Tire-Derived Fuels Making Inroads in Canada

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Written by Jonathan D. Cocker, Baker McKenzie

Following some recent key milestones for the tire-derived fuels industries, it appears that TDF is now positioned for significant growth across Canada in the coming years.  It hasn’t been easy in light of long-standing environmental concerns and pressures for circular economy solutions for end-of-life tires but TDF may well be poised to gain ready acceptance as part of Canada’s resource recovery strategy.

Nova Scotia Legal Challenge Unsuccessful

The watershed moment for TDF in Canada arguably came in 2018.  The Province of Nova Scotia first approved TDF as a supplemental energy source for a cement plant facility in Brookfield, Nova Scotia in 2017 on a 12-month pilot project basis.

In so doing, the ministry relied, in part, on a detailed environment study conducted for the proponent by Dalhousie University which compared the greenhouse gas emissions from TDF-supplemented fuels favourably against existing the coal sources.  The report was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada, giving it further clout.

Local residents challenged the ministry’s approval on environmental and procedural grounds – both of which were rejected in a March 2018 decision.  This allowed the proponent to commission the pilot project by August 2019, with a daily consumption rate of 20 metric tonnes of whole tires.

Brookfield Emissions Results Likely Critical to Industry Aspirations

The last hurdle to a full scale commercial TDF-fuel additive kiln at Brookfield will, of course, be the resulting emissions, concerns about which have long-plagued the industry.  Both the proponent and an independent group from Dalhousie will be collecting and reporting on a wide range of emissions data to the ministry, with a first planned public release of certain emissions information set for early in 2020.

It is difficult to overstate the importance that these results will have on the TDF industry across Canada.  There remains substantial opposition to TDF-usage in any application, including cement, and a failure to meet the emissions conditions for the pilot project approval will likely mean a further moratorium on project development, further placing the TDF industry behind other resource recovery technologies and processes.

Ontario Permits Waste Rubber Fuel Source in 2019

The battleground over TDF is far from new in Ontario.  In 2011, a group of community interests, including none other than Gord Downie, successfully opposed the use of TDF at a cement production facility in Bath, Ontario.  The proponent subsequently revised its alternate fuel sourcing plans to include two low carbon fuel categories (LCFs), which have since been subject to emissions testing for a number of years.

Of these categories, “LCF 3” includes:

“Non-recyclable rubber, rubber recycling by-products (including polyester/nylon fibre from tire recycling facilities) and non-recyclable plastics.”

An amended environmental approval was granted to the proponent in August 2019 to augment the alternative feedstock to include the principal LCF 3 materials, thereby allowing rubber waste material (with its superb BTU values) to be included with lower carbon and less energy-rich materials, including various biomass sources.  A graduated approach, which does not preclude moving to TDF as the market conditions evolve.

TDF Established Practice Elsewhere

It is also worth noting that the current disputes over TDF come against a backdrop of established TDF usage in heavy industry elsewhere, including in the cement industries of the United States and Europe.

Further, the provinces of Quebec and British Columbia have long permitted TDF in cement production facilities, though none has been approved recently (in the circular economy era).  Finally, there are other materials whose fuel usage is also contentious, such as roofing shingles, telephone poles, used oils and plastics, which have also been approved for cement production in Canada.  TDF does not, in fact, have a unique environmental legacy.

TDF may remain a lightning rod for industries such as cement production, but recent developments suggest that rapid expansion of TDF usage may be near, particularly following a successful pilot project.  It may also be that the coming regulated circular economy regimes across Canada will, ironically, contribute to TDF growth with privatized and non-prescriptive EPR obligations that may allow producers to economically benefit from TDF resource recovery.

This article has been republished with the permission of the author. It was first published on the Baker McKenzie Environmental Law Insights 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. Mr. Cocker was recently appointed the first Sustainability Officer of the International Bar Association.

Regional District of Nanaimo new waste diversion initiatives include mattress recycling

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As reported in the Parksville Qualicum News, the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) is working to implement new waste management initiatives, including mattress recycling, that will help the municipality reach its goal of 90 percent waste diversion from landfill.

The new waste diversion initiatives focus on the strategies of reduce, reuse and recycle. They include zero-waste kits, compost giveaways, non-stewarded residential household hazardous waste collection and mattress recycling.

