UK Group Releases New Biogas Utilization Guide for Fleet Operators

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The Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP), based in United Kingdom, recently released a new guide for fleet operators outlining how renewable fuels can immediately cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in road transport.  According to the organisation, while there has been much focus on vehicle electrification to help meet the UK’s net-zero target, there are still “major technical challenges” to overcome, particularly concerning longer-distance road freight.

The LowCVP which was established in 2003, is a public-private partnership working to accelerate a sustainable shift to lower carbon vehicles and fuels and create opportunities for UK business. 

According to the LowCVP, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) currently produce around 15% of total road transport GHG emissions, with a similar contribution coming from light-duty vans. Vehicles with long-haul duty cycles account for the largest portion of GHG emissions from HGVs.

The Renewable Fuels Guide, produced by the LowCVP and low-emission vehicle research and consultancy Cenex, shows how the adoption of renewable fuels from sustainable feedstocks offers one of the quickest and most economically-viable routes to lowering vehicle emissions. CNG Fuels and Scania also supported the guide.

The guide aims to educate fleet operators on the range of low carbon and sustainable fuels currently available in the UK, demonstrating the business and environmental case for their adoption. It focuses on renewable fuels such as biomethane, biodiesel, biopropane and hydrotreated vegetable oil.

According to the LowCVP, renewable fuels are mandated for use under UK legislation and are now present in most road transport fuel currently on the market. The Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation Order (RTFO) requires large UK retail fuel suppliers to guarantee that at least 9.75% of the fuel they supply comes from renewable sources by 2020, and 12.4% by 2032. However, the latest figures show that only 4.9% of the total road fuel supplied in the UK currently comes from these sources.

 

U.S. EPA’s Announces Easing of Environmental Enforcement during COVID-19 Pandemic

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) recently announced an Enforcement Discretion Policy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The temporary policy is with respect to environmental enforcement of legal obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The policy addresses different categories of noncompliance differently. For example, under the policy the U.S. EPA does not expect to seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations that are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic but does expect operators of public water systems to continue to ensure the safety of our drinking water supplies. The policy also describes the steps that regulated facilities should take to qualify for enforcement discretion.

“EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “This temporary policy is designed to provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions, while ensuring facility operations continue to protect human health and the environment.”

The temporary policy makes it clear that EPA expects regulated facilities to comply with regulatory requirements, where reasonably practicable, and to return to compliance as quickly as possible. To be eligible for enforcement discretion, the policy also requires facilities to document decisions made to prevent or mitigate noncompliance and demonstrate how the noncompliance was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This policy does not provide leniency for intentional criminal violations of law.

The policy does not apply to activities that are carried out under Superfund and RCRA Corrective Action enforcement instruments. EPA will address these matters in separate communications.

The U.S. EPA’s policy will apply retroactively beginning on March 13, 2020. The U.S. EPA will assess the continued need for and scope of this temporary policy on a regular basis and will update it if EPA determines modifications are necessary.

Six Things To Consider Before The Coronavirus Impacts Environmental Compliance

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Written by Patrick Traylor, Conrad Bolston, and Misty M. Howell, Vinson & Elkins LLP

Companies with environmental compliance obligations should think carefully about and plan ahead for how the coronavirus outbreak might affect their ability to comply. Depending on the severity of the outbreak, companies may run out of the supplies they need to operate pollution controls, or their environmental compliance departments might become short-staffed, which could result in missed monitoring, recordkeeping, or reporting. Here are six things to keep in mind.

Enforcement discretion. Think about developing a strong argument for why federal and state environmental enforcement agencies should exercise their enforcement discretion not to pursue noncompliance caused by an emergency. The EPA has a long-standing policy that allows for “no action” assurances to be issued to excuse noncompliance during emergencies. The prerequisites for an assurance are stringent, and a requestor must demonstrate that the public interest in excusing noncompliance outweighs the public impacts from the noncompliance. These assurances may only be issued by the Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, so the work of obtaining them must be conducted at EPA Headquarters.

Malfunctions and upset defenses. Think about how malfunction and upset provisions in federal and state regulations and many permits can provide protection against enforcement, but only if the company complies with the prerequisites for these provisions. Each state (and some federal regulations) has different malfunction and upset rules, so it will be important to meet the stringent conditions of these rules before noncompliance will be excused.

Force majeure. Think about whether the company is subject to federal or state settlements that might have a force majeure clause that could excuse noncompliance. Most federal judicial consent decrees have force majeure clauses that could excuse noncompliance, but require that companies use “best efforts” to avoid noncompliance. Companies should carefully review their settlements to see how to comply with their force majeure provisions. And some states have “act of God” statutes under which the inevitable consequences of such events (which may include “other catastrophes”) are deemed to not constitute violations at all.

