Canada-based Fund created for investing in Cleantech Start-ups

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To support the development of cleantech companies, four Québec-based institutions are investing US$29 million in the new US$156.5 million Spring Lane Capital Fund I. With their investments, BDC Capital (US$15 million), Fonds de solidarité FTQ (US$7.5 million), Fondaction (US$3.5 million) and Palomino Capital (US$3 million) are looking to finance the start-up and post-start-up phases of cleantech companies, essential actors in the field of sustainable development.

“BDC Capital is pleased to support the launch of Spring Lane’s inaugural fund,” said Alison Nankivell, Vice President, Fund Investments and Global Scaling. “We believe the Spring Lane’s combination of project finance and growth equity for small scale environmental projects will help address a genuine funding gap in the financing chain for cleantech companies.”

“With its innovative and pioneering model, Spring Lane Capital is addressing the main challenge faced by the cleantech sector when it comes to start-up and post-start-up financing. The Fonds de solidarité FTQ’s investment will further help the development of clean technologies right here in Québec,” adds Dany Pelletier, the Fonds’ Vice-President for Investments, Strategic Capital, Energy, Environment and Mines.  

“The model that Spring Lane Capital proposes will enable local companies that are developing innovative technologies to access capital and develop their markets in areas in line with our objectives of sustainable development and the fight against climate change. Furthermore, its expertise in project financing makes it an interesting model for expediting the positive shift in our economy,” continues Marc-André Binette, Deputy Chief Investment Officer at Fondaction.

“We are very happy to support cleantech companies, both locally in Québec and abroad, as they benefit from Spring Lane’s innovative financing model to help grow their business,” declares Gary Alexander, CEO of Palomino Capital.

About BDC Capital
BDC Capital is the investment arm of BDC- Canada’s only bank devoted exclusively to entrepreneurs. With over $3 billion under management, BDC Capital serves as a strategic partner to the country’s most innovative firms. It offers a full spectrum of risk capital, from seed investments to transition capital, supporting Canadian entrepreneurs who wish to scale their businesses into global champions. Visit bdc.ca/capital.

About the Fonds de solidarité FTQ
The Fonds de solidarité FTQ is a development capital investment fund that channels the savings of Quebecers into investments. As at May 31, 2019, the organization had $15.6 billion in net assets, and through its current portfolio of investments supports 215,104 jobs. The Fonds is a partner in 3,126 companies and today has more than 700,000 shareholder-savers.

About Fondaction
Fondaction distinguishes itself through its investments, which are aimed at supporting, promoting and encouraging sustainable development. It manages assets in excess of $2 billion collected as retirement savings from more than 170,000 shareholders.
Fondaction supports the development of more than 1,200 SMEs, many of which are social economy enterprises. It helps create and maintain jobs and reduce inequalities, and contributes to the fight against climate change. Fondaction reduced the carbon footprint of its equity market investments by 51% between 2015 and 2018. For more information, go to fondaction.com or visit our LinkedIn page.

About Palomino Capital
Palomino Capital Corp. is a Montreal-based family office. We deploy proprietary capital across a broad spectrum of asset classes including alternative asset managers, bespoke private credit facilities, direct private equity and real estate.

Toronto wants to power its trash trucks with food waste

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Written by Charlotte Edmond, World Economic Forum

Toronto residents’ trash will soon be powering the collection of yet more trash. The Canadian city says it wants to become one of the first in North America to convert biogas created from organic waste into fuel to power its refuse collection vehicles, generate electricity and heat homes.

The closed-loop system is set to be operational from March 2020, when the city’s food scraps and biodegradable waste will start being taken to a newly constructed anaerobic digestion facility for processing. The biogas released will be captured and converted to renewable natural gas (RNG) – and then injected into the city’s natural gas grid.

The system will significantly reduce the carbon footprint of Toronto’s waste fleet, with estimates suggesting the facility will be able to produce enough gas each year to power the majority of its collection vehicles.

Since 2010, Toronto has been gradually transitioning away from diesel-powered trucks to quieter, more environmentally friendly ones. The city has also constructed a number of RNG refuelling stations.

Once in the grid, the gas could also be used for electricity or heating.

A circular approach

Both biogas and gas created by waste in landfill can be upgraded to create RNG by removing carbon dioxide and other contaminants. The biogas produced from Toronto’s food waste is currently flared – or burnt off – which the city notes is standard industry practice, but does not take advantage of its potential as a renewable power source.

