Two Founders of Waste Management Companies on Top 10 List of Canadian Cleantech Entrepreneurs

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Luna Yu converts waste into game-changing products

According to Second Harvest, a staggering 58 percent of all food produced in Canada is lost or wasted, representing 56.6 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions. Luna Yu founded her cleantech company to do something about it. Started at the University of Toronto and accelerated by the Women in Cleantech Challenge, Yu’s Genecis converts food waste into biodegradable plastics and other materials. The startup uses bacteria to break down food waste into short-chain carbons, and then another type of bacteria to eat those carbons and convert them into a polymer called PHA. Unlike other types of compostable goods (like oil-based plastic cups), Genecis’s products can be composted within a month, and degrade within a year should they end up in the ocean.

What’s next: Recently crowned the Extreme Tech Challenge’s global winner in the Cleantech and Energy Category, Genecis is scaling up by courting new clients looking to replace existing product lines. “We used the lockdown as an opportunity to reflect on what matters most and empathize with customers,” says Yu. “I’m really proud of how our team excelled in this period of change.”

Brandon Moffatt transforms trash into energy

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” has been taken quite literally by London, Ont.–based StormFisher. Started in 2006 by three founders — Brandon Moffatt, Chris Guillon and Pearce Fallis — StormFisher’s biogas facility now converts more than 100,000 tonnes of organic waste each year into renewable energy, organic fertilizers and feedstock. With a focus on sustainable organics and power-to-gas projects, the company has started on several large-scale developments in Canada and the U.S. They use surplus renewable electricity at off-peak hours and produce low-carbon fuels for natural gas utilities and large corporations that are seeking to lower their carbon intensities or are in pursuit of carbon neutrality.

What’s next: “We are focused on the development of low-carbon energy infrastructure to produce various forms of renewable natural gas,” says Moffatt. StormFisher was also recently awarded a contract for a new green bin program in Stratford in which the organic waste will be used to create renewable gas at their facility.

Ontario: New E-Waste Stewardship Regulations

The Government of Ontario recently released final electronic stewardship regulations for the province. (The Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) Regulation under the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, 2016, was filed on September 21, 2020.

As a next step, The Ontario Government is making EEE producers fully responsible for managing their products by transitioning the existing Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) program to Ontario Regulation 522/20.

This transition will put in place a new framework that:

  • makes individual EEE producers responsible for the collection and end-of-life management of EEE they supply into Ontario
  • will give EEE producers more control over how they safely manage their EEE and improve environmental outcomes

New requirements for EEE

The EEE regulation requires producers of information technology, telecommunications and audio visual (ITTAV) equipment and lighting to:

  • establish free collection networks for consumers
  • achieve management requirements through reduction, reuse and/or recycling activities
  • provide promotion and education materials until the end of 2022 for ITTAV and the end of 2024 for lighting to increase consumer awareness
  • register, report, keep records, and undertake audits related to management activities

Producers of ITTAV equipment are required to register by November 30, 2020 and their collection and management obligations will begin on January 1, 2021. For lighting, producers are required to register by November 30, 2022 and begin their collection and management obligations on January 1, 2023.

Similar to the batteries regulation, the EEE regulation makes individual producers legally responsible for meeting the requirements. However, to facilitate an efficient delivery model and allow for economies of scale, producers would have the flexibility to meet their obligations individually, or collaboratively with other producers, by retaining service providers.

Most service providers (e.g. producer responsibility organizations, haulers, processors and specified refurbishers) will be required to register, report and keep records. Collectors are only required to keep records.

CCME Contract Opportunity for Waste Consultants

The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) is now accepting proposals for the following contract opportunity: Project 651-2021 – Guidance on Recyclability, Labelling and Terms. Proposals will be accepted until October 30, 2020, 12:00 noon CDT.

Ministers approved the Canada-wide Action Plan on Zero Plastic in 2019 (phase 1 action plan) and 2020 (phase 2 action plan). Together the two phases contain concrete actions to implement the Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste that ministers approved in principle in 2018. Two of these actions inform the Statement of Work of this request for proposals.

To address these two actions, CCME’s Waste Reduction and Recovery Committee (WRRC) Recyclability and Labelling Project Team seeks to develop guidance and reference materials to:

  • support sustainable designed plastic products and alternatives
  • improve understanding of product labels and terms that inform design, purchasing and end-of- life management of plastic products and
  • support actions by FPT jurisdictions, municipalities, industry (e.g., brand owners, producers, retailers, etc.), institutions, waste managers and the public to improve the consumption, recyclability and end of life management of plastic products in

The CCME is seeking a contractor that will do the following:

  • build on and refine a previously drafted reference compendium of existing guidelines for recyclability and
  • develop guidance on the use of labels and terms such as recyclable, compostable and biodegradable to facilitate common understanding and better inform purchasing, recycling or disposing of plastic products, including compostable plastic,

The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) is the primary minister-led intergovernmental forum for collective action on environmental issues of national and international concern. The 14 member governments work as partners in developing consistent environmental standards and practices.