Impact of staffing challenges. Think about how staffing challenges might affect the company’s ability to comply. With companies beginning to shut down operations, it is possible that environmental compliance staff might not be able to work, and the company might miss monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting obligations. A company will want to very clearly justify decisions to excuse environmental compliance staff from work, especially if a “no action” assurance is sought or a malfunction/upset/force majeure claim is made.

Don’t forget your supply contracts. Think about the terms and conditions of supply contracts that are critical for environmental compliance and consider taking steps now to make sure suppliers comply with their contracts. If they cannot, think about whether a supply failure could qualify as a malfunction, upset, or force majeure event.

After the storm has passed. Think ahead to when the crisis has passed, and governmental and non-governmental organizations evaluate whether the emergency justified any noncompliance.


About the Authors

Patrick Traylor is a partner in Vinson & Elkin’s Environment and Natural Resources practice and was most recently the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in Washington, D.C., where he helped oversee the EPA’s enforcement response during natural disasters.

Conrad Bolston is a senior associate in Vinson & Elkin’s Environment and Natural Resources practice. He has assisted clients with a variety of federal and state environmental enforcement matters, environmental due diligence efforts, regulatory guidance, internal investigations, and litigation.

Misty M. Howell is an associate in Vinson & Elkin’s Environment and Natural Resources practice. She has assisted clients with a variety of federal environmental enforcement matters, due diligence efforts, government investigations, and litigation. 

COVID 19 Disrupts Cross-Border Waste and Recyclables Flow

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Written by Jonathan D. Cocker, Baker McKenzie and Peter Hargreave, Policy Integrity Inc.

COVID 19 Disrupts Cross-Border Waste and Recyclables Flow

In light of all the actions being taken by all levels of government to address the spread of the coronavirus, it is worth considering its impact on the waste management sector in Canada.  For most, how waste is collected and where it is taken, is not a daily consideration.  And yet, it is one of the most important public health and safety considerations.

Canadian Waste Industry Vulnerable to US Shutdown

In Ontario for instance, roughly one-third of the Province’s waste disposal needs are met by landfills in the United States.  That equates to 3.2 million tonnes of waste a year or roughly 9,000 tonnes per day. While other Canadian provinces do not have the same reliance on out-of-country disposal, many are reliant on a degree of waste materials being shipped across the border.

The free movement of these materials across the US border is an important element of the current Canadian waste management system.  In the last two decades, we have dealt with a few potential disruptions to this flow of materials.

  • The terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 provided a first indication of the potential vulnerability when US border access was constrained.  The immediate closure and proceeding long lines at the border lasted for several days afterward. The Ontario Ministry of Environment, for instance, had to facilitate emergency measures to ensure waste could be managed in the interim period.
  • After a number of waste truck rollovers in Michigan in the early 2000s, local Senators threatened legislative action to restrict waste crossing the border. This led to an agreement between the state of Michigan and Ontario municipalities in 2006, to end the export of municipal waste (specifically from the GTA) to Michigan by 2010. The province helped facilitate the agreement, and as a result, the state of Michigan dropped all legislative initiatives to stop waste imports. The agreement did not include non-residential waste. By 2010, Ontario municipalities had stopped sending residential waste to Michigan. For a time, overall waste shipments to the U.S. declined, but since 2010, non-residential waste export to the U.S. has steadily increased.
  • Concerns were also raised again as part of the negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 2018 that there could be potential for restrictions on the movement of goods.

Any impact on the movement of waste as a result of a closure to the border, would necessitate the management of this roughly 9,000 tonnes of additional waste domestically.

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures?

As in 2001, the inability to transfer waste to the United States would likely necessitate potential changes to environmental permits (such as Environmental Compliance Approvals in Ontario) or governmental emergency declarations / measures to allow for waste receiving sites to increase their annual daily maximum limits. Provincial regulators have been prepared in the past in granting the necessary permissions, and are likely doing similar work  now to ensure the waste industry is not at risk of willful non-compliance.

It may also be the case that some of these waste volumes don’t easily find an alternate receiving site, putting the collectors and/or haulers in the difficult position of potentially operating an unlicensed waste storage facility.  Provincial governments will need to think through these situations including requiring certain sites to accept materials.  In short, there are no simple solutions, but proper planning across the country can at least reduce risks.

Hazardous Recyclables and Hazardous Waste Movement Compliance

In the case of hazardous materials for which no clear alternate home is available in Canada, the situation is even more precarious.   Internationally, no less than 99% of all (lawful) hazardous recyclables (and hazardous waste) exported from, or imported to, Canada are with the United States.  International wastes are still regulated in Canada under the Export and Import of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Material Regulations, which has yet to be replaced by the long-proposed and more business-friendly Cross-border Movement of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Material Regulations.  