As more communities focus on banning single-use plastics and other items, there is a demand for reusable items. The RDN is introducing “ReThink Waste” branded zero-waste kits that include reusable produce bags; reusable cloth snack bags and reusable straws. The plan is to offer these as prizes and giveaways throughout the year at RDN and affiliated community events.

The Solid Waste Services Department for the RDN owns and operates the Regional Landfill, Church Road Transfer Station and provides residential garbage collection and recycling service to more than 29,000 households in the region. The RDN has made a long-term commitment to achieving Zero Waste, reducing garbage, conserving resources, reducing greenhouse gases and creating a more sustainable region.

Mattress Recycling

Mattresses have a compaction rate 400% less than regular garbage, thus making them a problem in all landfills. Recycling mattresses in other Canadian jurisdictions has had mixed success.

The mattresses collected by the RDN are recycled by Recycle Matter. Recycle Matters is an INEO Employment Services Job Creation Partnership (JCP). INEO is an organization that provides work for individuals who normally would not gain employment within the community. The JCP was also funded by the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia.

As of November 8th of last year, the RDN diverted 710 mattresses from the landfill for recycling by Recycle Matters.

Recycle Matters employs three individuals (two general labourers and one business/office administrator) to work with a supervisor and the project manager to set-up a mattress recycling facility.

The company salvages parts of the mattress such as springs, foam and textiles that are shipped out to companies for re- purposing. Up to 95 percent of the mattress can be recycled.

With respect to mattresses, the RDN has a surcharge for mattresses and box springs of $15 per unit.

Fun with Waste: City of Laval uses rap music to encourage recycling

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Officials at the City of Laval have teamed up with rap collective Alaclair Ensemble in an effort to increase recycling rates in the municipality.

Alaclair, one of Quebec’s most acclaimed rap groups, were commissioned to write and perform an original song and video to inspire more citizens to recycle properly.

The group’s new song and video is called “Mets du respect dans ton bac” – roughly translated, “Put some respect in your bin.” It remains to be seen if there is a correlation between the song’s release and recycling rates in the suburb community of 422,000 north of Montreal.

According to a survey conducted by the city in 2017, more than half of the citizens put items in their recycling bin that should not be there, including plastic 6, clothing, toys, and plastic decorations.

In addition to the music video, Laval is distributing explanatory leaflets to every residence to help citizens better understand what is permitted in recycling containers.

Canada: Construction Waste Rules Set to Change

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Written by by Jonathan D. Cocker, Baker McKenzie

The numbers speak for themselves – construction, along with renovation and demolition (CRD) waste has long been one of the largest waste streams in Canada (e.g. wood, asphalt roofing, drywall, etc). Further, unlike waste streams of similar size such as municipal solid waste and organics/food waste, CRD waste has been relatively untouched by regulation in either its generation or its disposal.  This appears about to change.

CAP Required EPR for CRD Wastes by 2017

The Canadian Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility, CCME, September 2009, (the CAP) included important cross-country commitments by every province and territory to require Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for CRD wastes within 8 years of the CAP.

CRD waste was to be subject to EPR along with “Phase I” wastes and other “Phase 2” wastes such as furniture, textiles, carpeting and appliances.  While there has been demonstrable success among the provinces and territories with Phase I material EPR programs, the inverse has been true for Phase II, including for CRD waste:

Despite these documented successes, there continues to be major challenges. Firstly and most importantly, the CCME goal for action by 2017 on the Phase 2 product list (construction and demolition materials, furniture, textiles and carpet, appliances and ozone depleting substances) will not be met. Construction and demolition materials are a major component of the solid waste stream both by weight and percentage and despite a few studies, small pilot programs and private initiatives there has been little progress in this area.

Overview of the State of EPR in Canada: What Have We Learned?, EPR Canada, September 2017

From the Shadows to the Spotlight?

Sceptics might ask why CRD waste cannot simply remain in the regulatory no-man’s land between unfettered disposal and comprehensive waste management- namely, the soft industry CRD waste goals.