For me information, visit the CCME website.

Scientists develop enzyme capable of breaking down plastic waste in record time

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Researchers from the University of Portsmouth recently published their work on an re-engineered, plastic-eating enzyme capable of digesting plastic six times faster than previous attempts.  The work, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, describes how they created an enzyme cocktail from waste-dwelling bacterium that derive their energy from digesting plastic bottles.

Previous Discovery

The cocktail consists of two separate enzymes from bacteria found in trash.  The first enzyme, PETase had already been discovered.  PETase breaks down polyethylene terephthalate (PET) back into its building blocks, creating an opportunity to recycle plastic infinitely and reduce plastic pollution and the greenhouse gases driving climate change.

PET is the most common thermoplastic, used to make single-use drinks bottles, clothing and carpets and it takes hundreds of years to break down in the environment, but PETase can shorten this time to days.

The initial discovery set up the prospect of a revolution in plastic recycling, creating a potential low-energy solution to tackle plastic waste. The team engineered the natural PETase enzyme in the laboratory to be around 20 percent faster at breaking down PET.

Latest Discovery

Now, the same trans-Atlantic team have combined PETase and its ‘partner’, a second enzyme called MHETase, to generate much bigger improvements: simply mixing PETase with MHETase doubled the speed of PET breakdown, and engineering a connection between the two enzymes to create a ‘super-enzyme’, increased this activity by a further three times.

The team was co-led by the scientists who engineered PETase, Professor John McGeehan, Director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI) at the University of Portsmouth, and Dr Gregg Beckham, Senior Research Fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the US.

PETase and the new combined MHETase-PETase both work by digesting PET plastic, returning it to its original building blocks. This allows for plastics to be made and reused endlessly, reducing our reliance on fossil resources such as oil and gas.

 

When Theory Meets Practice: Lessons from Decades of Packaging EPR Experiences in Europe

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Written by the Continuous Improvement Fund

Ontario is undertaking a transition to full extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging and paper products under the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act (the “RRCEA”). At their core, EPR policies seek to ensure that the pricing of products incorporates their social and environmental life-cycle costs, including end-of-life treatment and disposal. When products accurately incorporate such costs, industry is incentivized to design them in a way that considers their end-of-life environmental effects.

Decades of experience with mature packaging EPR systems in Europe, however, have not brought all the results that EPR intended to bring about. As Ontario undertakes its transition to full EPR under the RRCEA, there are lessons to be learned from Europe’s experiences with EPR.

European Packaging EPR Lessons on the Ground

In the European Union (EU), the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive 94/62/EC (the “PPWD” or the “Directive”) creates the framework for implementing EPR programs in EU Member States. The Directive aims to reduce packaging and sets collection and recycling targets for packaging waste. The Essential Requirements provisions laid out in the PPWD provide criteria for packaging, such as weight and volume minimization requirements, hazardous substances levels and packaging reuse and recovery. It is notable, however, that while the Essential Requirements define the results to be attained, they do not specify or predict technical solutions, giving manufacturers the flexibility to meet the requirements of the Directive.

The PPWD has resulted in certain successes including an impressive increase in recycling rates for all Member States. By 2017, Member States achieved an average 42% recycling rate for plastics, well above the Directive’s requested 22.5%. There have likewise been improvements in individual packaging weight. On the other hand, the Directive has also had its shortcomings.

Vague definitions leave too much room for interpretation

Despite decades of packaging EPR in Member States, the European packaging market demonstrates a trend towards difficult-to-recycle packaging such as flexible multilayer composite packaging. Some trace this trend to a deficiency in the Essential Requirements in requiring design changes for re-use and recyclability and on definitions that leave too much room for interpretation, such as what qualifies as recyclable. Many producers have, as a result, tended to light-weight their packaging at the expense of its recyclability. At the same time, the amount of packaging waste generated in Europe continues to grow reflecting growth of global population and demand.

Enforcement left to Member States with varying resources

The vague and general formulations of the Essential Requirements also create enforcement challenges for Member States. Member States are responsible for reaching the national targets and ensuring good enforcement of the legislation. Authorities in Member States have expressed frustrations with judging which packaging is noncompliant with the Directive’s requirements. The Directive’s formulations are insufficient to enable a clear assessment of violations.