As part of its ambition to become a circular economy, Toronto hopes to create four RNG processing sites, producing gas from two of its anaerobic digestion facilities for organic waste and two of its landfill sites. Once they are up and running, the city says they will be able to produce the gas equivalent of taking 35,000 cars off the road for a year.

RNG is considered a carbon negative product, because the overall reduction in emissions from not using fossil fuels and sending organic waste to landfill outweighs the emissions from using and creating RNG.

The problem of food waste

Globally, food makes up a huge part of our waste. Around a third of all the food produced globally is never eaten.

Image: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

If food waste were a country it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. When you take into account the carbon footprint created by growing, harvesting, transporting, processing and storing food, the waste is almost equivalent to global road transport emissions.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum. This article has been republished under the permission of the World Economic Forum under their Terms of Use. It was first published on the World Economic Forum website.


HSBC Canada launches Green Finance products to support Canadian businesses

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HSBC Bank Canada is supporting Canadian companies to meet their environmental and sustainability goals with the launch of new Green Finance products, the first of their kind in Canada aligned to the Loan Market Association’s Green Loan Principles.

The new range – available for businesses of all sizes from small to medium enterprises (SMEs) through to large corporates – includes term loans, commercial mortgages and leasing products.

Linda Seymour, Head of Commercial Banking at HSBC Bank Canada, said: “As companies look to become more sustainable, they are investing in green projects and activities. We can continue to support their aspirations through our Green Finance products, which support businesses as they pursue sustainable and environmentally-focused activities.”

HSBC’s latest Navigator survey reveals that 95% of Canadian businesses are feeling the pressure to be more sustainable. Their top motivations in implementing sustainability practices are to grow sales (29%), improve their employer brand (24%) or improve transparency and traceability of their products (22%).ii

The Green Finance range includes:

Term Loans
The minimum Green Loan starts at $500,000, enabling a broad range of companies to access finance to support sustainability projects.

Commercial Mortgages
Access loans for purchasing new property, as well as refinancing or making sustainability improvements to existing buildings.

Leasing
Leasing allows companies to use their working capital to keep their business running, instead of financing long-term green assets.

A green loan allows customers to showcase their green credentials to stakeholders by demonstrating that a portion of their funding is ring-fenced for green activities. Green credentials are becoming increasingly important for businesses providing goods or services to large enterprise customers, as these organizations need to demonstrate their supply chain’s sustainability credentials, either to employees or investors.

Targray, a major international provider of innovative materials for photovoltaic manufacturers – and a long-time HSBC Canada customer – is the type of company that might benefit from HSBC’s Green Finance products. CFO Michel Tardif, said: “Targray is focused on supporting the growth and sustainability of novel energy industries through collaboration, innovation and value creation. To do that, we need partners who understand how to financially support companies in their sustainability efforts. We are glad to be working collaboratively with HSBC to create new solutions that fuel the world’s transition towards sustainable energy. Their green loan offering is certainly a step in the right direction.”

Linda Seymour added: “Businesses have asked for products that are aligned to their sustainability goals, and we are confident this suite of Green Finance products will support them.”

HSBC Bank Canada has aligned its Green Finance offering to the Loan Market Association’s Green Loan Principles – a set of market standards and guidelines providing a consistent methodology for use across the wholesale green loan market. This initiative forms part of HSBC’s global commitment to provide $100 billion in sustainable financing and investment by 2025.

Eligible activities include:

  • Renewable energy, including storage and smart grids;
  • Pollution prevention and control, including reduction of air emissions and greenhouse gas control;
  • Clean transportation;
  • Climate change adaptation;
  • Sustainable water and wastewater management;
  • Sustainable management of living and natural resources and land use;
  • Waste prevention, reduction, recycling; waste to energy; products from waste.

HSBC Bank Canada
HSBC Bank Canada, a subsidiary of HSBC Holdings plc, is the leading international bank in the country. We help companies and individuals across Canada to do business and manage their finances internationally through three global business lines: Commercial Banking, Global Banking and Markets, and Retail Banking and Wealth Management.