The Export and Import law currently requires certifications from the holder that any recyclable or waste which is not successfully transferred across the border will be lawfully disposed of in Canada consistent with the approved recycling or waste activity under which the materials were to be transited to the United States.  

A closed border will, in at least some circumstances, put that certification to the test as not all materials exported to the United States have an alternate recycling or disposal facility in Canada.  This is increasingly so with the growth of more specialized and regionally-servicing facilities in US states which capture both Canadian and American materials.  

Some Canadian Recyclers Dependent Upon US Material 

The reverse also creates challenges for the waste industry as some Canadian recyclers are economically dependent on US material.   The disruption of the needed supply of US-originating materials into specialized recycling and disposal facilities in Canada can quickly create a situation where insufficient material volumes makes the facilities no longer viable, leaving the Canadian materials also without a home.

In other words, the growth of integration, particularly in respect of hazardous recyclables and discrete hazardous wastes makes a border shutdown acutely challenging for the Canadian recycling and waste industry.

Contingency Planning to be Developed?

It is likely an overreaction to anticipate that US-Canada integration in resource recovery and waste disposal will come to an end with the current closure of the border.   The economies of scale and lower cost disposal capacity in the United States will presumably reinvigorate this international trade once the worst of COVID-19 has passed.

There may, however, be a growth in contingency planning in respect of Canadian waste and recycling capacity, recognizing a myriad of events may give rise to future US border closures and the Canadian waste industry needs to be prepared.


About the Authors

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. 

Peter Hargreave, President of Policy Integrity Inc., has over 15 years’ experience in providing strategic advice in the development, implementation and oversight of public policy. Over his professional career, he has developed a strong network of relationships with regulators, public and private organizations, and other key stakeholders involved in environmental issues across Canada, the United States and abroad. 

Sanexen Receives funding for pilot project to recycle C&D waste

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RECYC-QUÉBEC recently awarded funding to SANEXEN Environmental Services Inc., for Phase 1 of a project to recycle and reclaim gypsum residues and fine residues from the construction, renovation and demolition (CRD) sector.

As the Quebec Residual Materials Management Policy calls for fine residues to no longer be buried in landfills, CRD debris sorting centres are facing sizeable challenges. SANEXEN therefore proposes a solution to recycle and reclaim the fine materials, which would then avoid having to bury over 90% of fine residues from CRD debris sorting centres.

Phase 1 of the project, backed by RECYC-QUÉBEC, would transform fine residues into materials that could be reclaimed using SANEXEN’s own physicochemical treatment process. Moreover, this is the first traceability project in Quebec for residual materials coming directly from the source of production (CRD debris sorting centres) to a reclamation centre dedicated to processing this material. This traceability project is part of SANEXEN’s commitment to transparent and environmentally responsible management of these residual materials. Moreover, a project with the private sector had been carried out in 2019, in collaboration with Avatek Immobilier and Traces Québec.

“This is the first technologically and economically viable solution that will result in less than 10% of CRD fine residues ending up in the landfill at the end of this large-scale, one-year project,” said Martin Bureau, Vice-President, Innovation, SANEXEN.

This initiative will also help define the following aspects: what can actually be considered fine residue as opposed to waste and the type of fine residues that may be reclaimed. A more thorough definition of fine residue that can be reclaimed will also help refine possible markets for this material.

What Power Does Canada Have to Restrict Single-Use Plastics?

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Written by Jonathan D. Cocker, Baker McKenzie and Peter Hargreave, Policy Integrity Inc.

With all of the talk from the Government of Canada about the coming laws targeting single-use plastics (SUP), it’s worth asking whether the Parliament has such powers and what’s needed for them to act on SUP.   After all, the federal government has ceded much of its role to the provinces and territories which regulate over environmental protection generally, including most waste management matters, and some provinces have expressed hostility and a willingness to commence legal challenges to any encroachment on their jurisdiction, often on environmental matters such as climate change.   

Regional exceptionalism has become the norm as the federal government has for decades left the provinces and territories to take the lead without national coordination. As a result, the federal approach to SUP which will inherently value (in some measure) national consistency over regionalism will have difficulty in establishing balance, particularly given that some provinces rely upon plastics production as critical revenue sources.  So where exactly does the federal government believe they possess the powers to fulfil their promises to impose a SUP law across Canada?