Many Member States do not have formal procedures in place to enforce or implement the requirements of the PPWD. Authorities also cite other priorities such as issues with food safety, or a lack of staff and finances. The few countries that have implemented measures and enforcement procedures for the requirements, including France and the UK, have delayed setting up systems to assess the effectiveness of their enforcement mechanisms.

Municipal costs are not fully covered

It should be noted that, despite producer responsibility for packaging waste, European municipalities generally remain in charge of waste management programs. Yet financial transfers from producers may not be covering the full amount of municipalities’ costs. A study of the cost coverage of packaging EPR programs in a number of European countries found that these programs failed to account for the full costs of the waste management of packaging. When excluding avoided costs (i.e., collection, landfilling, incineration, etc.) and subsidies (i.e., public grants), only 68% of the costs of packaging waste management in Portugal and 56% in France were being supported by industry in 2010. It bears mentioning that industry in France is obligated to cover 80% of local authorities’ “efficient costs” of collection and sorting.

Another study observed that producers’ motivation to improve waste management has also largely depended on the type of collection and management contracts that they establish with municipalities or on their dialogue with municipalities. Producers can tie their financial contributions to the municipalities’ collection or recycling rates, the quality of their collection or recycling, or on meeting requirements on the type of collection and treatment schemes to be implemented. When it comes to the fulsome reimbursement of municipal costs, the choice seems to be with Member States to determine what percentage of local authorities’ costs should be covered by packaging EPR. New amendments to European EPR laws, however, will ensure that industry will have to cover the full “necessary costs” of EPR schemes. Member States that wish to deviate from this requirement will have to justify their choices.

Europe Takes Action

In 2018, the EU reformed EPR rules in the context of its first Circular Economy Action Plan to require higher overall recycling targets for packaging (65% in 2025 and 70% in 2030) and higher material-specific targets (including 55% for plastics by 2030). At the same time, it moved the calculation of recycling targets based on the weight of municipal waste that enters recycling, removing any losses of materials due to sorting or other preliminary operations. The Directive now also requires Member States to establish “adequate” monitoring and enforcement frameworks to ensure that those responsible under the EPR framework carry out their obligations, use financial means properly and report reliable data.

As of June 11, 2020, the European Commission also published its plan for revising the requirements of the PPWD. The proposed changes will address the limited competitiveness of recycled materials relative to virgin feedstock, which is now even more inexpensive given the oil industry crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The changes will also address the rise in public consumption of packaging driven by a shift from reusable to single-use disposable packaging, growing online sales and the over-packaging for goods.

The Commission has not been clear on whether the targets and measures under these upcoming changes will be general or set at the level of specific material or packaging formats, or whether they’ll be mandatory in nature. It is expected, however, that current and seemingly unenforceable definitions of terms such as “recyclable” or “reusable” will likely be updated.

Despite action at the EU-level, Member States appear to be lagging in their implementation of the 2018 update to the PPWD. Most missed the deadline to implement this Directive by mid-2020, some citing delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time, recycling markets were particularly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The crisis brought about safety concerns, employee shortages, manufacturing slow-downs and a historic drop to oil prices making virgin plastics much cheaper than recycled resin. European recyclers are encouraged by Europe’s recent focus on improving access to recycled resin as part of the EU’s Green Deal set of programs. However, they urge concrete actions such as mandatory recycled content rules in key products to ensure steady increases in the demand for recyclates.

Conclusion

It is unclear how many of these lessons will be implemented in the new printed paper and packaging regulation under Ontario’s RRCEA. Europe’s experiences demonstrate, however, the necessity of clear definitions, specific requirements for design changes for re-use and recyclability, adequate coverage of local authorities’ costs, and the allocation of resources to the oversight and enforcement of EPR programs. These practices help EPR programs better achieve their intended aims of ensuring that industry internalizes the life-cycle costs of their products and is incentivized to design products to account for their end-of-life environmental effects.

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This article was first posted by the Continuous Improvement Fund. The Continuous Improvement Fund (CIF) is a partnership between the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), the City of TorontoStewardship Ontario (SO) and the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (formerly Waste Diversion Ontario – WDO). The CIF’s mandate is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of Ontario’s municipal blue box Programs.

Study on EPR’s effect on packaging prices: What you can and can’t do with data

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

I’m actually really glad that Jodi Tomchyshyn London found and shared the following study by RRS: Impact of EPR for PPP on Price of Consumer Packaged Goods.

In short, after undertaking a fairly comprehensive examination of jurisdictions across Canada (both with and without EPR legislation), the study concluded that EPR policy has no affect on packaging prices.

