Circular economy approach at Emerald Energy from Waste

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Written by John Nicholson, Navdeep Randev, and Anastasia Jagdeo

Circular Economy

There has been much discussion on the term “circular economy” and the need for individuals, organizations, and governments to think in terms of circular economy.  In essence, a circular economy is one in which waste is essentially eliminated.  Prior to the modern age, humans were part of the circular economy that exists in nature.

As we may have learned in high school science class, there are cycles in nature including those for carbon, water, and nitrogen.  The industrial revolution broke away from natural cycles and created a linear approach to materials and energy management – products were manufactured, served their useful purpose, and then disposed of in a landfill.  The circular economy approach attempts to create a circle again through the 3Rs and the 4th R.

In Europe and in other forward-thinking jurisdictions around the world, energy-from-waste is considered the Fourth “R” after the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle).  The fourth “R” represents the recovery of energy from waste.

Circular Economics applied in Waste Management

Since 1992, the Emerald Energy-from-Waste (EFW) facility has quietly and unassumingly been part of the 4th R – recovering the energy from municipal solid waste.  The facility, originally knowns as Peel Resource Recovery Inc. is situated in an industrial area in north Mississauga, Ontario.  In all of its years of operation, there has been nary an odour, noise, or other nuisance complaint formerly brought against the facility.  Visitors tend to be amazed when they tour the facility which ends at the emissions stack.  Their preconceived notion is that they would see smoke from the stack.  In fact, the emissions are invisible on a warm day.  On cold days, the visible emissions are water vapour.

For the first twenty years of its operation, the facility’s main source of waste was from the Region of Peel.  More recently, it has received waste from several municipalities as well as U-Pak Disposal Ltd., a related company.  The facility also specializes in disposing of special waste including contraband seized by various police departments and Canadian Border Services at nearby Pearson Airport.

The facility runs 24-hours a day, 7 day per week.  It has a total of five two-unit gasifiers/combustion modules that work in parallel to process 500 tonnes per day of solid waste.

The heat generated from the combustion of waste at the facility is used to turn water into steam.  Some the steam is piped to a neighbouring cardboard recycling facility to meet their process needs.  The remaining steam is used to generate about 10 MW of electricity.  The facility itself consumes about 2 MW and its sells the remainder to the local power utility.

Unfortunately, the electricity generated from the Emerald EFW is not considered renewable under Ontario rules and hence does not receive the premium pricing other forms of the renewable energy receive.  There are jurisdictions around the world where EFW is considered a renewable energy source and is priced at a premium.

The volume of waste coming into the facility is reduced by 90 percent through the EFW process and is in the form of either bottom ash or fly ash.  The bottom ash is disposed of in a landfill, although the facility has been and continues to look for other uses for it such as an additive to asphalt or in building materials.  The facility is working with McMaster University researchers on developing a high-value use for the bottom ash.

The fly ash, by regulation, is considered hazardous and is managed at a hazardous waste landfill.

Expansion Plans

The facility is currently in the planning stages of an expansion which would involve the addition of more combustion units and an upgrade of its air pollution control system.  The plans also include an alternative use of the energy recovered from the waste – the production of hydrogen fuel for the trucks that bring waste to the facility.

The facility is working with researchers at the University of Waterloo and a partner in the automotive industry to work out the details of hydrogen generation and use as a fuel for the trucks the off-load waste at the facility on a daily basis.  Preliminary economics and environmental analysis indicate that this is a much more effective use of the heat obtained from the EFW facility.

The Emerald EFW is a shining example of EFW done right in Canada.  It has been an underappreciated harbinger what can be accomplished at municipalities throughout the country.

Why expanding the list of acceptable Blue Box materials hurts more than it helps

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

Preface: For readers outside of Ontario, the Blue Box refers to the province’s residential recycling program for printed paper and packaging.

What is being proposed?

On October 19, 2020, Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks released a proposed regulation to govern the Ontario Blue Box program under the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, 2016 (the RRCEA). The regulation will transition Ontario’s blue box recycling program for printed paper and packaging to full extended producer responsibility (EPR).

The proposed regulation expands the list of acceptable Blue Box materials to include “packaging-like products” and certain single-use items. Examples of packaging like products include: aluminum pie plates, tin foil, plastic wraps and food trays, plastic cutlery/plates and single use drink containers.