CEPA and Toxic Substances

The federal government will, by all accounts, attempt to use Part V of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, Controlling Toxic Substances.   Specifically, Environment and Climate Change Canada has the power to regulate plastics under section 90(1) of CEPA, if satisfied that the substance is toxic, to place them on the List of Toxic Substances, which is Schedule 1 to CEPA. 

Findings of toxicity were made for plastic microbeads in toiletries in 2017. Section 64 defines a substance as toxic if

“it is entering or may enter the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that:

  1. have or may have an immediate or long-term harmful effect on the environment or its biological diversity;
  2. constitute or may constitute a danger to the environment on which life depends; or
  3. constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health.”

On the Toxic Substances List already are substances Canadians would recognize as inherently dangerous such as lead and mercury.  In contrast, the federal government would be seeking to make a common household material, broadly used to contain and preserve our foods, medicines, etc. equivalent under CEPA to these clearly toxic substances.  It would be a difficult argument to claim that plastics are toxic at all times and for all purposes.    

The ECCC presumably intends to assess plastics as toxic on a more narrow and functional basis – namely that plastics become plastic pollution as they degrade over time, principally as waste material, especially when not managed properly at the end of life.  As waste management is admittedly a provincial/territorial area of legislative authority, the toxicity claim would blur jurisdictional lines.  In short, it’s not as straight forward as the federal government has suggested. 

The Test to Establish Plastics are Toxic

Curiously, while the test for plastics to be placed on Schedule 1 List is that plastics are toxic, the considerations the ECCC are to adopt in assessing a substance are expanded under section 68 to whether a substance is toxic or is capable of being toxic.  The considerations include:

  1. whether short-term exposure to the substance causes significant effects,
  2. the potential of organisms in the environment to be widely exposed to the substance,
  3. whether organisms are exposed to the substance via multiple pathways,
  4. the ability of the substance to cause a reduction in metabolic functions of an organism,
  5. the ability of the substance to cause delayed or latent effects over the lifetime of an organism,
  6. the ability of the substance to cause reproductive or survival impairment of an organism,
  7. whether exposure to the substance has the potential to contribute to population failure of a species,
  8. the ability of the substance to cause transgenerational effects,
  9. quantities, uses and disposal of the substance,
  10. the manner in which the substance is released into the environment,
  11. the extent to which the substance can be dispersed and will persist in the environment,
  12. the development and use of alternatives to the substance,
  13. methods of controlling the presence of the substance in the environment, and
  14. methods of reducing the quantity of the substance used or produced or the quantities or concentration of the substance released into the environment;

As this is a list of considerations and not a strict legal test, no particular item may be necessary or sufficient for the federal government to declare plastics are toxic – there is likely considerable latitude where the science supports concerns over environmental harm.

Does the Draft Assessment Provide Sufficient Scientific Support?

On January 31st, 2020, the ECCC released its draft Science Assessment of Plastic Pollution.   The assessment was not focused upon plastics itself, but rather on plastics when it comes pollution.   This might be understood as an assessment of how plastics are capable of being toxic and not a study on the inherent toxicity of plastics, which has a separate assessment process.  This itself is a departure from the ECCC’s common assessment process, although used for microbeads as arguably the first of those lifecycle toxicity tests.

The findings from the draft Assessment, still in consultation until the end of March, are limited to the pollution (read: waste) effects of plastics and not plastics absent their current usage:

The purpose of this report is to summarize the current state of the science regarding the potential impacts of plastic pollution on the environment and human health, as well as to guide future research and inform decision-making on plastic pollution in Canada. It provides a review of the available information on plastic pollution, including its sources, occurrence, and fate, as well as on the potential effects of plastics on the environment and human health.

It’s also notable that the draft Assessment is identifies as a “survey” of existing science and anticipates further research on plastics, even though the assessment is to serve as to “guide regulatory activities”. 

This report is not intended to quantify the risks of plastic pollution on the environment or human health, but rather to survey the existing state of science in order to guide future scientific and regulatory activities.

The broad remedial powers of the ECCC under CEPA likely cure these defects in science for a finding of plastics as toxics, but proceeding to regulation from the draft Assessment alone may open the ECCC up to challenges that more is needed before such as determination can be made. The ECCC seems to leave the door open to more science, perhaps as much due diligence as inquiry.

It is also worth noting that the regulation of SUP in the name of plastic pollution mitigation aligns with Canada’s commitments under the Ocean Plastics Charter. Such an agreement does not however vest the federal government with implementation powers it does not already have.

So Which Plastics Would Be Declared Toxic?

The draft Assessment divides plastics into two categories:  microplastics (5mm of less) and macroplastics (more than 5mm).   There is some other discussion regarding alternative plastics, such as biodegradable, compostable and bioplastics, but these arguably aren’t sufficiently addressed in isolation in the draft Assessment to warrant findings specific to these alternatives.   

