Industry 4.0 and the Circular Economy: Towards a Wasteless Future or a Wasteful Planet?

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Industry 4.0 and Circular Economy: Towards a Wasteless Future or a Wasteful Planet?
by Antonis Mavropoulos and Anders Waage Nilsen
Publishing September 2020

HOW THE MARRIAGE OF INDUSTRY 4.0 AND THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY CAN RADICALLY TRANSFORM WASTE MANAGEMENT—AND OUR WORLD

Do we really have to make a choice between a wasteless and nonproductive world or a wasteful and ultimately self-destructive one? Futurist and world-renowned waste management scientist Antonis Mavropoulos and sustainable business developer and digital strategist Anders Waage Nilsen respond with a ringing and optimistic “No!” They explore the Earth-changing potential of a happy (and wasteless) marriage between Industry 4.0 and a Circular Economy that could—with properly reshaped waste management practices—deliver transformative environmental, health, and societal benefits. This book is about the possibility of a brand-new world and the challenges to achieve it.

The fourth industrial revolution has given us innovations including robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D-printing, and biotech. By using these technologies to advance the Circular Economy—where industry produces more durable materials and runs on its own byproducts—the waste management industry will become a central element of a more sustainable world and can ensure its own, but well beyond business as usual, future. Mavropoulos and Nilsen look at how this can be achieved—a wasteless world will require more waste management—and examine obstacles and opportunities such as demographics, urbanization, global warming, and the environmental strain caused by the rise of the global middle class.

  • Explore the new prevention, reduction, and elimination methods transforming waste management
  • Comprehend and capitalize on the business implications for the sector
  • Understand the theory via practical examples and case studies
  • Appreciate the social benefits of the new approach

Waste-management has always been vital for the protection of health and the environment. Now it can become a crucial role model in showing how Industry 4.0 and the Circular Economy can converge to ensure flourishing, sustainable—and much brighter—future.

Source: Wiley Publishers

Waste To Energy (WTE) Market Size is Projected to Reach USD 27.7 Billion by 2025

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According to a recent market study, the global waste to energy market size was valued at USD 17.3 billion in 2017 and is projected to reach USD 27.7 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 6.1% from 2018 to 2025.

The Waste to Energy (WTE) or energy-from-waste (EFW) is the process of generating energy in the form of electricity and/or heat from the incineration of waste. The energy produced from this process is close to that produced from coal, natural gas, oil, or other processes. The waste to energy cycle is projected to reduce landfill municipal solid waste ( MSW) by 90 percent, which will further reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by the waste.

TRENDS INFLUENCING THE WASTE TO ENERGY MARKET SIZE

Substantial growth in energy consumption, coupled with increased emphasis on energy generation from renewable energy sources, is expected to push global waste to the energy market.

Increased domestic and industrial waste has prompted governments across regions to generate energy from waste. Furthermore, the increased investment by various governing bodies, particularly in developing countries in Asia-Pacific, such as China and India, coupled with rapid urbanization and significant growth in consumer spending capacity, is expected to drive global waste to the size of the energy market in the forecast period.

Biological treatments include the treatment of waste with microorganisms to generate energy. Such approaches are considered more environmentally friendly than thermal techniques, and their market penetration is expected to grow over the forecast period.

It is expected that high installation costs and toxic gas emissions during incineration would impede market growth over the forecast period.

WASTE TO ENERGY MARKET SHARE ANALYSIS

Thermal technologies have emerged as the leading technology employed to produce energy from waste. In 2019, the segment generated 87 percent of total market revenue.

Asia-Pacific is projected to witness the highest growth rate from 2018 to 2025, mainly due to the rise in demand for energy. The rise in industrialization, coupled with rapid urbanization activities in emerging economies such as China and India, is expected to drive the market during the forecast period.

In 2017 Europe, in terms of sales, retained the leading waste to the energy market share. This dominance is attributed to the rise in the production of municipal solid waste (MSW), combined with the increase in energy demand. This region is investing heavily in developing renewable energy production.

TOP COMPANIES IN THE WASTE TO ENERGY MARKET

Many players operating in this waste to the energy market are actively pursuing marketing strategies such as partnership, company expansion, mergers & acquisitions, and joint ventures to improve their position.