The intent of this change is three fold: 1) By including packaging-like products, the regulation targets items that so far have been free riders in Ontario’s Blue Box system. 2) Reduce public confusion regarding what is considered an acceptable Blue Box material in their jurisdiction. The proposed change will standardize accepted Blue Box materials, with the same set of materials being collected throughout the province 3) Move towards harmonizing approaches to managing packaging waste at a national level – British Columbia has announced plans to include single-use and packaging-like products in its list of obligated materials by 2023

What is the issue?

The MOECP’s decision to expand the list of acceptable Blue Box materials to include “packaging like products” is inconsistent with previous direction from the province and contradicts the messaging surrounding the federal single use plastics ban.

Prior to the transition plan, municipalities actively discouraged accepting packaging like products in the Blue Box. The primary concern expressed by municipalities was that it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to recycle many of these materials. The costs associated with attempting to collect and recover packaging like products was prohibitive, and could not be rationalized given that these materials were often treated as contamination (both at the material recycling facility, and downstream re-processors), and subsequently disposed of.

Under a full EPR system, wherein packaging producers assume 100% of the physical and financial responsibility for managing packaging waste at end of life, the messaging surrounding packaging like products has now changed. While the infrastructural and technical barriers to recycling these materials remains unchanged, who pays for it has. The potential costs to producers is significant, as none of the pre-requistes for effectively recycling packaging like products are in place – there is limited infrastructure, no viable end markets and no end use applications for these materials.

With respect to the federal directive to ban single use plastics, Ontario’s decision to try and include these items as part of the Blue Bin program is perplexing. Allowing households to place single use packaging in the Blue Bin erroneously suggests that these materials are going to be recycled. As a result, the public receives two conflicting messages – the federal government is saying that single plastics should be banned due to their lack of recyclability and impact on the environment, while the provincial government is saying to include these materials as part of the residential recycling program.

Consumers already struggle with differentiating between what products can be recycled, and what cannot. Consumers have also expressed skepticism as to whether the materials that are collected are actually recycled at all. With this in mind, the decision to include packaging like materials as part of the Blue Box program is likely to exacerbate uncertainty, and serve to undermine the efficacy and credibility of the federal single use plastics ban.

It is the university’s assertion that expanding the list of acceptable materials will result in adverse economic, environmental and social outcomes for Ontarians and lead to consumer confusion regarding what materials are actually recyclable.

What will this cost?

Quantifying the economic impact of expanding the list of acceptable Blue Box materials is enormously challenging, largely because the vast majority of packaging like products cannot be recycled in our existing system. Further complicating matters is that we don’t have a clear understanding of the quantities of packaging like products that are being generated in the province – in short, there is not enough data at this time to make informed policy decisions.

With that in mind, this section attempts to model a scenario using best available data that is intended to provide directional guidance as to what this change will cost. Additional research needs to be done in this area as better data becomes available.

Note: The data used in this section is based on the Stewardship Ontario Pay in Model (used as an analog to estimate net costs per tonne for packaging like products) and 55 waste audits conducted throughout Ontario, between the periods of 2015 and 2020. Audit data is used to estimate the quantities of packaging like products that are being generated by households each year.

Based on the waste audit data, Ontarians, on average, generate approximately 567kg of waste per household every year (Note: Estimates range from as little as 411kg/hh to more than 740kg/hh depending on where the audit was conducted). Overall residential waste generation in Ontario, based on a population of 5,169,175 households, is 2,933,196.66 Tonnes.

Of this, packaging like products makes up approximately 4.01% of all waste generated. Table 1 below provides a detailed breakdown of waste composition, as well as net cost per tonne to manage these materials as part of the Blue Box.

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Weighted Average Net Cost Per Tonne: $2002.52/T

% of Packaging like products of overall waste: 4.01%

Based on our aggregated audit data, 39% of packaging like products are found in the recycling stream (Blue Box), 8% in the Organics Stream (Green Bin) and 53% in the garbage stream (Trash)

Using the above data, we can now estimate what the potential cost would be if Ontario were to move forward with the decision to include packaging like products as part of the Blue Bin. To reiterate, these numbers should be interpreted with caution due to the paucity of available data. This modeling assumes that the material analogs we have taken from the PIM model, accurately reflect packaging like products. We also assume that packaging like products are being recycled, as opposed to being screened as contamination and subsequently discarded. The results of this analysis are shown in Table 2 below:

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Are there environmental benefits?