After all, Ontario has quietly dropped CRD waste from its circular economy commitments.  The former administration’s 2016 Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario: Building a Circular Economy, called for the construction and demolition sectors to dramatically increase resource recovery efforts, including through amendments to the “3 Rs” Industrial, Commercial & Institutional Sectors waste regulations.  Since then, CRD waste has vanished from the province’s EPR regulatory agenda (other than in respect of soils).  But perhaps, EPR alone was never the answer for all CRD materials.

The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), after a 3-year consultation and policy development process, aims to return CRD waste to the policy forefront with a much broader and more robust set of policy requirements to reduce and resource recovery CRD waste.

CCME Aims to Change CRD Industries

The new CCME Guide for Identifying, Evaluating and Selecting Policies for Influencing Construction, Renovation and Demolition Waste Management, 2019 contains a nearly exhaustive study of the policy options provinces and territories may adopt in reducing and diverting CRD waste.

Among the options presented:

  • Permitting process to better incorporate CRD waste reduction and diversion;
  • Producer responsibility programs for flooring, drywall, window glass, brick, asphalt roofing and engineering/treated wood;
  • Restrictions upon CRD waste transportation and disposal bans;
  • Levies upon virgin materials and non-divertible CRD wastes;
  • Building code, certifications and standards changes to require CRD waste reduction/diversion; and
  • Public procurement to include CRD waste management.

Clearly, the days of the 3Rs as exhaustive CRD waste regulation are numbered.

Regional Approaches to CRD Regulation

In some of the CCME waste / EPR policies, typically relating to specific products and consumer materials, there is an understandable push for cross-Canada uniformity of approach and related regulatory requirements.

For CRD waste, however, the CCME allows a combination of the best policy options above to be “tailored to [a jurisdiction’s] unique political, economic and market conditions.” How to resolve local and regional needs with industry’s desire for consistent and transparent national standards will be just one of many areas of interest to CRD industries.

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The CCME has arguably laid out a detailed and instructive regulatory roadmap for CRD wastes. It is now up to the CRD industries and their partners to determine how to make the most out of these challenges and opportunities across Canada.

This article is republished at the permission of the author. It was first published on the Baker McKenzie Environmental Law Insights 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. Mr. Cocker was recently appointed the first Sustainability Officer of the International Bar Association Mr. Cocker is a frequent speaker and writer on environmental issues and has authored numerous publications including recent publications in the Environment and Climate Change Law Review, Detritus – the Official Journal of the International Waste Working Group, Chemical Watch, Circular Economy: Global Perspectives published by Springer, and in the upcoming Yale University Journal of Industrial Ecology’s special issue on Material Efficiency for Climate Change Mitigation. Mr. Cocker maintains a blog focused upon international resource recovery issues at environmentlawinsights.com.

Battery Industries Prepare For Circular Economy

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Written by Jonathan D. Cocker, Partner at Baker McKenzie

With some important recent developments, the battery industries and their resource recovery partners have taken significant steps in preparing for the coming individual producer responsibility (IPR) circular economy laws.

More specifically, Ontario’s Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act will impose regulated IPR obligations upon makers, brand owners and first importers of a range of small and large size batteries as of June 30, 2020.   Clearly, the time for needed industry-wide structural adjustments to meet this challenge is now.

Single-Use Batteries, But What Else?

There has been some shuffling between the batteries and electronics industries as to when and how the two sectors will transition to IPR.  Critics of the transitions have argued that some or all of the battery categories must be regulated under IPR at the same time as e-waste, December 31st, 2020.

The Batteries Regulation, likely due for release in the coming weeks, will hopefully make clear as to which categories of batteries will be caught by this resource recovery law beyond single use batteries – which will necessarily be regulated by June 30th, 2020.  The draft regulation proposed the following battery categories:

  1. Small single use batteries weighing 5 kilograms or less
  2. Small rechargeable batteries weighing 5 kilograms or less
  3. Large batteries weighing more than 5 kilograms.

It may be that some of these categories, or industry-specific battery types within these proposed categories, have staggered compliance dates.  Either way, Ontario’s batteries are joining tires as North America’s first circular economy-regulated materials.

The Case for Some Exclusions

Perhaps the most contentious products potentially caught under the coming Batteries Regulation are lead acid batteries, commonly used in vehicles.  The Canadian Battery Association has long run a voluntary stewardship program in Ontario, as well as some regulated programs in certain other provinces, for the successful recycling of lead acid batteries.