It’s likely that each of microplastics and macroplastics will be the subject of distinct regulatory control measures on behalf of the ECCC under the coming law, with microplastics perhaps attracting the greater restrictions given the greater nexus to contamination.   After all, “microbeads” of 5mm or less are already listed as a toxic substance on Schedule 1.  

It’s also clear that the federal government views SUP as a more pressing matter in light of the 2021 implementation by member states of the European Union’s (EU) Single-Use Plastics Directive and the Ocean Plastics Charter.  In fashioning a Canadian version of a SUP law, it’s worth understanding what regulatory instruments the ECCC would have under CEPA.

The Range of Control Measures Available

Once some category of plastics are deemed “toxic”, the ECCC inherits a considerable range of control instruments to regulate those plastics.  Section 93 of CEPA provides the ECCC ability to control:

  1. the quantity or concentration of the substance that may be released into the environment either alone or in combination with any other substance from any source or type of source;
  2. the places or areas where the substance may be released;
  3. the commercial, manufacturing or processing activity in the course of which the substance may be released;
  4. the manner in which and conditions under which the substance may be released into the environment, either alone or in combination with any other substance;
  5. the quantity of the substance that may be manufactured, processed, used, offered for sale or sold in Canada;
  6. the purposes for which the substance or a product containing it may be imported, manufactured, processed, used, offered for sale or sold;
  7. the manner in which and conditions under which the substance or a product containing it may be imported, manufactured, processed or used;
  8. the quantities or concentrations in which the substance may be used;
  9. the quantities or concentrations of the substance that may be imported;
  10. the countries from or to which the substance may be imported or exported;
  11. the conditions under which, the manner in which and the purposes for which the substance may be imported or exported;
  12. the total, partial or conditional prohibition of the manufacture, use, processing, sale, offering for sale, import or export of the substance or a product containing it;
  13. the total, partial or conditional prohibition of the import or export of a product that is intended to contain the substance;
  14. the quantity or concentration of the substance that may be contained in any product manufactured, imported, exported, offered for sale or sold in Canada;
  15. the manner in which, conditions under which and the purposes for which the substance or a product containing it may be advertised or offered for sale;
  16. the manner in which and conditions under which the substance or a product containing it may be stored, displayed, handled, transported or offered for transport;
  17. the packaging and labelling of the substance or a product containing it;
  18. the manner, conditions, places and method of disposal of the substance or a product containing it, including standards for the construction, maintenance and inspection of disposal sites;

It is likely that a suite of these measures will be adopted distinctly for microplastics and macroplastics. (It’s not clear if alternative plastics would attract their own measures.)  The EU’s Single Use Plastics (SUP) Directive may be instructive, it sets out a number of measures including:

  • Aggressive recycling targets for beverage containers (77% by 2025 and 90% by 2030);
  • Design requirements for beverage containers (i.e., recycled content and tethered caps);
  • Labelling requirements for products that are often not disposed of properly (tobacco products, beverage cups, wet wipes and sanitary towels);
  • Expanded producer responsibility requirements; and
  • Bans by 2021 on single-use plastic cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, sticks for balloons; all products made of oxo-plastic; cups, food and beverage containers made of polystyrene foam.

Enter the Provinces

It is generally understood that most jurisdictions in the EU will achieve most of the outcomes in the Directive through EPR provisions. Given the diversity in approaches to EPR in Canada that could prove difficult to achieve as these efforts have firmly and institutionally rested with the provinces (and increasingly, territories) in Canada.  The ECCC is playing catch up and there are some questions related to their legislative authority over this mechanism without the support of the provinces. A comprehensive strategy around SUP will necessarily involve provincial /territorial for which the 2018 Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment’s (CCME) Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste was just the beginning of a new age of cooperation on (plastic) pollution.


About the Authors

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.

Peter Hargreave, the President of Policy Integrity Inc., has over 15 years’ experience in providing strategic advice in the development, implementation and oversight of public policy. Over his professional career, he has developed a strong network of relationships with regulators, public and private organizations, and other key stakeholders involved in environmental issues across Canada, the United States and abroad. He has extensive experience in assessing waste management policies at the federal, provincial, and municipal level across the country. He has also played a key role in leading major research efforts in the waste management sector including data capture and analysis, and understanding the economic and environmental impacts of various waste management activities.

Fun with Waste: Five fun activities to teach your children about plastic pollution

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In response to recent world events that have resulted in more people spending time at home, the United Nations Environment Programme has come up with some ideas that parents and guardians can do with their children to teach them about the plastic pollution problem.