Key Companies:

  • Waste Management Inc.
  • Suez Environnement S.A.
  • C&G Environmental Protection Holdings
  • Constructions industrielles de la Méditerranée (CNIM)
  • China Everbright International Limited
  • Covanta Energy Corporation
  • Foster Wheeler A.G.
  • Abu Dhabi National Energy Company PJSC
  • Babcock & Wilcox Enterprises, Inc.
  • Veolia Environment.

The End of Landfills in Ontario? Proposed amendments to the Environmental Assessment Act and the Impact on Waste Management

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Written by Harry Dahme and Jessica Boily, Gowlings WLG

On July 8, 2020, the Ontario government introduced Bill 197 in the Legislative Assembly. Entitled the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, the proposed changes within the Bill amend twenty different Acts, including the Environmental Assessment Act.

While some of the amendments proposed in Bill 197 seek to address challenges encountered during COVID-19 (such as the changes to the Provincial Offences Act, covered in our COVID-19 Update), the Bill primarily includes reforms that were on the government’s agenda prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. These reforms include some of the most significant reforms to Ontario’s environmental assessment regime in many years. The Gowling WLG Environmental Law Group will be publishing a series of articles on these proposed reforms, which are expected to be fast-tracked through the Legislature this week.

From the point of view of waste management in Ontario, one of the most significant changes to be made by the Bill is the addition of a new section to the Environmental Assessment Act that would give municipalities the right to veto new landfills proposed to be located within their own borders or in adjacent municipalities where the proposed new landfill is within 3.5 kilometers of the municipal border. This amendment to the EAA would provide municipalities with the unprecedented ability to stop new landfills for any reason, even where the environmental assessment for that landfill would otherwise be satisfactory to the provincial government.

Demand the right coalition emerges

In 2018, Ingersoll Mayor, Ted Comiskey, started the “Demand the Right” Coalition of Ontario Municipalities, seeking support from other municipalities for legislation that would allow municipalities to say no to projects like windfarms and landfills.

On March 1, 2018, Ernie Hardeman, MPP for Oxford, the riding that includes Ingersoll, introduced a private members bill dealing with the issue. Bill 201Respecting Municipal Authority over Landfilling Sites Act, 2018, would have amended the EAA to prevent the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks from giving approval to an undertaking unless the municipal council had passed a resolution supporting the establishment of the landfilling site. The Bill did not receive Second Reading in the Legislature and died on the Order Paper when the Legislature was dissolved for the last provincial election.

During that election in 2018, Doug Ford stated that he respected “the right for local municipalities to make the decisions best for their communities.”

Following the election in 2018, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (“MECP”) released the Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan, which stated it intended to provide “municipalities and communities they represent with a say in landfill siting approvals “. No firm commitment to a veto was made at that time and there were no consultations on the proposed amendments to the EAA affecting landfills prior to the introduction of Bill 197.

The state of landfill capacity in Ontario

Many Ontarians are not aware of the waste disposal crisis in which Ontario finds itself. The Ontario Waste Management Association reports that unless new landfills are built, Ontario’s landfill capacity will be exhausted by 2032. More than 80% of this capacity is located within a small number of sites (15 public and private landfills). These predictions assume that Ontario will continue to export approximately 30% of its waste to the United States, primarily to landfill sites in Michigan and New York. Should those exports stop, Ontario’s landfill capacity would be exhausted by 2028: only eight years from now. This is significant since it takes years, and sometimes more than a decade, to obtain approval for a new landfilling site.

Even before the introduction of Bill 197, the length and uncertainty of the environmental assessment process for new landfills and expansions to existing landfills meant that this crisis was not improving. While increased waste diversion is a laudable goal, even with significantly improved waste diversion rates, existing landfill capacity will be put under significant pressure in the next ten years.

Bill 197

Given the near future waste disposal crisis in the province, there is a demonstrated need for new landfills to be built and existing landfills to be expanded. While Bill 197 aims to streamline existing environmental assessment processes for some projects, it introduces a municipal veto over new landfills that is expected to almost entirely halt the planning for and building of new landfills in Ontario.

Section 10 of Schedule 6 to Bill 197 proposes to amend the EAA by adding a new section 6.01, which would provide that proponents who wish to establish a landfilling site that is subject to Part II of the EAA obtain “municipal support” for the undertaking. Municipal support must be obtained, not only from the local municipality in which the landfilling site is situated, but from any other municipality located within a 3.5 km distance from the property boundary of the proposed landfilling site. This support, as set out in s. 6.01(5), is demonstrated by providing a copy of a municipal council resolution from each of the municipalities, indicating that the municipality supports the undertaking.