Inter Pipeline and Alberta NAIT Announce $10 Million Research Project on Plastic Waste Reduction

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Inter Pipeline Ltd., headquartered in Calgary, and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (“NAIT“) recently announced a new partnership to research opportunities to reuse and recycle plastic in Canada. The ten-year agreement, known as Plastics Research in Action (“PRIA”), will be funded by a $10 million commitment from Inter Pipeline, which represents the largest applied research partnership in NAIT’s history.

The Calgary-based energy infrastructure company is expanding into the petrochemical business with the construction of its Heartland Petrochemical Complex, slated for completion in late 2021 in Strathcona County. The $3.5-billion complex will produce polypropylene pellets used to manufacture recyclable products including medical equipment and textiles.

The polypropylene manufacturing process at Inter Pipeline’s complex is estimated to generate 65% less greenhouse gas (“GHG”) than the global average, and 35% less GHG than the North American average.

The PRIA partnership will see NAIT researchers and students work with Inter Pipeline on projects to advance the reuse and recycling of plastic in Canada and around the world.

Potential research projects include examining opportunities for plastic to be reused, thus retaining the value of the product, and supporting the ideals of a circular economy. Innovations could potentially help Canadians reuse and re-manufacture materials, create new economic opportunities and benefit our environment. A portion of the applied research funding will also be dedicated to improving sustainable practices at Inter Pipeline’s Heartland Petrochemical Complex.

“Ultimately, I think everyone agrees the end game is preventing plastic waste. That’s why I consider today’s announcement to be a completely necessary and crucial step,” said Chris Bayle, president and CEO of Inter Pipeline at the announcement of the partnership Tuesday in NAIT’s state-of-the-art Productivity and Innovation Centre

Almost 80% of all post-consumer plastics in Canada currently end up in landfills, he added. “This is the right project being done in the right place at the right time,” said Bayle of the partnership with NAIT. “We recognize fully that sustainability is a critical component of our business.”

“This agreement showcases how NAIT plays a vital role in helping industry to find solutions to the problems they’re facing,” said Dr. Glenn Feltham, NAIT’s president and CEO.

About Inter Pipeline Ltd.
Inter Pipeline is a major petroleum transportation, natural gas liquids processing, and bulk liquid storage business based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Inter Pipeline owns and operates energy infrastructure assets in western Canada and Europe. Inter Pipeline is a member of the S&P/TSX 60 Index and its common shares trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol IPL.  www.interpipeline.com

About NAIT
The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) is a leading Canadian polytechnic, delivering education in science, technology and the environment; business; health and skilled trades.

GFL Announces Acquisition of AGI Group

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GFL Environmental Inc. (“GFL”) recently announced that it has acquired the AGI group of companies, including Ground Force Environmental, Robert Cooke Trucking and WasteAway Recycling Environmental (collectively, “AGI”).

AGI is a provider of environmental remediation and waste management services, primarily within the Kitchener-Waterloo area, located approximately 100-km northwest of Toronto, Ontario.

WasteAway is an waste and recycling transfer and processing facility WasteAway is a full service efficient waste transfer facility centrally located in the Waterloo Region. The facility accepts Industrial, Commercial, & Institutional (IC&I) and construction & demolition (C&D) waste.

Ground Force Environmental Inc. is a full-service environmental remediation contractor.

“The acquisition of AGI expands and complements GFL’s existing liquid waste and soil remediation capabilities in Southwestern Ontario,” said Patrick Dovigi, GFL’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer. “We look forward to welcoming AGI’s management team and employees, led by Dan Forsyth, to the GFL team, and continuing to provide its customers with sustainable environmental solutions.”

GFL, headquartered in Vaughan, Ontario, is the fourth largest diversified environmental services company in North America, providing a comprehensive line of non-hazardous solid waste management, infrastructure & soil remediation and liquid waste management services through its platform of facilities across Canada and in 23 states in the United States. 

Myths vs. Facts on Recycling in Canada

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With major headline in newspapers and newscasts on recycling in Canada, the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) deemed it necessary to publish a fact sheet that dispels the myths and state the facts on recycling in Canada.

The Fact Sheet addresses one of the most persistent myths surrounding recycling, which is that no one knows how to address the challenges that the industry is currently facing. SWANA wanted it to be known that solutions are being implemented. Recycling facilities are embracing new technologies such as robotics to keep up with changing market requirements and material streams. New facilities are opening and existing ones are expanding, providing more demand for recyclables. Organizations are considering redesign, reuse and repair to address hard-to recycle items.