Used Car Batteries

The value of imposing regulated IPR for lead acid batteries in Ontario has been openly questioned by the CBA, which boasts very high new battery recovery rates already.  Its recovery rate includes other types of lead-acid battery applications:  energy storage, motive power as well as batteries for other applications such as boats, skidoos etc that are not legally considered vehicles. The CBA takes the position that all lead-acid batteries within a circular economy should be exempt. Exempting vehicle batteries under IPR, when their tires and waste oils (and perhaps other components) will be governed by the resource recovery regime, does appear to be a challenge.

Further, there remains the thorny issue of how responsibility is allocated between battery and electronic producers for embedded batteries.  The Batteries Regulation will hopefully resolve this.

No Institutional Incumbent

Unlike tires and the coming transition for e-waste (tech and A/V), where the government-designated industry-funded organization has been positioned to transition to becoming the IPR producer responsibility organization (PRO), the private sector response to batteries will be different.

Call2Recycle, traditionally a voluntary market collector of recyclable batteries in Ontario, does have experience operating programs to meet regulated battery recycling obligations (rechargeable and single use) in some other provinces of Canada.

Call2Recycle has signaled its intention to be a registered PRO for certain categories of batteries.  It would appear likely that the largest brand owners will obtain their recovery services through this battery PRO, but producer choices remain to be finalized once the market fully privatizes.

The CBA also has a Memorandum of Understanding with Call2Recycle, which will serve both parties under IPR in Ontario and elsewhere.

RMC – Call2Recycle Partnership Agreement

Most recently, a partnership agreement for the management of end-of-life single use and rechargeable batteries has been entered into between Call2Recycle and Ontario-based Raw Materials Company (RMC).

RMC has been the only in-province recycler of waste-regulated batteries under the current government-directed program and will likely gain opportunities to enhance its competitive position with both Call2Recycle and other battery producer groups, as this resource recovery market developments.

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While there are only slightly more than 6 months for the battery industries to prepare for the circular economy, there are clear signs that anticipatory market adjustments are already happening to meet the coming demands of the Batteries Regulation, just as the legislation had intended.

This article has been republished with the permission of the author. It was first published in the Environmental Law Insights.


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. Mr. Cocker was recently appointed the first Sustainability Officer of the International Bar Association Mr. Cocker is a frequent speaker and writer on environmental issues and has authored numerous publications including recent publications in the Environment and Climate Change Law Review, Detritus – the Official Journal of the International Waste Working Group, Chemical Watch, Circular Economy: Global Perspectives published by Springer, and in the upcoming Yale University Journal of Industrial Ecology’s special issue on Material Efficiency for Climate Change Mitigation. Mr. Cocker maintains a blog focused upon international resource recovery issues at environmentlawinsights.com.

Too Much Waste, Too Little Investment

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Written by Mark Bernstein, Alicia Marseille, and Rajesh Buch, Arizona State University and co-authored by Kimberley Marumahoko, Venkatesh Kini, and Peter Schelstraete, Ubuntoo

Fifty years ago, a US undersecretary of the Interior told a waste management seminar in Houston that “trash is our only growing resource.” Forty-two years and only a little progress later, the Bureau of International Recycling proclaimed, “the end of the waste era.” In her recent book “Waste,” UC Berkeley Professor Kate O’Neill describes waste as a global resource frontier. She suggests that wastes are no longer unwanted, but instead will help fuel a richer and more sustainable future. Despite these proclamations for the past fifty years and the knowledge that there is ‘value’ in what we throw away, we continue to put most if it into landfills, our waterways and our oceans. And micro-plastics now are showing up in the air as well.

By 2050, the world is expected to generate 3.4 billion tons of waste annually, increasing drastically from today’s 2 billion tons. In the US, municipal waste is expected to grow 20% by 2030. Single use plastics and cardboard are driving most of this growth. Some people say it won’t be too long before there are more plastics in the ocean than fish. Just this week, a beached sperm whale was found with a 210-pound ball of waste — predominantly plastics — ingested in its belly, likely the cause for its death.