Idea 1: make a musical instrument out of plastic rubbish

Every year 8 million tonnes of plastic waste enters our oceans. In 2018, Shady Rabab from Egypt won the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) prestigious Young Champion of the Earth Award for spotting an opportunity to get children off the streets and stop plastic from being wasted. He started the Garbage Conservatoire, touring with his band of children and their instruments made from plastic pollution showing the world that it’s not waste, until its wasted.

Encourage your children to use (clean) plastic rubbish to make their own instruments. They can even put on a concert for you or for social media. Click here to get some inspiration for the instruments you could make.

Idea 2: go through your cupboards and sort its content, like utensils, etc. into the type of material they are made of

Every day we use lots of plastic products without thinking about their impact on the planet. Go into your kitchen cupboards with your child and ask them to sort everything into the type of material (plastics, cardboard, aluminum, etc.) Ask your children to pick out the items that can be recycled and show them where on the packaging they can see if its recyclable or not. The United Nations Environment Programme Clean Seas educational pack can help to show children in greater detail what different types of plastic are out there, and ways that they can reduce their use of them.

Idea 3: have a plastic-free spa day

You might not be able to go out to a spa, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring the spa to you! From baby wipes to scrubs with microplastics in (plastic pieces smaller than 5 mm), plastic is hidden in plain sight in many personal care products. Here you can see some of the sources of plastic pollution in your bathroom. A great way to combat hidden plastics is to have a do-it-yourself family home spa day. You can show your children how to make great natural scrubs from coconut oil, sugar and salt, and you can also make face masks from honey and bananas. Make some home treatments, put on some calming music, and relax.

Idea 4: make a boat out of plastic waste.

Many things that seem like soon-to-be trash can be given a fun new lease of life. Using plastic that you might otherwise throw away, help your child to make a small plastic raft or boat. They can put them in the bath or sink to see if they float and even take their toys on a boat ride! If possible, you could even take them to your local pond or stream and have raft races.

Flipflopi boat made from waste plastic

A recent Clean Seas campaign took part in this activity on a larger scale. A nine-metre long dhow made from 10 tonnes of recycled trash found on Kenya’s shorelines called “Flipflopi” sailed from Lamu, Kenya to Zanzibar raising awareness about plastic pollution.

Idea 5: put on a fashion show of clothes made out of rubbish

Upcycling—or “making new furniture, objects, etc. out of old or used things or waste material”—is one of the best fashion trends for the environment. In 2016, American Rob Greenfield wore every piece of trash he created in a month, turning it into a bulky trash-suit. Why not get your child to make some stylish fashion accessories out of plastic waste? They can put on a fashion show for you with their new creations!

There are many more ways that you can teach your children about plastic pollution and its impacts. UNEP’s Clean Seas website has advice for how to reduce your plastic footprint, and the impact that plastic pollution is having.

Canada’s Single-Use Plastics Law May Restrict Biodegradable Plastics

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Written by Jonathan D. CockerBaker McKenzie

Some might have wondered what the purpose might be for this joint assessment from Environment and Climate Change Canada and Health Canada:  Draft Science Assessment of Plastic Pollution, January 2020After all, the federal government and the provinces have already entered into an agreement through the Canadian Council of the Ministers of the Environment to create a regulated circular economy for plastics in the name of environmental harm reduction.

In fact, a single-use plastics law was promised by the federal government in June 2019 (and reaffirmed in January 2020), with a likely effective date coincident with the implementation of the European Union Single-Use Plastics (SUP) Directive.  It’s a virtual article of faith in Canada that some plastic pollution is adversely impacting the environment – so what does the Draft Assessment tell us about the scope of the promised Canadian single-use plastics law that we don’t already know?

The Rise of Alternative Plastics…

Since the plastic pollution crisis of 2018, there has been a sudden rush of new end-of-life labels and certifications applied to common products, including those very same products targeted by the EU SUP Directive.  Initially, many of the promoted environmental claims were pulled from pre-crisis times, and were disseminated broadly even though they were neither verified nor verifiable.  “Bioplastic” was one such label – which did not necessarily perform any better environmentally than its petroleum-based cousin but arguably benefitted from commonly held beliefs as to its environmental superiority.

Many industries were compelled to respond to public skepticism and attributes such as “Compostable” and “Biodegradable” have become increasingly standardized, with biodegradable / compostable certifications available under international standards such as ASTM.  The growth of these alternative plastics for many common items has been meteoric, attracting long-term capital investment and seemingly setting new industry standards for years to come.

…and Their Coming Fall?