SWNA Fact Sheet of Recycling Myths and Facts

“Although the recycling industry is currently having some difficulties marketing some of their materials, the industry isn’t broken,” says Art Mercer, SWANA’s Incoming International Secretary. “Materials are recycled into new products and this has many benefits, such as energy and resource conservation. Just because it is temporarily difficult to market some of the items, this is no reason to stop recycling and throw these items away, often filling up landfills. Also, we need to remember that we all have a responsibility to reduce the items we buy and throw away. Recycling is not the only solution.”

SWANA is an organization of more than 10,000 public and private sector professionals committed to advancing from solid waste management to resource management through their shared emphasis on education, advocacy and research. For more than 50 years, SWANA has been one of the leading associations in the solid waste management field. SWANA serves industry professionals through technical conferences, certifications, publications and a large offering of technical training courses. 

BERQ RNG signs funding agreement with Suske Capital Inc.

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BERQ RNG, an Ontario-based company in the renewable natural gas sector, recently signed a funding agreement with Suske Capital Inc.. Under the terms of the agreement, the two companies collaborate in the development of renewable natural gas projects.

The worldwide market for biogas expected to reach $35 billion in the next 5 years. In North America, there are only 2,000 sites producing biogas, compared to over 10,000 sites in Europe. North America has substantial future potential in the renewable natural gas space, as biogas flaring is a significant source of GHG emissions, and an opportunity exists to capture and condition this valuable resource.

BERQ RNG is positioning itself to be an important niche player in the North American RNG market. The company will have the ability to finance, design, build, and operate RNG systems.

The President and Chief Development Officers of BERQ RNG, Bas Van Berkel, has 20 years experience in developing infrastructure and energy projects including being a founder of StormFisher Environmental Ltd. He has a M.Sc. in civil engineering and a MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western University.

Suske Capital Inc. is a Canadian boutique private equity firm that invests in real estate, finance, emerging technology, alternative energy and healthcare.  Suske’s Capital’s main business is the developing and operating senior housing. The key focus of Suske Capital is value creation and the company has developed a reputation for earning industry-leading returns for its co-investment partners. The company takes an active-ownership approach by investing its own time, money and expertise to grow its portfolio companies. 

 

Waste-to-Energy: where now and where next?

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Bettina Kamuk, Global Market Director, Waste to Energy at Ramboll

Waste-to-energy is the use of waste to generate energy, usually in the form of heat or electricity. In many ways it is the ultimate in renewable energy, because it recycles what we have already consumed in another form. It is, therefore, a key part of the growing ‘circular economy’.

The idea of the circular economy recognises that there is a limit to the possibilities of recycling. Even recycled goods wear out over time, and further recycling is often not possible. We therefore need a way to deal with the residual waste. We also need a way to deal with waste that is not currently recyclable or recycled. At present, worldwide most of it is sent to landfill. This not only uses valuable space, but also generates methane, a greenhouse gas.

Waste-to-energy offers an alternative—and one with a useful product at the end, in the form of energy. In other words, waste-to-energy has a double bonus for the environment: it reduces greenhouse gas emissions in two ways. First, there are fewer emissions from landfill, and second, it reduces reliance on fossil fuels.

Understanding waste-to-energy

The first incinerator was built in Nottingham, in the UK, in 1874, and the first in the US in New York in 1885. However, these early incinerators usually had little or no capacity to recover either energy or materials. Modern incinerators are able to do both. Many are used to provide heating for local sections of cities. They operate to very tight emission standards so are not polluting, and often reduce the volume of the original waste by more than 95%.

The precise volume, of course, depends on what can be recovered and reused from the ash. Technology to recover metals from ash has developed rapidly in the last few years. A new plant in Copenhagen on the island of Amager, where the Ramboll office is located, is able to recover metal particles as small as 0.5mm across. This is far better than the previous standard of 4mm and is an effective way to sort out metal that is difficult to separate manually before incineration.

Waste-to-energy around the world

At next week’s North American Waste to Energy Conference (NAWTEC), I am going to be part of a panel session on international opportunities for waste-to-energy. The idea of the panel session is to describe what is going on in waste-to-energy around the world, setting out ideas and opportunities for event participants.