It is possible we are finally beginning to see an attitude shift. Urban waste management is getting more expensive and taking larger shares of municipal and corporate budgets. Tipping fees in the U.S. are expected to rise 2–3% per year over the next few years with some regions facing 5% a year increases in costs. For the past two decades, recycling has been a viable solution to keeping waste costs in check, but this was driven mostly by cost effective, low cost end markets existing through shipping materials around the world mostly importantly to China. In 2018, this changed when China stopped importing materials. This combined with an increasingly aware public, may start to change the dynamics.

The future of taking advantage of the value in our waste stream is to invest in innovation. One thing that the easy exporting of waste to China did, was to hinder innovation in the recycling space. When we analyze the investment streams in the waste management industry, we see evidence of this. Only 0.3% of international development financing has gone into solid waste management. The industry has also been lacking substantial investment in innovation. As one entrepreneur half-jokingly told us:

“Innovation in waste management means buying a bigger excavator.”

Ubuntoo, in partnership with the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service at Arizona State University (ASU), researched global data on startup investments between 1995 and 2019. Investments in startups is a great indicator for industry innovation. The investments in these spaces means that entrepreneurs see opportunity to develop new business models and innovation and are willing to dedicate their professional lives to those. And on the other hand, it signals that investors see the market opportunity for value and wealth creation.

Source: Crunchbase, 1995–2019

WeWork funding in 8 years is double that of all recycling startups in the past 24 years

The numbers for recycling are very disappointing. Whereas investments have poured into industries like healthcare, software, energy and transportation, only 0.22% of the total startup investments have found their way towards waste management and recycling startups. WeWork, the struggling “tech” real estate company founded in 2010, raised a total of $12.8 billion in 14 funding rounds. That is double the amount of all recycling startup funding over the last 24 years!

There are many reasons for this investment shortfall:

  1. As noted above, the ease and low cost of sending materials to China meant there was no incentive to innovate;
  2. Fluctuation in material markets over time have hurt overall business predictability. Global markets for secondary materials are subject to policy changes, economic ups and downs and pricing of virgin materials. In the case of plastics for example, crude oil costs have remained at very low levels, effectively out-competing recycled materials. In addition, in many places around the world the low cost of landfilling has hampered the growth of a recycling market;
  3. Many of the benefits of effective recycling and sustainable materials development are not as visible to people and are about “avoidance” of cost. At a macro-level, an effective recycling system can prevent negative impact on human health and climate change. But the benefit of that is hard to calculate and even harder to monetize;
  4. This is a tough business to be in. Unlike Social Media or SaaS (Software as a Service), most startups in the space of recycling and materials are dealing with physical interconnected set-ups, complex supply chains and a much longer incubation period. For a VC looking for an exit in 3–5 years and multiples exceeding 10x, investing in the digital space has been a more attractive proposition;
  5. Until recently, there were no clear policy drivers that created the right environment for investments in this space.

Time to invest in our only rapidly growing resource: waste

Although the past five decades have been disappointing, we are now entering an era of unprecedented opportunity. Over the past few years we have witnessed the emergence of a new generation of entrepreneurs and investors, working hand in hand to create material impact. As the graph below shows, there was an increase in investment activity 2018, perhaps in response to the China ban, and early indications show that we are on the same track in 2019.

Source: Crunchbase 2010–2019

We believe that the underlying drivers for new investment in this space can be systemic and long-term, but they will need some help. The following factors can drive this:

  1. Governments around the world are changing policies and legislation related to single-use plastics and waste imports. A flurry of Asian countries has changed their stance on waste imports. Many governments around the world have been stipulating collection targets and guidelines for the inclusion of recycled plastics (eg. European Union guidelines to include 30% recycled plastic in beverage bottles by the year 2030). And, politicians are embracing the idea of new materials. Earlier this year during the VivaTech conference, French president Emmanuel Macron endorsed bioplastics and underlined its potential for job creation. This already is starting to have a tremendous impact on the materials market. Many large and small food and beverage companies are scrambling to assure supply of recycled PET while investing in new innovative materials.
  2. We are witnessing a groundswell of entrepreneurs, innovators and university researchers across the globe in this space. They have access to technologies and innovations that used to be accessible only to large companies before: AI, blockchain, robotics, object recognition technology, bio-technology and materials. It is a tidal wave of opportunity that is here to stay and that will have tremendous impact over time.
  3. The advent of big data is starting to have an impact on the recycling industry. Tech companies and large-scale producers are using consumer behavior data and material tracking to identify new opportunities and markets for recycled materials.
  4. A rapidly growing number of impact investors, family offices and corporate VCs have capitalized on the opportunities. Organizations like The Closed Loop Fund, Circulate Capital and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste are making tangible investments in the space of recycling — not just in infrastructure for the “here and now” but also in innovation for tomorrow. We have seen corporate VC arms of companies stepping up to the plate, mostly driven by economic opportunity, partially also by social responsibility. For example: AB Inbev (100+ Accelerator), Danone (Danone Manifesto Ventures), Levi Strauss & Co., Nike, Suez, Henkel and Unilever– as well as household names in the recycling and plastics industry.
  5. The consumer is voting with their wallet. In 2018, the Stern Center for Sustainable Business has conducted an extensive study on market performance of more than 71,000 products in the United States. They found that 16.6% of products in the US market that have sustainability claims have contributed to more than 50% of the market growth between 2013 and 2018! And although just a portion of those claims were related to recycling and packaging materials, it shows that sustainability buying behavior is not a fringe phenomenon anymore.

In light of this, Arizona State University and Ubuntoo are stepping up our commitments too.

ASU is expanding on their successful regional economic development platform, the Resource Innovation Solutions Network (RISN), to launch the Circular Economy Regional Innovation Hub (CERIH). The RISN platform was a successful partnership between ASU’s Solutions Service and the City of Phoenix that worked with over 16 early stage companies over 2 years to create the following impact: $3.86 million in capital raised, $5.17 million in revenues generated, 7 patents filed, and 22 products launched. CERIH will expand beyond the boundaries of Phoenix and will be an economic driver for developing and accelerating circular solutions and technologies to meet the needs of both public and private sector entities. CERIH will continue working with early stage companies to provide unique access to resources and support from ASU, and it will be the first of its kind to focus on accelerating regional circular economy solutions with unique access to municipal resources, space for pilots and global partnerships.

Ubuntoo is announcing the development of a Funding Marketplace. Of the 700+ innovations that we feature on our platform, more than 70 have indicated that they are currently seeking funding. At the same time, many corporate VCs, family offices and impact VCs are already Ubuntoo members. Given our unique access to the ecosystem and our comprehensive global network, we see ourselves playing an important role in accelerating investments towards innovations that reduce or eliminate plastic waste and pollution.

This article has been a collaboration between Arizona State University Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service and Ubuntoo.


Mark Bernstein, Chair, Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service, Arizona State University. Mark Bernstein has 25 years of experience pioneering energy and sustainability solutions through robust analysis and innovative frameworks across academic, private, public and non-profit sectors. As the Rob and Melani Walton Chair for Sustainability Solutions, Mark leads an effort to make measurable impacts on sustainability and influence decisionmaking by utilizing the deep knowledge and experience resources across Arizona State University and drive collaborations and partnerships that will create global solutions.

Alicia Marseille, Director of Innovation, Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service, Arizona State University. Alicia Marseille serves as the Director of Innovation following her successful directorship of the RISN Incubator, a circular economy accelerator within the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network, or RISN. The RISN Incubator is a collaboration between the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service and Entrepreneurship + Innovation departments at Arizona State University along with the City of Phoenix and is partially funded by a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant.

Rajesh Buch, Director, Sustainability Practice, International Development, Arizona State University. Rajesh Buch drives Arizona State University’s efforts to provide solutions to the complex sustainability challenges facing the developing world by linking ASU’s world-class researchers to international development funding agencies, and by fostering partnerships with NGOs, the public and private sectors, and foundations.

The Role of Chemical Recycling in a Circular Economy and Effective Waste Management

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Written by Zoltan Kish, Ph.D., Quasar Science Tech

The increasing amount of waste is one of the most challenging problems facing the World, which creates enormous environmental problems. According to the World Bank, Canada produces the most waste per capita in the world. Additionally, Canada recycles just 9 percent of its plastics. Banning foreign waste import by China and other counties has not helped to waste recycling business in Canada. In addition, shifting the recycling program to the producer responsibility by the Ontario Government, will reduce further plastic waste recycling and will increase the plastic pollution. A ban of certain single-use plastic products (e.g., straws, bags) may not solve the spread of plastic litter and environmental problems. Without more effective and sustainable ways to manage produced waste, more and more waste will end up in landfills polluting our land, water, and air.