In light of the enormous costs attributable to expanding the list of acceptable Blue Box materials, it seems prudent that we evaluate the environmental benefits of this decision. The increase in costs could potentially be rationalized if it yields a more sustainable outcome (in this context, we refer to environmental sustainability)

Unfortunately, the inclusion of packaging like products in the Blue Bin does not mean that these materials will be recycled. Based on available infrastructure, processing technology and end markets, there is a very strong likelihood that these materials will be treated as contamination (either at the MRF, or at the processor) and subsequently discarded.

If the landfill is the likely outcome for these materials, it begs the question, “What are we trying to achieve?” At this juncture, it’s not entirely clear what expanding the list of Blue Box materials achieves other than a higher cost for producers (and subsequently, a higher cost for households).

While proponents of this legislative change will cite that packaging producers will have the ability to innovate and develop new end markets and end use applications for these materials, there is very little evidence (if any) of that occurring. Policy makers often erroneously assume that packaging producers have a significant degree of autonomy and control regarding what happens with their products at end of life. The reality is that the vast majority of CPG companies are “market takers”, subject to macro-economic conditions that ultimately determine the value and recyclability of a particular material. In short, if a material had inherent value at its end of life when recycled, then markets would already exist for these materials. Forcing packaging producers who operate in Ontario to invest and develop the infrastructure to recycle packaging like products places them at a distinct disadvantage, as they are incurring an additional cost to manage and recycle materials that would not be recovered if left to a free market.

An argument could even be made that the decision to include packaging like products as part of the Blue Box yields an inferior environmental outcome relative to landfilling. Based on the modeling shown in Table 2, we estimate that the decision to include packaging like products would result in an additional 45,872.26 tonnes being managed as part of the Blue Box system. These are materials that would ultimately have to be collected, transported and sorted – all of which have a carbon impact associated with each activity. For context, GHG impacts of recyclable collection and sorting (at the MRF) makes up approximately 19% of the total carbon footprint of recycling activity. If packaging like materials are ultimately sent to disposal due to a lack of adequate infrastructure or end market demand, then the province’s decision would have actually added GHGs to the environment, not prevented it.

Whatever environmental benefit that may result from including packaging like materials in the Blue Bin is predicated on these materials actually being recycled. Both the public and policy makers need to understand that diversion/recycling is not based on the quantities of collected material inbound to a MRF – at present, recycling is defined as baled and marketed material. In the absence of end markets for packaging like materials, what does the province think is going to happen to the material that is collected?

Caveats to this analysis and key considerations

To reiterate, the estimates used in this analysis use the costs associated with attempting to actually recycle packaging like products. Given that these materials are not actually recyclable in the given system, we have used cost analogs taken from the Stewardship Ontario Pay in Model. Numerous parties (including the university) have expressed concern regarding the accuracy and validity of the data found within the PIM model, but at this juncture, there is no alternative source that can be publicly referenced.

If packaging like products were to be included as part of the Blue Bin, the most likely scenario is that the vast majority of the material is going to be screened and end up in landfill. Even in this scenario, producers would be obligated to pay for the costs of collecting, sorting and disposal – while significant, the only credible way to estimate what this would cost would be to conduct an activity based costing study.

In a review of the proposed changes being put forward by the MECP, there are two key takeaways are: 1) What are we trying to do? If these materials can’t be recycled and ultimately be discarded, why bother including them to begin with? The decision to do so would result in industry spending millions of dollars to achieve an outcome that is no different than what is happening today.

2) At this juncture, there is insufficient data regarding how much of these materials are being generated, where it ends up, and what it costs to manage them. Given the degree of uncertainty surrounding the credibility of the data, it would be in the best interest of all stakeholders for the government to defer the decision to include packaging like materials in the Blue Box (until the potential impacts are better understood).

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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.

Giant ‘vacuum cleaner’ leaves beaches microplastic-free

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Conservationist group #SeaTheBiggerPicture Ocean Initiative (#STBP) and engineers from Matriarch Generic Engineering have developed a giant vacuum cleaner that picks up trash and sieves out microplastics from the beaches of Cape Town in South Africa.

Called the Enviro Buggy, it sieve out microplastics, pieces of plastic that have broken down and now are smaller than 5mm, from ordinary beach sand. It would take humans days to do the same using manual methods.

“The Enviro Buggy was born out of a necessity. We were fed up with trying to pick up so many tiny degraded particles of plastic. It was near impossible by hand, even with a large-scale crew,” said Tash Krauss, a conservationist at STBP.

