaning and shredding for use in the roofing industry.

Saskatoon’s considering Recycling and Organics programs for IC&I Sector

The City of Saskatoon, is considering options for requirements for recycling and organics for the Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional (IC&I) sector. At present, the Administration is recommending that the IC&I sector be required to have separate containers for garbage and recycling and, if food or yard waste is generated as part of operations, a separate container for organics. Implementing this approach will involve an amendment to the City’s Waste Bylaw.

“A more comprehensive organics and recycling program is critical to achieving our waste diversion goals and extending the life of our landfill,” says Jeanna South, Director of Sustainability. “This cannot fall only on residents; Saskatoon businesses and organizations must participate when it comes to waste diversion and environmental leadership.”

The IC&I sector generates 68% of all garbage sent to Saskatoon and area landfills, with approximately 45% (75,800 tonnes) representing recyclables or organics that could be diverted.

“24% of what is landfilled by the City is from the IC&I sector, which represents a significant diversion opportunity that can’t be ignored,” adds South.

Option 1, being recommended by the Administration comes with the following requirements from members of the IC&I sector:

  • Separate and labelled containers for recycling and garbage
  • A separate container for organics if food or yard waste is generated as part of operations
  • Education on how to properly sort and store materials for employees and tenants
  • Ensuring removal and proper disposal of waste

To support this proposed program, the City engaged with 870 participants from businesses and organizations through workshops, online surveys, and face-to-face meetings.

The 2019 IC&I Waste and Recycling Survey and the 2019 Waste and Recycling Survey (residential) revealed high levels of support from residents, businesses and organizations for the implementation of recycling and organics requirements for the IC&I sector.  Saskatoon’s diversion rate is one of the lowest in Canada when benchmarked against other Canadian cities.

“The recommended option comes at a lower cost than the others, and has been successfully implemented in other municipalities,” says South. “It will give us the best chance of meeting residents’ expectations of the ICI sector and achieving our waste diversion goals.”

Option 1 was the most preferred mandatory approach by stakeholders. The Waste Diversion Options Fact Sheet provides a more detailed comparison of the options presented.

Record Investments in Start-ups focused on waste packaging reduction

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According to an article in CrunchBase, there has been a record investment in cleantech start-ups focused on waste packaging reduction.

According to CrunchBase data, there are at least seven companies over the past three years that have raised over $20 million (U.S.) in capital that are in that are focused on sustainable packaging.

The eco-packaging start-up that has raised the most capital, Zume, originally started out as robot-enabled pizza prep and delivery business before pivoting to sustainable packaging after acquiring a company called Pivot Package. The company is focused on reducing the amount of food that is wasted by attempting to balance the supply and demand for food. Zume uses real-time food consumption data and predictive analytics to help food companies better predict demand, connect it with production and drive better resource decisions down the food supply chain.

One of the seven start-ups noted in the database is Ontario-based GreenMantra Technologies, a company that produces value-added synthetic waxes, polymer additives, and other chemicals from recycled plastic. GreenMantra claims that it is the first company in the world to up-cycle post-consumer and post-industrial recycled plastics into synthetic polymers and additives that meet specific performance requirements for industrial applications.

New Plastics Recycling Technology developed in Italy

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Saipem, an Italian company specializing in engineering, construction and drilling services and in the energy and infrastructure sectors, recently announced that it has signed a license agreement with ITEA S.p.A, another Italian company that has a patent for a plastics recycling technology. Under the agreement, Saipem will test the technology.

Originally designed for applications in the oil&gas sector, the technology is particularly suited to solid urban waste disposal, in particular unsorted plastic.

According to the two companies, plastic recycling from differentiated waste has been rather limited. Their review of recent studies leads to the conclusion that only 30% of material collected is recycled, leaving unsolved the problem of “Plasmix”, non-recyclable mixed plastics consisting of a group of heterogeneous plastics included in post-consumption wrappings which cannot be recovered as single polymers.