At the same time, we have a tremendous business opportunity to convert waste into usable sustainable products. According to a market study report prepared by Market Insights Reports, the smart waste management market was valued at $1.41 billion (USD) in 2018 and is expected to reach $5.19 billion by 2024, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.68%, during the forecast period of 2019-2024.

Contaminated and mixed waste products (e.g., plastic, paper, industrial waste, medical waste, MSW) are challenging to recycle by mechanical/physical processing. Especially, traditional plastic waste recycling has difficulties and limitations. Mechanical sorting is not effective for mixed plastic waste. Thousands of different types of plastic are manufactured by combinations of different resin types, dyes, and additives. In addition, the plastic material quality is very susceptible to contamination. Even carefully selected plastic materials can only be recycled limited times in similar products since it degrades every time after reheating. Therefore, most plastic products are downcycled into items of reduced value, such as textiles, toys or fibres, and eventually, end up in landfills and water resources creating tremendous environmental problems. Replacing plastics with alternative materials, such as glass and metals would cost more to manufacture due to the higher energy and other resource consumption. The problem is the way of the current waste management operating.

On the other hand, waste plastic can be recycled into high-value products using advanced and cost-effective waste conversion technologies. The circular economy is not only based on simple reusing waste products. The purpose the recycling is to redesign and convert waste into forms retaining as high value as possible in a circular economy. We need sustainable and effective waste management to protect our environment and develop a working circular economy. In a circular economy, chemical recycling can play a pivotal role in waste conversion into usable materials and clean energy.

Chemical Recycling for a Circular Economy

Chemical recycling as waste recycling using effective waste conversion technology is essential for a working circular economy. Illinois and Ohio have become the most recent states to pass laws making it easier to build chemical recycling facilities, regulating them as recycling operations rather than waste processing plants. Canadian Government could also consider that as a tool to develop a new approach – “Chemical Recycling” in waste management. Regrettably, Canada and other G7 countries are planning to use waste-to-energy incineration as part of a plastic pollution solution. However, incineration is a very costly and inefficient way for waste conversion into energy and generating highly toxic and carcinogenic pollutants.

The environmental impact of waste can be minimized by proper waste management applying advanced waste conversion technologies. The government should address the demand to solve the incredible waste accumulation problem by developing appropriate tools for waste management challenges and supporting the development of effective waste conversion technologies. We should focus more on waste diversion from landfills and water resources, and the conversion of waste into high-value products. Garbage can be converted into high-value clean energy and sustainable products using advanced and cost-effective waste conversion technologies, such as anaerobic digestion, pyrolysis, gasification, plasma-enhanced gasification, and steam gasification. Therefore, the circular economy should include the use of effective waste conversion technologies to produce high-value usable products. Perspectives of different waste conversion technologies are provided in the article – “Perspectives on Waste-to-Energy Technologies”.

Chemical Recycling should be based on reliable and cost-effective waste conversion technologies. Therefore, it is very important to do technical due diligence before investing and applying new technology to prevent wasting time and money. Regrettably, investors often do not take the time to evaluate the proposed technology and, therefore, the underlying scientific/technological basis of the business is often neglected in the CleanTech sectors. As a result of this, enormous and overpriced facilities were built producing not profitable products. In addition to financial data and management of the company, the underlying scientific/technology base of the applied technology should be considered. Science is supposed to be an essential pillar of a successful and sustainable business. Consequently, it is very important to properly establish the underlying scientific/technology base for applied technologies to build a successful waste conversion plant. The success of waste conversion technology applications depends on the following main factors:

  • The underlying scientific/technological basis of the process
  • Implementation of effective scrubbing systems to remove contaminants
  • Process modelling
  • Mass & Energy balance
  • Proper engineering design
  • Financial data based on mass & energy balance
  • Waste feedstock evaluation, preparation and availability
  • Waste energy conversion efficiency
  • Quantity and quality of the produced products
  • Applications of the products
  • Cost-effectiveness of the project