This requirement applies to not only new future landfill proposals but also to landfills currently undergoing the environmental assessment process, even though EAA approval had been previously obtained for the Terms of Reference for that environmental assessment process and even though the environmental assessment process was proceeding in compliance with the approved Terms of Reference.

Proposed section 6.01 applies only to landfills, as opposed to all types of waste management facilities based on the definition of “landfilling site” which is defined as a waste disposal site where landfilling occurs.

While section 6.01 certainly applies to new landfills within the province, it could also potentially  be read to apply to expansions of existing large landfills as well. Section 6.01(3) states that the section applies “in respect of a proponent who wishes to proceed with an undertaking to establish a waste disposal site that, (a) is a landfilling site; and (b) is subject to this Part.” While the plain meaning of “establish”, which connotes the initial or first approval and construction of a project, is consistent with the meaning used within the Environmental Protection Act in the context of waste disposal sites, “establish” is not defined within the EAA itself. This leads to the possibility that the unique characteristics of any landfill expansion could lead to an interpretation that the expansion involves the establishment of a waste disposal site. If that interpretation is adopted, then that has huge ramifications with respect to the future availability of landfill capacity in Ontario, exacerbating even more the imminent waste disposal crisis in Ontario.


NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Information made available on this website in any form is for information purposes only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. You should not rely on, or take or fail to take any action based upon this information. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking legal advice because of something you have read on this website. Gowling WLG professionals will be pleased to discuss resolutions to specific legal concerns you may have.

 

About the Authors

Harry Dahme is a partner in Gowling WLG’s Toronto office and past leader of the firm’s Environmental Law Group. He has practised exclusively in the area of environmental law since 1984, and has a solid reputation as one of the foremost environmental lawyers in Canada. Harry is certified by the Law Society of Ontario as a specialist in environmental law, and is described by Who’s Who Legal: Canada 2014 as “widely regarded as a leading authority in the field,” by Legal 500 Canada 2017 as “absolutely fantastic” and by Acritas Stars 2017 as “an acknowledged expert in environmental law.”
Jessica Boily is an environmental lawyer in Gowling WLG’s Toronto office. Her practice focuses on environmental litigation, drawing on her commercial litigation background to achieve successful and cost-effective outcomes. She uses her procedural expertise and technical knowledge to advocate for her clients. Jessica understands that complex disputes require creative scientific and legal approaches. Her clients appreciate her practical advice when managing and resolving multi-party environmental disputes. When litigation is necessary, her clients know her courtroom and tribunal experience will help them achieve the outcome they want.

Fun with Waste: Milk Waste to T-shirts

Mi Terro, a Los Angeles-based cleantech startup recently began manufacturing T-shirts using spoiled using fibers manufactured from spoiled milk.  The company uses biotechnology to re-engineer milk proteins into sustainable fibers.  The fibers can replace plastic in fashion, medical, and packaging industries.  The fibers can also be used to make t-shirts using 60% less water than required for an organic cotton shirt.

The fiber-from-milk method was invented in just three months by co-founders Robert Luo and Daniel Zhuang. After visiting his uncle’s dairy farm in China in 2018, Luo saw just how much milk product gets dumped first-hand, and after some research, he found that the issue was one of a massive global scale.

Mi Terro is make up of a team of Ph.D material scientists and chemists. The company aims to redefine circular economy in which everything begins with food waste and ends as recyclable or biodegradable.

 

 

Fun with Waste: Upcycling old clothes

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In a recent article in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, describes the upcycling efforts of Jess Gillis who is creating new redesigns of old clothes.  could be a fun way to upcycle some of her older pieces.  In the article, she is quoted, “Thrifting and upcycling is so useful when you’re looking for a unique piece for your wardrobe. Plus, you’re helping to reduce the waste that is produced by the fashion industry.”

In Canada, each household throws away approximately 100 pounds of clothing per year, contributing to the rapid filling of  landfills with textiles.  Many of textiles could have been repurposed.