Around the world, cities and countries are embracing waste-to-energy, with a number of new green-field facilities being commissioned or built. For example, estimates in Europe suggest that new waste-to-energy capacity of up to 55 mio will be needed to meet landfill directives and circular economy goals. Several Middle Eastern states, including Dubai, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, have either built or are in the process of commissioning new facilities. New facilities are also being commissioned as far apart as Lebanon, Singapore and Perth, Australia.

In South East Asia, there is a growing move towards waste-to-energy. China’s government has made a decision to move away from landfill, and has already established a number of waste-to-energy plants, mostly using Chinese technology. Thailand and Malaysia also already have waste-to-energy plants. The Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia have plans to establish plants in the foreseeable future.

Where next for waste-to-energy?

Despite these success stories, there are also parts of the world where waste-to-energy has been slower to grow, such as North America. This is partly because of lack of political will to move away from landfilling, which is perhaps what happens when you have plenty of space. It is also partly because there is less political acceptance that we need to move to a circular economy, with waste-to-energy as a key element. However, as this acceptance grows, there is huge potential in these countries too.

Today a lot of waste is still being sent to landfill or even dumped. The potential for new green-field waste-to-energy facilities is huge. Even in countries where there are already waste-to-energy facilities, old plants will eventually need replacing with modern and more energy-efficient plants. I think the future is bright for waste-to-energy, and I think there is growing acceptance that the future of the world will also be brighter for its increasing use.


About the Author

Bettina Kamuk is Global Market Director and Head of Department at Ramboll. Bettina is a highly experienced waste-to-energy project director and has been responsible for waste-to-energy projects worldwide, most recently in South East Asia and the Middle East. Currently, she is technical advisor for the National Environmental Agency (NEA) in Singapore during the development of the Integrated Waste Management Facility in Singapore planned for an annual capacity of 2 million tonnes of waste-to-energy recovery and more than 200,000 tonnes of bio-waste and recyclables for sorting. Bettina has been Board Member and Chair of the Scientific and Technical Committee for the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) and has for eight years been chairing ISWA’s Working Group on Energy Recovery.

AboutRamboll

Ramboll is a leading engineering, design and consultancy company founded in Denmark in 1945. The company employs 15,000 working from 300 offices in 35 countries and has especially strong representation in the Nordics, UK, North America, Continental Europe, Middle East and Asia Pacific. Ramboll is at the forefront of addressing the green transition and offers a holistic approach to energy that supports the sector on the journey towards more sustainable solutions. Ramboll has more than 50 years of experience in the planning, design and implementation of energy solutions, covering the full spectrum of technologies and all parts of the value chain from planning to production, transmission and distribution. Ramboll has worked on waste-to-energy projects in 45 countries, providing consulting services for 155 new units and retrofits.

Piling Up: How China’s Ban on Importing Waste Has Stalled Global Recycling

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Written by Cheryl Katz, Independent Science Writer

This article has been republished with the permission of Yale Environment 360, a publication of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. The original posting can be found at Yale Environment 360 website.


It has been a year since China jammed the works of recycling programs around the world by essentially shutting down what had been the industry’s biggest market. China’s “National Sword” policy, enacted in January 2018, banned the import of most plastics and other materials headed for that nation’s recycling processors, which had handled nearly half of the world’s recyclable waste for the past quarter century. The move was an effort to halt a deluge of soiled and contaminated materials that was overwhelming Chinese processing facilities and leaving the country with yet another environmental problem — and this one not of its own making.

In the year since, China’s plastics imports have plummeted by 99 percent, leading to a major global shift in where and how materials tossed in the recycling bin are being processed. While the glut of plastics is the main concern, China’s imports of mixed paper have also dropped by a third. Recycled aluminum and glass are less affected by the ban.

Globally more plastics are now ending up in landfills, incinerators, or likely littering the environment as rising costs to haul away recyclable materials increasingly render the practice unprofitable. In England, more than half-a-million more tons of plastics and other household garbage were burned last year. Australia’s recycling industry is facing a crisis as the country struggles to handle the 1.3 million-ton stockpile of recyclable waste it had previously shipped to China.

Communities across the U.S. have curtailed collections or halted their recycling programs entirely.

Across the United States, local governments and recycling processors are scrambling to find new markets. Communities from Douglas County, Oregon to Hancock, Maine, have curtailed collections or halted their recycling programs entirely, which means that many residents are simply tossing plastic and paper into the trash. Some communities, like Minneapolis, stopped accepting black plastics and rigid #6 plastics like disposable cups. Others, like Philadelphia, are now burning the bulk of their recyclables at a waste-to-energy plant, raising concerns about air pollution.