Ontario’s blue box transition: Bringing individual producer responsibility to packaging

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Written by Jonathan Cocker, BLG and Denisa Mertiri, Green Earth Strategy

On October 19, 2020, Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks released a proposed regulation to govern the Ontario blue box program under the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, 2016 (the RRCEA). The regulation will transition Ontario’s blue box recycling program, covering paper products and packaging (PPP), to full extended producer responsibility (EPR).

Since 2002, Ontario has operated a shared responsibility framework for EPR, with municipalities and producers each bearing half the cost of municipal blue box programs. Municipalities, however, have remained in charge of operating recycling systems. The new regulation transitions both financial and operational responsibility to producers. It also aims to refine EPR using the innovative policy mechanism of individual producer responsibility (IPR), making each individual “producer” of PPP directly and individually responsible for resource recovery of the PPP placed onto the market in the province.

Using IPR, the province aims to hold individual producers accountable for the entire lifecycle of their own products – a watershed event in the development of a circular economy for PPP.

There are a number of notable requirements in the draft regulation implementing an IPR framework for PPP in Ontario.

Expanded list of materials

Currently, the blue box system includes paper products and packaging materials. The new regulation expands this list to include “packaging-like products” and certain single-use items. By including packaging-like products, the regulation targets items that so far have been free riders in Ontario’s blue box system. These include aluminum pie plates or bags bought in bulk. These items are indistinguishable from many considered packaging, such as aluminum plates used to package pies sold in supermarkets. With respect to single-use products, the regulation targets products such as straws, cutlery, plates used to consume food, and drink containers that are “ordinarily disposed of after a single use, whether or not they could be reused.”

Ontario’s choice to include these items aligns Ontario’s list of materials with those regulated as PPP in British Columbia. BC recently announced plans to include single-use and packaging-like products in its list of obligated materials under its EPR system by 2023. Perhaps this is a sign of more cross-country harmonization on PPP regulation, consistent with the federal initiatives in this area.

Special rules for compostables

Citing challenges with determining proper management approaches for compostable materials, the new regulation imposes registration and reporting obligations with respect to compostable materials, but does not mandate collection or management requirements.

It is hoped that these lowered obligations will provide policymakers with the information necessary to determine how these materials are used in Ontario, and to suggest better approaches to their management. Only a few facilities in Canada may be able to manage compostable materials. Optical scanners at most material recovery facilities cannot sort these materials, while manual sorters cannot easily tell the difference between certain types of compostable and conventional plastics.

This arguably reflects the ongoing uncertainty around the role that bioplastics and alternatives to plastics will play in Canada’s management of PPP.

New definitions targeting online free riders?

Online retail is growing rapidly worldwide, particularly during COVID-19 when physical stores are, at times, inaccessible. Ontario is no exception to this trend. This heightened online retail activity is, however, introducing in Ontario’s market products by producers that have no presence in Ontario or Canada and may not be registering as producers or paying fees to fund Ontario’s recycling system. This scenario has exacerbated the quantities of free riders in most EPR systems, whose products are collected by local recycling systems that they do not fund. Past product stewardship laws in Canada have reinforced this divide by only obligating resident sellers.

The draft regulation appears to address this challenge by designating “marketplace facilitators” that contract with “marketplace sellers” as producers if they are resident in Canada. The regulation defines “marketplace facilitator” as a person who,

(a) contracts with marketplace sellers to facilitate the supply of the marketplace seller’s products by,

(i) owning or operating an online marketplace or forum in which the marketplace seller’s products are listed or advertised for supply, or

(ii) transmitting or otherwise communicating the offer or acceptance between the marketplace seller and a buyer, and

(b) provides for the physical distribution of a marketplace seller’s products to the consumer, such as by the storage, preparation, or shipping of products

This definition appears to capture many online retailers who make the products of many sellers available to Ontarians.

Annual allocation table

Most surprisingly, the regulation also sets out a number of rules that will govern the creation of an “annual allocation table,” the first of which should be submitted as early as March 31, 2022. These rules help to determine which producers will be responsible for collecting from which sources, notionally allocating to them specific residences, facilities or public spaces each year.

The rules also set out the factors to be considered in the making of these allocations. Although the regulation leaves allocation decisions with producers and their producer responsibility organizations (PROs), once in force, the rules will have a regulatory effect over all producers and PROs in the system.

The allocation method is a novel approach to regulating producer responsibility and appears to run counter prior provincial commentary that the new blue box regulation under the RRCEA would be outcomes-focused and not prescriptive as to the manner in which producers chose to fulfill their obligations. The possibility that the Minister might either police existing rules, or even make rules for producers and/or their PROs should they fail to successfully do so themselves, appears to deviate from the free market foundations of this IPR model.