“I am trying to do my part to be a more environmentally conscious person and the fashion industry is a major contributor to pollution,” she says. “It’s important to understand the environmental impact we cause with each decision we make as consumers. So, upcycling is a great way to be more sustainable and express yourself.”

 

 

 

Waste Technology Company selected as a “Technology Pioneer” by the World Economic Forum

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Enevo, a smart waste technology company, was recently selected among hundreds of candidates as one of the World Economic Forum’s “Technology Pioneers”.  Enevo’s unique Internet of Things (IoT) sensor technology, analytics and logistics software monitor and predict waste behavior to create custom, sustainable, and efficient waste services.

The World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneers are early to growth-stage companies from around the world that are involved in the design, development and deployment of new technologies and innovations, and are poised to have a significant impact on business and society. Technology Pioneers community is an integral part of the larger Global Innovators community of start-ups at the World Economic Forum.

Enevo’s waste technology was recognized for its innovative and practical use in the waste world and the benefits it creates for civilian life. Enevo’s smart waste sensor monitors fill levels and collections while its analytics software employs sensor data to create custom waste services. Resulting collection schedules and routes drive the fewest number of miles while avoiding container overflow, eliminating unnecessary collections and carbon emissions. Enevo’s customers decrease operation costs while increasing efficiency and sustainability.

“We are delighted the World Economic Forum has recognized our journey in changing waste management and how our innovations in waste data and logistics optimization contributes to global resource efficiency,” says Enevo CEO Fredrik Kekalainen. “We believe data is crucial to create meaningful changes. You can’t manage properly if you don’t have enough information. We started Enevo to help innovative technology,communities decrease waste and increase recycling practices through data insight. We are honored to receive this prestigious award and become part of the World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers community.”

This year’s cohort selection marks the 20th anniversary of the Tech Pioneers community. Throughout its 20-year run, many Technology Pioneers have continuously contributed to advancement in their industries while some have even gone on to become household names. Past recipients include Airbnb, Google, Kickstarter, Mozilla, Palantir Technologies, Spotify, TransferWise, Twitter and Wikimedia.

Technology Pioneers have been selected based on the community’s selection criteria, which includes innovation, impact and leadership as well as the company’s relevance with the World Economic Forum’s Platforms.

About Enevo

Enevo is the leading international smart waste technology company. With more than 100 patents, Enevo’s sensor technology and advanced analytics software creates custom waste solutions based on unique waste behavior. Enevo’s 40,000+ active sensors and software suite increase efficiency, reduce collections, decrease carbon emissions, decrease operating costs, and increase sustainability. Enevo has offices in Espoo, Finland, Nottingham, UK, and Boston, USA, and a global reseller network in more than a dozen countries.

About World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum, committed to improving the state of the world, is the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation. The Forum engages the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas. (www.weforum.org).

About the Global Innovators:

The Global Innovators Community is a group of the world’s most promising start-ups and scale-ups that are at the forefront of technological and business model innovation. The World Economic Forum provides the Global Innovators Community with a platform to engage with public- and private-sector leaders and to contribute new solutions to overcome current crises and build future resiliency.

Companies who are invited to become Global Innovators will engage with one or more of the Forum’s Platforms, as relevant, to help define the global agenda on key issues.

Fun with Waste: Wetsuit Wrangle turns trash into Yoga Mats

What do old wetsuits, delicious beer and chic yoga mats have in common? The Wetsuit Wrangle.

On Sunday, July 5, from 3 to 7 p.m., Islamorada-based Key Dives will host the third annual upcycling event in the Florida Keys Brewing Co’s beer garden. Scuba divers do good for the oceans by bringing in old wetsuits for recycling into cool yoga mats and other sustainable items.

“Wetsuits are awesome. They allow us to dive comfortably in waters we otherwise wouldn’t be able to,” said Cortney Benson, Key Dives’ marine conservation coordinator. “But, they definitely produce a lot of waste.”

Benson, the mastermind behind much of the dive shop’s conservation efforts, came up with the idea for the “Wetsuit Wrangle” three years ago as a way to reduce some of the waste from the sport she loves.

“The idea behind the Wetsuit Wrangle is to make a big effort annually to recycle all old, unusable wetsuits in the Upper Keys,” she said, “and, we are going to reward you for recycling with free beer and great prizes from some of our favorite eco-conscious companies!”