The University had an opportunity to review this study as part of some technical advice that we were providing to the state of Oregon (specifically surrounding the impacts of EPR). The RRS study directly contravened our own findings, and as a result, we wanted to better understand why.

I want to preface this by saying that the intent of this post is not to criticize or undermine the work that RRS has done. It was well researched, and I applaud them for wading into such a messy and controversial topic and attempting to provide some clarity. However, the point I do want to make in this post is helping stakeholders understand what they can and cannot do with data. Jodi had made a really good point about understanding the context surrounding data – we need to understand how that information was collected, analyzed, interpreted and presented. I couldn’t agree more…. which is why I sometimes cringe when I see the conclusions that people arrive at, due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what you can do with data.

Going back to the RRS study, regardless of how you feel about EPR and its potential impacts, it is critical that stakeholders understand that the RRS study has some methodological deficiencies, and as a result, leads to erroneous conclusions that cannot be supported by the data. This isn’t a question of opinion – given the way the study was designed, it is not possible for RRS to make any statements regarding the effect of EPR policy on packaging prices. Comparing costs across jurisdictions (even for like products and retailers) is not likely to yield any meaningful inferences with respect to the impact of EPR policies. There are literally hundreds of variables that affect the price of goods across localities (even for the same product and retailer). Demographics, infrastructure, relative purchasing power, proximity to markets, density of competing retailers etc. all effect price. In order for RRS to make the statements they did, they would have to control for all of these factors using statistical techniques such as multivariate regression to specifically isolate the effects of EPR on packaging prices. Given that many of these explanatory variables are collinear, they would also need establish controls for interdependency among explanatory variables.

While the above description may be a tad technical, the best way to look at it is that we are trying to compare identical systems, where the only variable being changed is the presence or absence of EPR programs. All other variables that can potentially impact a product’s price need to be controlled for. As far as I can tell, RRS made no attempts to control for interdependent variables and arrived at a conclusion that cannot be substantiated empirically. The only observation that can be made is that product prices differ from province to province, but provides no insight as to why they differ.

Given that my perspective may be seen as biased given that the university developed an alternative model, I would *strongly* encourage you to have a third party expert with a background in statistics and study design to review the RRS methodology. I am absolutely positive that they would reach an identical conclusion.

This is what is so potentially dangerous about attempting to interpret data without having a sound knowledge of how that data was collected and what you can do with it. In my career, I have countless anecdotes of stakeholders from all walks of life who draw the wrong conclusions, imply causality or infer relationships that simply aren’t there. When a misinterpretation of data leads to policy and legislation, the results can be catastrophic.

In the very first presentation I ever gave on the Waste Wiki, one of the slides says “Data without consideration of context or design does not tell us very much”. That message rings true more than ever today.

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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.

Zero Waste High-Rise Project Starts in Toronto

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The Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) has been working with high-rise buildings to reduce waste, increase recycling, and increase composting. Buildings have cut their waste, created stronger communities, improved their buildings, and saved money.

TEA has studied how leading buildings achieved their results and helped other buildings learn from their success. Now, TEA want to share what we’ve learned with high-rise residents and staff, to help more Toronto high-rises become zero-waste buildings.

The Zero Waste High-Rise Project was launched and consists of a new step-by-step online program that will allow residents or staff to start the process of reducing waste in their building.

Participants can move through the pathway at their own pace: 

  • Complete forms to assess how well your building is doing, identify opportunities to take action.
  • Access resources and tips from TEA on actions you can take.
  • Participate in virtual events and meetings to learn from other high-rise leaders across the city.

There are 4 stages in the Zero Waste High Rise Project pathway:

  1. Stage 1 – Introduction
  2. Stage 2 – Finding Opportunities
  3. Stage 3 – Planning and Taking Action
  4. Stage 4 – Measuring & Celebrating Change

Each stage is paired with forms and activities, success stories, resources and virtual peer-learning events to help you succeed at each stage in the process.

Who can get involved? 

Anyone who lives or works in a high-rise building and wants to learn more is welcome to sign up! You’ll receive resources and invitations to online events.

In September, up to 10 condos and co-op buildings were selected to receive enhanced support, including facilitated meetings and coaching from TEA staff and our research partners.

What is the cost?

This project is no cost for users and is funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, an agency of the Government of Ontario. The project also receives research support from researchers at the University of Toronto and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Here are 2 ways to get started: 

1. Sign up for the online program with your name and email address. Sign up here

2. Register for an upcoming information session. Find a list of upcoming sessions here

This project is funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, an agency of the Government of Ontario, and receives research support from the University of Toronto, with funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.