Conclusion

The new blue box regulation under the RRCEA is innovative in its decisions to implement a policy as complex as IPR for PPP. In addition to the novel approaches already discussed, many others bear mentioning, including reducing management requirements for use of recycled content in products, and joint and several liability between and among producers and their PROs for certain obligations under the regulation.

The proposed regulation is available for public comment for 45 days (until December 3, 2020). In addition, the province is also looking for feedback on amendments to Regulation 101/94 under Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act. Regulation 101/94 sets rules for recycling and composting municipal waste and standards for blue box waste management systems, including collection, acceptance, transportation and processing. As much is changing, stakeholders may have a lot to say before Ontario finalizes the new PPP regime.

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About the Authors

Jonathan Cocker, a partner at BLG, 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.

Denisa Mertiri J.D., is the founder of Green Earth Strategy. Green Earth Strategy advises industry, cities and government on how to create and maintain practical and effective circular economy and waste management strategies with staying power.

Fun with Waste: Using Tik Tok for Waste Management Messaging

The Town of Bromsgrove in England has used TikTok to help get the message out on waste pick up days.  The father and daughter duo of Paul and Kim provide the entertain and information on the brown bin collection schedule in the town.

Click here to watch the video.

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

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Written by the Continuous Improvement Fund

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

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

European Packaging EPR Lessons on the Ground

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

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

Vague definitions leave too much room for interpretation

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

Enforcement left to Member States with varying resources

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

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

Municipal costs are not fully covered

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

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

Europe Takes Action

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the Author

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

Dispelling Misinformation about Packaging EPR in Ontario and Canada

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Written by Neil Savio Menezes, President at EcoCompass

Ontario is at a critical juncture for the future of recycling in the province. Regulations are being drafted to transition Ontario’s Blue Box program to full producer responsibility which will make producers of residential packaging, paper and packaging-like products (PPPP) operationally and financially responsible for managing their materials at the end-of-life. This concept has been discussed ad nauseum for almost two decades in Ontario following the introduction of the Waste Diversion Act in 2002 which gave us our current shared responsibility model.

While there has been no shortage of debate on the merits of transitioning recycling costs from municipalities to producers over the years, the noise has recently grown louder following stakeholder consultations by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP). Well informed debate is a crucial element of good policymaking but I’m concerned by the misinformation and half-truths circulating and their potential to influence policymakers into weakening the proposed regulations. We are at risk of losing sight of what is most important: implementing a proven policy tool as equitably as possible.

In my experience, clarity is best achieved through thoughtful analysis of good data. Over the last decade, I have worked with producers, municipalities, packaging suppliers, government agencies and stewardship programs to analyze data that has been used to inform arguments on both sides of this debate. I have conducted Activity Based Costing (ABC) studies, updated annual producer fees, verified municipal recycling costs, optimized municipal recycling operations and assessed the limitations of British Columbia’s producer responsibility program. Needless to say, I have had unparalleled access to an abundance of data that has enlightened my views on these issues. Arguments based on misconceptions and data missteps, as outlined below, are muddying the conversation and this is my attempt to cut through the noise.

Claim 1: EPR will not save taxpayers money.

Under a full producer responsibility, municipalities will no longer be regulated to collect and process recyclable materials. This responsibility will now fall on producers, where the regulations will set targets for their materials and they will need to find a way to meet them. Some municipalities may still incur costs if they opt to continue recycling services for non-eligible sources or non-eligible PPPP under the new regulations; however, with one less service for municipalities to provide, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where municipalities will not see net savings overall. These savings will not translate into a cheque in the mail to residents or a direct reduction in property taxes given that recycling programs tend to represent a small percentage of a municipality’s total annual budget (e.g. $60 million out of $11.12 billion in Toronto or 0.5% in 2018), but the savings do free up funds to offset other municipal costs. With the financial toll of COVID-19 rising, these savings could not come at a better time for cash-strapped municipalities.

Claim 2: Costs of Producer-Led EPR are rising in British Columbia and the same will happen in Ontario.

British Columbia adopted a full producer responsibility model for PPP in 2014. As the only province to have done so, it is often used as the benchmark for producer responsibility in Canada. Opponents of producer responsibility have latched onto rising costs in BC to argue that producer-led programs are no more effective than a municipally-operated program. This argument is being made in Ontario to influence policymakers but they should be wary of drawing concrete conclusions from the BC experience about the efficacy of full producer responsibility.