In 2019, the Wrangle collected 185 wetsuits from around the Upper Keys. Key Dives worked with other local shops to collect the old wetsuits before the event, and then capstoned it with a fun afternoon at the brewery, full of music, eco-conscious products, art and, of course, beer.

Benson noted that coronavirus would likely result in fewer wetsuits this year, but she still hopes to surpass 100.

The wetsuits will be sent to New Jersey-based Lava Rubber, a company upcycling wetsuits and other “hard to manage scrap goods” like gaskets, weather stripping, compression sleeves, aluminum juice pouches and yoga pants into durable, upcycled yoga mats and other guilt-free goodies.

Each mat saves valuable “waste” from entering a landfill, Lava Rubber boasts.

For Benson, the business and fun of conservation is a part of everything she does.

Each wetsuit brought in for recycling at the Wrangle is good for one beer (limit one per person) and one raffle ticket (no limit). Raffle prizes include sustainable items from Sand Cloud, Stream2Sea, Lava Rubber and Key Dives.

“There’s a lot to love about this event,” Benson said. “We couldn’t do it without the Florida Keys Brewing Co. being so supportive of our conservation efforts. Together, we are helping to protect the environment while drinking delicious beer and supporting our local economy.”

Free Webinar on True Zero Waste and the Circular Economy

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This webinar is a complimentary event open to the United States Green Building Coalition – Los Angeles (USGBC-LA) community members and the general public.  It is scheduled for May 13th at 11 am Pacific Daylight Time.

Topics of discussion on the TRUE Zero Waste and Circular Economy Overview – Webinar on May 13th (11 am PDT) include:

  • What is Circular Economy?
  • What’s the difference between Circular Economy and a really good recycling program?
  • Introduction to the basic concepts:
    • Waste = Food
    • Build Resilience Through Diversity
    • Energy from Renewable Resources
    • Think in Systems
    • True Zero Waste Certification overview

Without urgent action, global waste will increase by 70 percent on current levels by 2050, according to the World Bank’s new report. The make-take-waste way of doing things is coming to an end and if we do it right, we’ll create massive new economical and social opportunities!

During the webinar there will be a discussion on how businesses can create value by striving for zero waste, seeing products and materials as cycles, the role of creative solutions, and how you can contribute to make the transition to a Circular Economy.

SPEAKERS

 Denise Braun, CEO All About Waste

Denise has over seventeen years of experience in the sustainability field, starting in Brazil and then moving to the United States. She is the founder and principal of All About Waste – a woman and minority-owned sustainability and zero waste consulting firm based in Los Angeles, CA. Denise and her team provide a diverse range of services including solid waste data collection and analysis, circular strategic frameworks, green building certifications, zero waste programs and certification, training/educational workshops, and community outreach. She has worked in various capacities on over 150 LEED-certified projects, many of which have achieved the highest level of certification with no clarifications. Denise is currently working on several zero-waste and wellness projects. She worked on the first TRUE-certified zero waste high-rise commercial building in the world. Denise has been responsible for over 30 million square feet of waste audits and has developed and analyzed technical waste management solutions for a large variety of building types. Denise has presented at numerous lectures, workshops, and conferences, including the annual Municipal Green Building Conference and Expo, Net Zero Conference, the Living Building Collaborative Zero Waste Forum and the GreenBuild Conference & Expo. She currently has several accreditation and expertise such as: LEED AP,  WELL AP, ENV SP, TRUE Advisor, Fitwel Ambassador and sustainable supply chain. She also is sitting as a Board of Director at USGBC-LA.

 Ryan McMullan, CEO Lean Green Way

Over his career Ryan McMullan has led several Sustainability programs including in Toyota’s Corporate Responsibility department and Rice University’s Facilities & Engineering department.  These have included strategically developing and deploying environmental targets across a wide variety of functional groups, reporting on environmental progress, greenhouse gas inventories, and developing programs for zero waste, zero carbon, and zero water.  He now consults with companies like Lockheed-Martin, Walmart and Mattress Recycling Council (MRC) to help them establish leading sustainability strategies. He is an advisor to TRUE Zero Waste Certification at GBCI and the Environmental Leader Conference. He earned his Masters from the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara and his Bachelor’s from Rice University.  At home he keeps busy improving the sustainability of his home in Long Beach, California, teaching his 10-year-old son to conserve resources and design games, and writing on his experiences.