Mauro Piasere, COO of Saipem’s XSIGHT Division, stated in a news release, “Plastic recycling is an objective of great interest to Saipem, although further studies and technologies are required. The widespread application of the oxy-combustion process could facilitate recovery of the precious energy content of waste plastics while avoiding their dispersion. Use of this technology confirms our ability to adapt oil&gas technologies to new market demands and to support our clients by providing them with solutions targeted at achieving greater sustainability”.

ITEA technology involves a particular process of plastic decomposition called “flameless oxy-combustion”. This produces water, energy and pure CO2, which is not emitted into the atmosphere, but which is ideal for use as a product destined for the market.

ITEA claims that its process is very flexible, relatively simple and can be exploited even in small-sized facilities. If the testing is successful, it will demonstrate that it can recycle Plasmix in a sustainable way.

New York Enacts Legislation Requiring Paint Manufacturers to Establish a Program for Collection and Recycling of Unused Consumer Paint

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Written by Aaron Goldberg and Sarah Kettenmann , Beveridge & Diamond PC

New Yorkers will soon have a convenient way to ensure that their unwanted and unused paints are properly recycled. On December 16, 2019, Governor Cuomo signed into law the Postconsumer Paint Collection Program, a law that requires paint producers to collect, transport, reuse, recycle, and properly dispose of postconsumer paint in an environmentally sound manner. It applies to “architectural paint,” or “interior and exterior architectural coatings sold in containers of five gallons or less.” Architectural paint does not include industrial, original equipment or specialty coatings.

The law requires paint producers (either individually or collectively, for example through a non-profit organization) to register with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (“NYDEC”) by July 1, 2020, and pay a registration fee. As part of the registration process, each producer or collective organization must submit its plan to comply with the new law, including its paint acceptance program, treatment, storage, transportation and disposal plan, and a list of locations within New York where consumers may drop off unused paint (which may include some municipal waste collection facilities, retail stores, and other facilities). 

Within 6 months after NYDEC approves the plan (or by January 1, 2021, if that comes later), the producers or collective organization must begin to implement their plans for collection and recycling/reuse/disposal of unused consumer paint. Paint manufacturers must also provide educational materials to help raise consumer awareness of the unused paint collection program.

The program will be financed by a new fee added to the price of architectural paint sold to retailers and distributors in the state (which may be passed on to consumers). The collection sites identified in the plan of the producers or collective organization are prohibited from charging for receipt of the postconsumer paints.  

Other states have already enacted similar paint stewardship programs, with help from the American Coatings Association and the Product Stewardship Institute.

This law is yet another step forward for New York’s growing Product Stewardship Initiative to address the health, safety, environmental, and social impacts of products and their packaging throughout all lifecycle stages. The State has adopted mandatory product stewardship requirements for managing several categories of products at their end of life, including electronics, rechargeable batteries, and mercury thermostats.  It has more limited programs for other end-of-life products, including beverage containers, cell phones, plastic bags, lead acid batteries, and waste tires.

This are was republished with the permission of the authors. It was first published on the Beveridge & Diamond website.


Aaron Goldberg applies his encyclopedic knowledge of hazardous waste regulatory law to help companies comply under federal and state laws—throughout all 50 states—and abroad. He holds an advanced degree in chemistry, has extensive training in economics, and is a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency consultant. His unique, multidisciplinary background—law, science, economics, and government—informs nearly every aspect of his work and makes him a useful bridge between attorneys, engineers, business managers, consultants, and regulators.

Sarah Kettenmann uses her knowledge of environmental law and the physical sciences to help clients solve complex problems in a conservation-minded manner. She maintains a diverse environmental practice, which includes litigation matters involving toxic torts and products liability and class action litigation concerning environmental and regulatory claims. Her regulatory practice includes advising clients on compliance with, and enforcement of, land use restrictions and remediation, and due diligence for waste facility permits under federal and state statutes. She also counsels clients on procedural and substantive aspects of permitting and environmental impact review, and related strategic planning for project development.