But wait – the landscape in Canada may have just shifted again… The Draft Assessment seems to signal that the plastic product, and not its composition, will be the focus of single-use plastics restrictions (and of those other laws to follow).  Scant attention is paid to alternative plastics in the Draft Assessment, which draws little distinction between conventional plastics and these newer offerings.  To the extent alternative plastics assessments were specifically considered, the Draft Assessment suggests little differentiation in the coming law will be made:

Although biodegradable plastics and bioplastics are increasingly being used as alternatives to conventional plastics, they may not degrade more readily than conventional plastics once in the environment.

In contrast, the Draft Assessment fundamentally divides plastics between macroplastics (greater than 5mm) and microplastics (5mm or less and inclusive of nanoplastics).  The near silence on alternative plastics may be deafening for the multitude of industries with substantial (and recent) investment in the viability of these alternatives.

Some Reason for Optimism

The Draft Assessment does seem to contemplate, within the range of alternative plastics, a need to “differentiate degradation pathways under different conditions” to recognize where alternative plastics may deliver preferable environmental performance:

  • for instance, some biodegradable variants are accepted as biodegradable in industrial composting facilities, but will not biodegrade under natural conditions;
  • Bioplastics may bepreferable to conventional plastic feedstock in decarbonization efforts or in providing demand for residual biomass that exists in integrated agriculture and forestry sectors;
  • There is insufficient evidence as to whether oxo-degradable plastics have accelerated degradation (it remains an open question); and
  • At least one biodegradable plastic was found to have largely degraded chemically and morphologically in sea water over a 180 day period.

In short, there wasn’t substantial evidence to support alternative plastics’ environmental value, but, for the most part, nor was there sufficient proof of the opposite.  An informational gap exists in this area.

More to Be Said on Alternative Plastic Before the Law?

As the Draft Assessment opens the door to a 60-day consultation period ending April 1st, 2020, there remains a window of opportunity for all industries engaged in the production, sourcing or sale of alternative plastics to provide input, technical and policy-driven, to preserve a space for environmentally beneficial alternatives to conventional plastics in Canada.

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The coming Canadian single-use plastics law is just the first initiative in a broader legislative program on plastics eventually regulating all plastic products, containers and packaging.  The time is now for Canadian industry to supply missing information on alternative plastics before long-term decisions about their role in the economy are made.

Republished with the permission of the author. This article was first published on the Baker McKenzie website


About the Author

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

Region of Peel Proposes Curbside Textile Recycling Program

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The Region of Peel, immediately west of Toronto, has proposed a region-wide program for residential curbside pick-up of textiles for recycling.

According to Peel Public Works, more than 7,700 tonnes of textiles are thrown out in Peel every year. If the curbside collection program is implemented, Regional officials estimate that more than 1,400 tonnes of materials could be collected for re-use annually with the remainder potentially being recycled.

If approved by Peel Regional Council (made up of elected officials from Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon), used textiles such as clothing, towels, and linens would be picked up on a regular basis with the aid of a registered charity partner.

Region of Peel Textile Collection Bin

Between 2017 and 2019, the region worked with The Kidney Foundation, Talize and Diabetes Canada to collect 22 tonnes of used textiles from 21,000 homes, as part of a curbside collection pilot.

More than 100 registered charities in Canada collect, redistribute and resell textiles. Many of the charities rely on individuals donating clothing directly at the store or at a collection bin.

Charities that collect donated clothing typically offer for sale about half of what they collect. Of what is displayed for sale, only about half of that will actually sell. At the Salvation Army, clothes have four weeks to sell before they’re replaced by the next wave of donations, according to Tonny Colyn, the national donations manager in Canada for the charitable organization.

Other Municipal Initiatives

In April, 2017, the City of Markham (north of Toronto) became the first municipality in North America ban textile waste at the curb. In 2018, the City of Markham, Ontario launched a textile recycling pilot project partially funded by a grant from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Under the pilot, the city placed over 100 bins at city facilities and multi-residential properties. The ‘smart bins’ tracked the amount of textiles being donated for data-collection purposes and also sent out signals telling the city when they need to be serviced. The textiles that were collected were sorted for resale at charities or re-purposed into industrial rags, furniture padding, insulation, car seats and recycled fabrics.

As part of the pilot program, the City of Markham prepared a brochure to educate residents about the textile recycling program and what items were acceptable in the collection bins.

Used Textile Statistics

According to the Recycling Council of Ontario, the average Canadian purchase 70 new clothing items per per. In Ontario, according to the Toronto Environmental Alliance, 85% of the 500,000 tonnes of used textiles generated per year end up in landfills.   According to a waste audit conducted in Nova Scotia, textiles accounted for 10 per cent of the residential waste stream and 11.5 per cent of the industrial stream .

Recycling Textiles

The challenge with recycling textiles is that clothing is a mixture of natural and synthetic fibers. The recycling process is different depending on the material.