Removing Contaminants from Landfill Leachate using Electro-Oxidation

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Written by Nicole Bolea, PE, Xogen Technologies Inc.

More than just ammonia removal…

Previously the application of Advanced Electro-Oxidation, AEO, technology was shown to be a viable option for ammonia removal from landfill leachate.  Though ammonia is a major problem and still a target, recent testing and piloting has shown Advanced Electro-Oxidation destroys many more contaminants in addition to removing ammonia to non-detect levels.  New recent testing and piloting shows promising data for Boron and color reduction.

Landfill Leachate: An Expensive Challenge

A growing number of landfills are seeing increases in costs and issues associated with trucking leachate and sending it to the sewer.  According to the U.S. Geological Survey landfill leachate hosts numerous contaminants of emerging concern[1].  This is forcing landfills to reevaluate their systems to treat or pre-treat onsite.

Advanced Electo- Oxidation: How it Works

Screened leachate is pumped through Xogen’s reactor. When the leachate contacts an electrode in the reactor a direct oxidation of the contaminants occurs on the surface of the electrode. Indirect oxidation in the bulk occurs as well from the generation of highly oxidizing species including ozone, hydrogen peroxide and hydroxyl radicals.  As these highly oxidative species form they immediately react with organic matter, ammonia compounds and other constituents in the aqueous solution and get converted into a mixture of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen gas. Suspended solids in the wastewater will precipitate or float to the surface by the micro-bubbles of gas generated while pathogens are completely killed[2]. This method results in not producing hazardous waste streams that are costly to deal with.  There is no concentrate stream or biosolids produced, the contaminants are destroyed into inert gases that are mixed and vented at safe levels.

 

Contaminant Removal Data

Along with ammonia, AEO has the potential to reduce or completely remove: COD, BOD5, Boron, nitrates, pharmaceuticals, sulfides, H2S, phenols, poly vinyls, cyanide, and E. Coli (resulting in complete disinfection). Piloting a large sample of landfill leachate from the Midwest revealed the potential to remove Boron. Boron reduction by approximately 50% was observed during this pilot. The testing was performed at the pilot plant located on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. The campus boasts an impressive piloting and testing system t

Sample before and after AO treatment

hat is part of the Water Innovation Network for Sustainable Small Systems, WINSS. Their vision is “To develop technological solutions that can be readily implemented by small systems. To reduce barriers to their use by utilities. To stimulate research for small systems among the academic and entrepreneurial community. To develop new models for technology & educational outreach in support of small systems”[3]

When discharging leachate to the city sewers color can be a major concern for small communities. The color produced from landfills can inhibit the city’s ability to disinfect with UV later in their process before discharge. Below is a picture and graphical data showing the color reduction potential with AEO.

When discharging leachate to the city sewers color can be a major concern for small communities. The color produced from landfills can inhibit the city’s ability to disinfect with UV later in their process before discharge. Below is a picture and graphical data showing the color reduction potential with AEO.

The picture helps show the color reduction potential, but UV visual spectroscopy testing was also performed to quantify the affect AEO has on color. Along with color in this testing, COD was reduced by approximately 50% with complete ammonia destruction to non-detect levels.

Conclusion

Along with removing ammonia to non-detect and nitrogen to very low levels, Advanced Electro-Oxidation will remove and destroy many more contaminants. The ability to remove many CECs at once has the potential to be a cost-effective onsite treatment option for landfills. A special thanks to the professionals, professors, and students at UMass Amherst for testing and piloting landfill leachate, wastewater to show the potential for Advanced Electro-Oxidation.

 

Multi-criteria decision making framework for plastic packaging: An expanded life cycle approach

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

This white paper is a general overview of a tool being developed by York University and Pollution Probe to help stakeholders better understand the impacts (environmental, economic and social) of plastics with respect to product and packaging design. Our goal is to provide methodological guidance and create a common set of evaluative criteria that stakeholders can use to make informed decisions regarding plastics. This includes the development of an expanded life cycle analysis model, that attempts to model the economic, environmental and social impacts of plastics, at all stages of its life.

Often times, one of the greatest obstacles in the debate surrounding the role of plastics in a circular economy is that we either operate on incomplete information (i.e. how much is actually being generated and diverted), or we fixate on one component of a products life cycle (i.e. recycling at end of life), and evaluate its viability through that narrow lens.