For one, Recycle BC (formerly Multi-Material British Columbia) did not service all municipal programs when it started. Notably, City of Vancouver did not fully transition to Recycle BC until October 2016. As municipal programs were added each year, it follows that Recycle BC costs would increase in turn. Secondly, the program is relatively young. With only five years worth of data and much of it not publicly available, any modeling or projections for Ontario based on the BC experience are imprecise at best. Lastly, BC has a parallel beverage deposit program that removes much of the high-value materials (PET and Aluminum) from the program. Given that this is not an apples to apples comparison, using BC data to estimate system costs in Ontario under full EPR is nonsensical. A direct comparison of system costs between BC and Ontario, without accounting for these variations is misleading, and inaccurate.

Claim 3: EPR will be an economic burden on Ontario households.

According to a York University Study, a transition to 100% producer responsibility in Ontario for PPPP has been modeled to increase the “basket of goods” costs for consumers by anywhere from 6-12%. As always, the value of a model is dependent on the quality of the data used and the assumptions made by the modeler. According to my calculations, the increase is more realistically less than 1% – a number that would barely register on an individual receipt. Unfortunately, the study has not been released to allow for a proper peer review. I tried to replicate the results of the model from a bottom-up and top-down approach, and I can’t come close to the results:

Example 1: Let us cherry pick the most damaging example of the impact of producer responsibility on an individual product in the Blue Box. The simplest way to do this would be to pick the material with the highest cost to manage (EPR fee) and the lowest retail cost to consumers.

In Ontario’s program, the packaging with the highest EPR fee is a multi-layered drink pouch, also called a plastic laminate. The cheapest product I could find was a case of 10 juice pouches that retails for $2.00 (20 cents per pouch). With a weight of 4 grams per pouch and a 2020 EPR fee of 35 cents per kg, this would equate to a total EPR fee of 0.14 cents for each pouch. The EPR fee on a case of ten drink pouches would be 1.4 cents today, and if you doubled it (transition to full producer responsibility) it would be just under 3 cents or 1.5% of the total cost. A household would need to buy approximately 700 juice pouches to see a one dollar increase to their grocery bill over the course of a year. If that’s as scary as it gets, I don’t think consumers have much to worry about.

Example 2: Even the “frightening” example above overstates the impact to consumers as it incorrectly assumes that brand owners will apply the packaging recycling fee to every bill. System costs post-transition will be addressed through national or international pricing structures. In other words, the cost of recycling borne by producers post-transition will be spread out across all of their products across Canada. To put things into perspective, retail sales were over $225 billion in Ontario and $605 billion nationally in 2018, according to the Retail Council of Canada. The Blue Box program at its current cost of $300 million a year represents a total of 0.15% of total retail sales in the province, or 0.05% nationally. Since producers in Ontario are already footing half the bill today, you can see how negligible the cost will be in the grand scheme of things.

Claim 4: There have yet to be any examples in Canada where stewards have been able to develop new end markets or viable end use applications for composite and light-weight materials.

Ultra-specific statements like these always illustrate to me either an inherent bias or a lack of understanding of producer responsibility. Limiting the discussion to Canada where EPR is relatively new obscures the impact EPR can have on recycling investments. In Europe and Asia where EPR has been around for decades, this policy tool has resulted in significant investments to recycle obligated materials, including those that are considered difficult to recycle. One example is Hahn Plastics which manufactures new plastic products from used rigid and flexible plastics. I had an opportunity to visit their facility three-years ago and saw first-hand how the Packaging Regulation introduced by Germany in 1991 has incented investments in innovative processes to recycle lightweight plastics.

However, if citing Canadian examples of end market development for composite and lightweight plastics is the only way to settle this debate, we need look no further than these examples of EPR-induced investment:

When examining the impact of EPR, it’s also important to remember that Canada is unique compared to other jurisdictions in that EPR has been applied at the provincial level rather than nationally, or entire trade blocs as is the case with the European Union. Even with a patchwork of policies across the country, Canadian stewards, steward organizations, municipalities and other stakeholders have made significant investments to improve sorting operations and develop successful end markets for recyclable materials. Take glass recycling for example: Stewardship Ontario funded a glass recycling facility in 2008 and Éco Entreprises Québec (EEQ) committed $40 M to improve glass recycling in Quebec. These investments were made under a shared financial responsibility model. As full EPR spreads across Canada, economies of scale will fuel even greater investment.