For textiles made from natural materials (i.e., cotton or wool), the typical recycling process involves the following steps:

  • The incoming unwearable material is sorted by type of material and color. Color sorting results in a fabric that does not need to be re-dyed. The color sorting means no re-dying is required, saving energy and avoiding pollutants.
  • Textiles are pulled into fibers or shredded, sometimes introducing other fibers into the yarn. .
  • The yarn is cleaned and mixed through a carding process.
  • The yarn is re-spun and ready for subsequent use in weaving or knitting. 
  • Fibers can also be compressed for textile filling such as in mattresses.

If the textiles are synthetic, recycling typically involves In the case of polyester-based textiles, garments are shredded and then granulated for processing into polyester chips. These are subsequently melted and used to create new fibers for use in new polyester fabrics.

Should Countries Outside of Europe Adopt EU Single-Use Plastics Law?

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Written by Jonathan D. Cocker, Baker McKenzie

The European Union’s landmark Single-Use Plastic (SUP) Directive is set to be enacted into member states’ national laws by 2021.  Some countries outside the EU have already signaled their intention, in all but name, to adopt consistent SUP laws, for good commercial and regulatory reasons.    

Confidence in the EU as the world’s standard bearers on environmental management, including product environmental regulatory matters, is in its ascendancy, particularly with initiatives such as the Circular Economy Action Plan and the recent Green New Deal.   

But questions must be asked – how clear and portable is the EU law and does local replication of the SUP Directive outside of Europe make sense?

SUP Directive to Regulate “Plastic”

In June of 2019, following months of dire warnings over the proliferation of plastic pollution, the EU passed the SUP Directive with the stated aim of reducing the impact of “certain plastic products” on the environment – namely many of the most prevalent plastic items regularly found on beaches in Europe, along with fishing nets, which together are said to account for a substantial amount of the (visible) marine plastic pollution. 

The SUP Directive adopts a variety of regulatory measures depending upon the material:  from outright bans to mandatory extended producer obligations to product labelling and consumption reduction obligations.   The core regulated material is “plastic” but, surprisingly, this is the beginning, not the end, of the story.

Natural v. Synthetic  – But Both Pollution

Definitions of plastics start with long-chain synthetic polymers which can be generated from petroleum or plant-based materials subjected to imposed polymerization and therefore regulated as a plastic.   Conversely, the SUP Directive excludes:

            Natural polymers that have not been chemically modified

Natural polymers are free of imposed polymerization but may also become synthetic through any “chemical modification” – though exactly when this occurs is more a question of arcane chemistry than environmental protection and, interestingly, might have reference to other regulatory treatments of the material.  In some instances, the designation of a natural v. synthetic polymer can be a distinction without a difference at it relates to environmental impacts. 

Non-Plastic Alternatives May Be Regulated 

The recital to the SUP Directive appears to recognize this quandary in expressing an intention (but not mandating) that (non-plastic) single-use products within a material category capturing plastics can also be regulated under the SUP Directive unless the product can be shown to have a substantially reduced impact on the environment relative to a regulated plastic alternative.  

In other words, industry should be prevented from making only a technical product content switch to a non-plastic category without any appreciable environmental gain.   But this moves the law away from strict international plastic product standards and brings in a host of local considerations.  

The Case of Wet Wipes – No Clean Distinctions to Be Made

The recent joint report by environmental consultants Eunomia and Reloop entitled What is Plastic?explores the tension between plastics taxonomy and environmental impacts using a concrete example of consumer wet wipes and points out that they can be made by synthetic or natural polymers, including man-made (non-plastic) cellulosic fibres (MMCFs), with similar environmental impacts.   

The report looks at whether either a technical or purposive reading of the SUP Directive would potentially capture certain MMCFs as equally harmful in wet wipes to plastic alternatives.  In conclusion, the competing goals of meaningful environmental protection (with a broad interpretation of SUPs) and potentially inconsistent Directive implementation across the EU remains unresolved, with some clarity hopefully coming through 2020 EU policy statements.  

This is not the turnkey plastics legal regime the rest of us might have hoped for.

If Environmental (not “Plastic”) Harm is the Question, the Answer Won’t Be the Same Worldwide

The final point in understanding what is coming under plastics regulation, regardless of which scheme is adopted, is that countries / regions will need to look at the prevalence and persistence of waste in their ecosystems in determining where to draw the line on material bans / regulatory restrictions, and, of course, it won’t necessarily be wet wipes which creates the greatest local challenges.  

In short, countries / regions need to do their own strategic thinking around environmental, commercial and social outcomes in developing a plastics law – simple local replication of the SUP Directive isn’t a viable option.

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


About the Author

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