As a result of many years of development, a unique and cost-effective waste convection technology has been developed and tested at the pre-commercial waste conversion facility.  The developed technology is based on a steam gasification process in combination with a reliable scrubbing/cleaning system. The steam gasification technology represents a potential alternative to the traditional treatments of waste feedstocks (e.g. plastic, biomass, MSW, sewage sludge, industrial by-products) to produce high-quality syngas, which contains no noxious oxides and higher hydrogen concentration than products produced by traditional gasification. The chemistry is different due to the high concentration of steam as a reactant and the total exclusion of air and, therefore, oxygen from the steam reformation process. The proposed technology using an indirectly heated kiln in combination with a reliable and effective scrubbing/cleaning system without a feedstock sorting requirement. The technology uses “off the shelf” commercially proven equipment, which significantly lowers the capital and operating costs compared to other waste conversion technologies.

In a working circular economy, a solution for waste disposal and clean energy and sustainable product regeneration is an effective waste conversion technology application based on thermo-chemical and bio-chemical processes. The produced product type depends on the types of feedstock and reactants, and the applied processing conditions as applied physico-chemical interaction conditions in the system. The applied waste conversion technology type depends on the waste feedstock composition and the market requirement on the produced products from waste. The suitable waste conversion technology can divert waste from landfills and convert waste into usable products and prevent contamination of our environment. The waste steam gasification technology as a cost-effective process is most suitable for contaminated and mixed waste (including plastic waste) conversion into various forms of high-value sustainable products, such as electricity, hydrogen, liquid synthetic fuels, and chemicals. At the current stage, based on market demand, hydrogen production from mixed waste (including contaminated plastic waste) is the most cost-effective solution. Using the steam gasification technology for waste conversion into hydrogen is an opportunity for a profitable business, which can solve the world’s biggest problem – the enormous waste accumulation.

There is a requirement for a new and innovative approach in the development of a solution for waste management challenges, waste recycling, plastic waste pollution reduction and a working circular economy. The used waste conversion technologies should be efficient and combined with a reliable scrubbing/cleaning system to remove contaminants in order to generate clean/ renewable energy and other sustainable products and prevent pollution of the surrounding environment. The application of advanced and effective waste conversion technologies can offer an innovative solution to the waste accumulation problem and making a positive impact on the protection of our environment.

Chemical recycling based on cost-effective waste conversion technologies can provide a fundamental shift in the way of produced waste handling in a circular economy. In the working circular economy, the use of cost-effective waste conversion technologies is an innovative waste management strategy to divert waste from landfills, produce clean energy and sustainable products, reduce depletion of natural resources, protect our environment, save time and money. Chemical recycling is a comprehensive and innovative solution to the complex problem of waste management and moving towards a circular economy.


About the Author

Dr. Zoltan Kish has a Ph.D. in Chemistry with over 25 years of diverse industrial and academic experience and contributed to more than 70 scientific publications. He has developed and managed complex research and development programs related to alternative/renewable energy, clean technologies, effective waste conversion into usable products, sustainability, and advanced materials applications. Dr. Kish was the Director of Research & Development at two Canadian alternative energy companies where he focused on R&D and commercialization of unique waste conversion technologies and reliable scrubbing/cleaning systems to produce clean and sustainable energy products.

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

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

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

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

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

Why was Loop created?

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

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

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

An issue of efficiency, economics and equity

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

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

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

A distance too far: Environmental and economic impacts of transportation

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

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

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

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

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

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

For curbside recyclable and waste collection, a specially configured truck will go from house to house, and when full, return to the transfer station/depot to empty its material before redeploying to the road. The efficiency of this approach is in having a “critical mass” of material (within a specified geographical boundary), that only requires collection when sufficient waste has been generated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The road to the landfill is paved with good intentions

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

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

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

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


About the Author

Calvin LAKHAN, Ph.D, is currently co-investigator of the “Waste Wiki” project at York University (with Dr. Mark Winfield), a research project devoted to advancing understanding of waste management research and policy in Canada. He holds a Ph.D from the University of Waterloo/Wilfrid Laurier University joint Geography program, and degrees in economics (BA) and environmental economics (MEs) from York University. His research interests and expertise center around evaluating the efficacy of municipal recycling initiatives and identifying determinants of consumer recycling behavior.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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