I will admit that not all investments have been successful nor will EPR guarantee success after transition; we have seen facilities shutter their operations despite significant investment here in Ontario. However, the current status quo will see investments slowdown until there is clarity and commitment to move forward. We have seen other provinces adopt innovative approaches to recycling and producer responsibility as we fall behind. This transition is an opportunity for Ontario to lead once again.

Claim 5: Packaging that offers greater environmental benefit, such as carbon abatement, but is expensive to recycle should not be recycled.

Setting ambitious recycling targets through producer responsibility does not need to come at the expense of low-carbon packaging. In fact, a recent commitment by major corporate players demonstrates that light-weighting and source reduction can go hand-in-hand with recycling targets. Just a few weeks ago, 60+ brands, retailers, government agencies and NGOs signed the US Plastics Pact. Companies like Coca-Cola, Unilever, Wal-Mart, The Clorox Company, and others agreed to take measures to eliminate problematic or unnecessary packaging by 2025, and by the same year, take steps to ensure all packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable; recycle or compost 50% of plastic packaging; and, increase the average recycled content or responsibly sourced bio-based content in plastic packaging to 30%. This commitment does not prioritize one environmental issue over another, it recognizes that the combined issues of climate change, resource scarcity and plastic pollution require a suite of measures to overcome. I firmly believe that this embrace of circular economy principles by major corporate players and recognition of the control afforded by full producer responsibility to create circular material flows will improve the lifecycle impacts of packaging in Ontario.

It’s time to move forward.

The transition toward full producer responsibility has been a long-time coming and most stakeholders believe it is the right path forward. Unfortunately, we are seeing a repeat of lobbying efforts to derail this process using exaggerated cost estimates and other misleading arguments as opponents have successfully done in the past. To keep it on track, policymakers must be guided by sound logic and robust data.

Regulated outcomes like producer responsibility policies, coupled with strong corporate commitments, are what is necessary to drive change. Give producers the freedom to decide which is the more economical decision: either change their packaging to meet targets or develop end-of-life solutions for packaging materials that do not have one today. This is the basic intention of full producer responsibility. Ontario has an opportunity to support companies in their pursuit of a circular economy by getting the incentives right, leveling the playing field and giving them the certainty they need. Let’s cut through the noise and get this done.

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About the Author

Neil Savio Menezes is the President at EcoCompass, an environmental consulting firm that specializes in helping municipalities and companies achieve their recycling and diversion goals.

Fun with Waste: Transforming e-waste into post-apocalyptic landscapes

Photographer Benjamin Von Wong uses his photography as a way to make a positive social impact. Thought-provoking as they are beautiful, Von Wong’s high-concept series are innovative in their use of materials.

For his e-waste landscapes project, Von Wong used 1,800 kg of e-waste to create post apocalyptic landscapes.  The significance of the 1,800 kg explained Von Wong in an interview in My Modern Met, it that it equals the approximate amount of e-waste an American might use over their lifetime.

The Benefits of Regulatory Convergence on Sustainable Plastics Management within the Pacific Alliance

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Written by Maria Vizeu-Pinheiro, German Sturzenegger, Denisa Mertiri, and Jonathan D.Cocker

Plastic pollution, including through single-use plastics (SUPs), continues to plague natural environments around the world, including in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The region produces around 28 million tons of plastic waste every year (12% of total municipal waste), of which around 36% is SUP. It is estimated that about 4 million tons of plastic waste could enter the ocean in 2020 due to inadequate solid waste management in coastal cities, where a significant portion of the population lives.

In LAC, there is growing interest in combating the shared problem of marine plastics. The countries of the Pacific Alliance (PA) -Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru- have launched an Environmental and Climate Change action plan, including a Presidential Declaration on Sustainable Use of Plastics[1] focused upon:

  • an analysis of plastic bag regulation and recommendations for the reduction of their use;
  • a targeted single-use plastic ban;
  • research and support for new productive models for plastic alternatives;
  • action on the reduction of plastic contamination in water, including marine environments;
  • strengthening the culture of responsible use of plastics and recycling;
  • circular economy model advancement;
  • promotion of re-use of plastic; and
  • the setting of a Road Map implementing these commitments.

In addition, individual PA countries, have each been active in promoting domestic strategies on plastic products and packaging, setting targets and developing regulations such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), innovative recycling mechanisms such as “e-Coins”, and Circular Economy programs.