It’s our hope that this tool (and more broadly, the methodological approach), be used in a way to ensure that stakeholders have clear and prescriptive guidance regarding what needs to be considered when making product design and policy decisions.

**Note: The development and dissemination of the expanded life cycle analysis tool is contingent on raising sufficient funding and support from stakeholder groups. If funding can be secured, the anticipated deployment of this tool will be in Fall of 2020.**

Issue Overview

Plastics have transformed everyday life, with more than 400 million tonnes of plastic and plastic products being generated every year across the world. While plastics often bring many societal benefits and play an instrumental role in manufacturing, technology, healthcare etc. there are significant concerns regarding the quantities of plastic waste being discarded into the environment. In Canada, it is estimated that only 10% of all plastics produced in the country are actually recycled, with the balance accumulating as waste in landfills, public spaces, water ways and oceans. This accumulation of plastics entering into terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems poses acute risks to both human and animal health, with bio-accumulation of plastics being observed as causing endocrinological disruptions to wildlife. It is with this in mind that in January of 2020, the Canadian federal government announced a proposed ban on single use plastics items by the year 2021. This decision was informed by a report commissioned by Environment Canada concluding that single use plastics posed significant risk to the environment resulting from both their manufacturing and disposal.

While this decision has generally been met by a favorable response from both environmental groups and the public, there remain significant questions regarding what single use plastics will be banned. There remains considerable uncertainty regarding what the rationalization and methodology for evaluating which materials should be banned, in addition to the short and long term economic implications resulting from a single use plastics ban.

However, despite the findings of the Environment Canada report, and the prevailing negative sentiment surrounding plastics, and particularly plastic packaging, it is important to recognize that not all plastics are created equal. While the vast majority of plastics are made from ethylene derived from hydrocarbon sources, there exists a significant heterogeneity with respect to the types of resin (polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene etc.), including how it is made, how it is used, why it is used and what can be done with it at end of life.

Many of the environmental concerns attributable to plastics tend to be focused on the manufacturing stage and available end of life waste management options. It is during these two stages that the release of macro plastics (pieces larger than 5mm) and micro plastics (pieces smaller than 5mm) into the environment is considered highest.

While the Environment Canada report undertakes a comprehensive literature review to determine the risks posted to both human and ecological health attributable to plastics in our environment, it does not offer any guidance regarding which plastics to ban, or provide an evaluative framework that can assist decision makers in identifying problematic materials.

One of the dangers of characterizing all single use plastics the same way (bad for the environment, should be banned etc.), fails to capture the complexity and nuances of plastics, particularly for packaged goods.

This white paper outlines a potential evaluative framework for examining the environmental, economic and social impacts of plastic materials (with a specific emphasis on household plastic packaging). The purpose of this framework is to provide both policy makers and plastic producers with a decision making tool that captures the latest in life cycle thinking and consequential impacts (both economic and social), resulting from proposed material bans.

Life Cycle Analysis Thinking

Life cycle thinking for the purposes of informing policy decisions is not a new phenomenon – in fact, many of the studies included in the Environment Canada literature review included a life cycle component when evaluating the environmental safety of various packaging types.

However, most contemporary approaches to life cycle analysis, particularly within the context of end of life management of packaging waste, define system boundaries that are too limited in scope. Often times, model boundaries are defined from the point of disposal, to its final end use application (recycling, composting, energy from waste, or landfilling). The environmental impacts of a particular end of life option are compared against a baseline assuming 100% virgin production (i.e. Recycling 1000 tonnes of PET, would be compared against the environmental impacts of producing 1000T of virgin PET, with the delta in LCA key performance indicators being the measured impact)

The vast majority of life cycle analysis specific to waste management and material design is only concerned with what happens to an item once it reaches its end of life. It is through this lense that many plastics, particularly single use plastics, are deemed to be environmentally problematic. In many instances, particularly for light weight and composite plastics, these materials cannot be readily managed in existing waste management infrastructure.They either cannot be recycled or composted, and even when sorted at a material recovery facility, there are limited end markets for most non PET and HDPE plastics.