These initiatives, however, may not be enough in light of the proliferation of plastic pollution and the limited domestic waste management infrastructure. This shared understanding within the PA must now give rise to a coordinated regional action on plastics for which greater regulatory convergence is pivotal to its success.

10 Reasons for Adoption of a Regional Plastics Strategy

While the work on regulatory convergence around plastics, including SUPs, will not be easy, there are compelling reasons to do so:

1. Facilitation of Materials Flows

  • the wide variety of plastics material has left local governments and industry to unnecessarily dispose materials as “scrap” domestically. These materials could be valorized in other PA countries if barriers to transfer were lifted, an issue particularly pressing in light of the Basel Convention Ban.

2. Regional Scale Needed for Plastics Recycling Markets

  • addressing both the leakage of plastics and their value loss in less productive uses requires sufficient economies of scale that regional, and not domestic-only recycling infrastructure resources.

3. Innovation and Specialization:

  • with economies of scale will also come the conditions for investment in innovative products and resource recovery specialized solutions, potentially serving the entire region. These solutions will be imported into PA countries (based upon the regional needs and goals of others) if its members don’t otherwise develop their own;

4. Commercialization Through EPR Favours Regional Consistency

  • as EPR may well be part of the solution for plastics resource recovery, the formation of effective Producer Responsibility Organizations (PROs) is enhanced through regional PRO models, servicing discrete industry segments and able to administer programs consistency, with lower transactions costs across multiple countries;

5. Product Standards Development Suitable for PA

  • outside of the PA countries, there is current growth of plastics content standards (such as bioplastics) with corresponding resource recovery process requirements and specifications. These standards will be implemented in PA countries absent a regional alternative – even though these standards are based upon socio-economic and environmental conditions dissimilar to those of LAC;

6. Material Bans Feasible Regionally

  • critical issues remain as to which types of plastics, for which uses and of what plastic material (and its potentially hazardous content) should be permitted by PA countries. Only through a regional strategy will the PA be able to ensure their domestic choices are implementable;

7. Regional Market Data Will Attract Investment

  • the early adoption of regional terminology and methodologies will generate PA-wide data necessary to better attract investment;

8. Ensuring Safety

  • food and other safety and quality measures must be imposed upon any plastics packaging or SUPs introduced within the PA. A regional strategy allows for commonly adoptable tracking and tracing technology, as well as labelling, to ensure the providence of the plastics introduced in the region’s markets;

9. Near-term Financial Recovery Opportunity

  • plastics represent a resource for which there are clear near-term recovery solutions, such as energy production and valuable products made with recovered plastics, which will result in tangible economic gains for local communities across the PA; and

10. International Stakeholder Funding Available

  • along with the push for plastics pollution solutions has come significant funding from international stakeholders, which will be acutely needed during the challenging post-COVID-19 economic fallout;

In summary, there are both immediate and long-term benefits to a PA-focused plastics strategy.  Plastics offers PA countries a relatively easy entry point for the types of economic and environmental joint efforts envisioned in the region’s action plan.

The opportunities for plastics within the region are, however, time-limited. International pressure for conformity with policies most suitable elsewhere will intensify in the absence of demonstrable success.

Further, delays in moving towards convergence will make harmonization more difficult. With individual PA countries developing disparate programs, for which investments and long-term commitments will be based, a move to harmonize internally will be more difficult over time.

The PA countries should move to engage stakeholders, including regional private sector parties, in developing a critical pathway towards achieving these ambitious goals.


[1] This declaration was signed during the 2019 Pacific Alliance summit in Peru

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About the Authors

Maria Vizeu Pinheiro is a lawyer specializing in environmental and natural resources issues at the Environment, Rural Development and Disaster Risk Management Division of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Maria works on the analysis of environmental policies, governance and regulatory frameworks for the Bank’s operations.

Germán Sturzenegger is a Senior Water and Sanitation Specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank. He has participated in the design and implementation of water and sanitation projects throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Germán leads the recycling and green infrastructure agenda for the Water and Sanitation Division of the IDB, working on the implementation of river conservation and inclusive recycling projects.

Denisa Mertiri, J.D. (Green Earth Strategy) provides legal and policy advice to clients on waste management, single-use reduction, circular economy and extended producer responsibility laws. Denisa has worked with the City of Toronto and other municipalities in Ontario, Canada, on Ontario’s transition to EPR and on single-use reduction and circular economy policies.

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.