As a result, the characterization of these materials is often seen as being “bad” for the environment, with many environmentalists and municipalities pointing to the lack of recyclability as being the primary driver for banning single use plastics. In the absence of recycling or reuse, there is no offset to the environmental burdens associated with virgin production of these plastic materials. If these materials end up in a landfill, the risk of entering into our environment and disrupting both aquatic and terrestrial eco systems increases.

While this outcome may lend credence to the decision to ban single use plastics, it fails to account for the upstream impacts (economic, environmental and social) of a material, prior to consumption. In spite of many single use plastics possessing low levels of recyclability, potential benefits attributable to plastic packaging include:

  • A reduction in the amount of materials used. The transition to plastics for many products has resulted in the light weighting of materials – less physical material is used to make the product.
  • Logistical efficiencies (more material can be transported per shipment) – largely attributed to the reduction in overall weight, the use of light weight and composite plastics has resulted in a reduced emissions footprint related to the transport of materials.
  • Increased durability, longer shelf life (both in the store, and in the home), and allowing for discretionary consumption (you only use what you need). This is particularly true of plastic food packaging. As an example, a laminate package for soup (in lieu of the conventional tin can) allows users to reseal the pouch, allowing it to be stored longer and avoiding waste.

This white paper expands the list of criteria for what should be considered in a life cycle analysis, as a means to create more informed and defensible policy decisions.

 Expanding life cycle criteria

This white paper recommends expanding the boundaries of a life cycle analysis to capture criteria such as material reduction/light weighting, logistical impacts attributable to light weighting, effects on useful product life (both at the store and in the home for perishable items packaged using plastics), discretionary consumption, direct and indirect economic impacts, available waste management infrastructure, risks when landfilled and risks when incinerated.

Table 1 below summarizes what variables are included in the proposed expanded life cycle analysis. It is important to note that depending on the scenario and circumstances being modeled, not all criteria will apply (nor have all criteria been defined)

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The above KPIs include both quantitative measures (i.e. $ cost per tonne managed,) as well as qualitative variables that provides useful contextual information that can better inform decision making.

While expanding our life cycle approach to capture these variables may result in a more time and data intensive life cycle analysis, adopting this methodology is critical in understanding the “true” impact of plastics, particularly single use plastic packaging. In theory, a comprehensive life cycle analysis is intended to capture the aforementioned components, however, there is little methodological guidance with respect to how to do that, and for which materials can it be applied. Further complicating the inclusion of these additional variables is an issue of measurement – how can we measure things like waste reduction, shelf life etc?

Development and Deployment of Expanded Life Cycle Analysis Tool

York University and Pollution Probe are currently working together in order to develop an expanded life cycle analysis calculator that includes the aforementioned components shown in table 1 above. Accompanying this tool will be a guidance document that explains how to measure and weight the above KPI criteria, and how to interpret the output in a meaningful way to help inform decision making.

This purpose of this tool is four fold: 1) allow users to capture life cycle impacts that have traditionally been omitted from previous investigations into LCA or plastic packaging 2) provide an evaluative framework to stakeholders who are looking to evaluate and compare the economic, social and environmental impacts of different types of plastic materials 3) quantify the environmental and economic affects attributable to potential programmatic changes (i.e. a ban on LDPE film), or allow users to model multiple scenarios to see how various options compare (i.e. landfilling all LDPE film, or recycling all LDPE film).

The tool that will be developed and distributed by York University and Pollution Probe will be populated with default data and assumptions (reflecting Ontario specific transportation distances, energy grid mixes, available infrastructure, and material management costs). Users will have the ability to change the underlying assumptions to better reflect differences in their particular jurisdiction, or model scenarios involving trans-jurisdictional management of waste. York University and Pollution Probe can also work closely with stakeholders in developing a more granular expanded life cycle calculator that pertains to the specific operations of a particular organization or municipality.

In the absence of conducting an expanded life cycle analysis, policies and decisions may not be fully informed, potentially resulting in inferior economic, social and environmental outcomes. Using an expanded life cycle approach is intended to capture both the upstream and downstream impacts of plastics, with the intention of helping stakeholders arrive at the most sustainable outcomes.

It is important to note that the most sustainable outcome isn’t necessarily the one that diverts the most material. Understanding what impact material decisions will have on cost (both in terms of material management costs and indirect impacts on the price of packaged goods), and which groups are most likely to be adversely impacted by changes in cost, access or availability, is critical in sustainable materials management.

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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.