Even before China’s ban, only 9 percent of discarded plastics were being recycled, while 12 percent were burned. The rest were buried in landfills or simply dumped and left to wash into rivers and oceans. Without China to process plastic bottles, packaging, and food containers — not to mention industrial and other plastic waste — experts warn it will exacerbate the already massive waste problem posed by our throwaway culture. The planet’s load of nearly indestructible plastics — more than 8 billion tons have been produced worldwide over the past six decades — continues to grow.

“Already, we’ve been seeing evidence in the past year of the accumulation of plastic waste in countries that are dependent on exporting,” says the University of Georgia’s Amy Brooks, a Ph.D. student in engineering and lead author of a recent study on the impacts of China’s import ban. “We’ve seen increased cost to consumers, closure of recycling facilities, and ultimately decreased plastic waste diversion.”

The recycling crisis triggered by China’s ban could have an upside, experts say, if it leads to better solutions for managing the world’s waste, such as expanding processing capacities in North America and Europe, and spurring manufacturers to make their products more easily recyclable. Above all, experts say it should be a wake-up call to the world on the need to sharply cut down on single-use plastics.

Over the coming decade, as many as 111 million tons of plastics will have to find a new place to be processed or otherwise disposed of as a result of China’s ban, according to Brooks and University of Georgia engineering professor Jenna Jambeck. However, the places trying to take up some of the slack in 2018 tended to be lower-income countries, primarily in Southeast Asia, many of which lack the infrastructure to properly handle recyclables. Many of those countries were quickly overwhelmed by the volume and have also now cut back on imports.

Prior to China’s ban, 95 percent of the plastics collected for recycling in the European Union and 70 percent in the U.S. were sold and shipped to Chinese processors. There, they were turned into forms to be repurposed by plastic manufacturers. Favorable rates for shipping in cargo vessels that carried Chinese consumer goods abroad and would otherwise return to China empty, coupled with the country’s low labor costs and high demand for recycled materials, made the practice profitable.

“Everyone was sending their materials to China because their contamination standard was low and their pricing was very competitive,” says Johnny Duong, acting chief operating officer of California Waste Solutions, which handles recycling for Oakland and San Jose. Like most municipal recycling programs, those cities contract with Duong’s company to collect and sort recyclable waste at its materials recovery facility, where they are baled and sent to end-market processors. Before the ban, Duong says, his company sold around 70 percent of its recyclables to China. Now, that has fallen to near zero.

China’s action came after many recycling programs had transitioned from requiring consumers to separate paper, plastics, cans, and bottles to today’s more common “single stream,” where it all goes into the same blue bin. As a result, contamination from food and waste has risen, leaving significant amounts unusable. In addition, plastic packaging has become increasingly complex, with colors, additives, and multilayer, mixed compositions making it ever more difficult to recycle. China has now cut off imports of all but the cleanest and highest-grade materials — imposing a 99.5 percent purity standard that most exporters found all-but impossible to meet.

“Costs associated with recycling are up, revenue associated with recycling is down,” says an industry official.

“All recyclable plastics from municipal recycling programs have been pretty much banned,” says Anne Germain, vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for the U.S. trade group National Waste and Recycling Association. “It’s had a tremendous impact. Costs associated with recycling are up, revenue associated with recycling is down. And that’s not turning around in the next few weeks.”

The U.S. and Europe, where many cities have longstanding recycling collection programs, have been especially hard-hit. Decades of reliance on China had stifled development of domestic markets and infrastructure. “There are just not very easy or cost-effective options for dealing with it now,” says Brooks. “So if nothing is done to ensure efficient management of plastic waste, the cost-effective option is to send it to landfills or incineration.”

In the U.S., small town and rural recycling operations have been hit the hardest. While most continue to operate, rising costs and falling incomes are forcing some, like Kingsport, Tennessee to shut down. Others, like Phenix City, Alabama, have stopped accepting all plastics. Places like Deltona, Florida suspended curbside pickup. Residents in municipalities like these now must travel to collection points in sometimes distant locations if they want to recycle. Some are inevitably tossing their recyclables in the trash instead.

Most larger cities — such as New York, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon — have been able to either find alternative markets or improve and expand their municipal operations to process higher-quality and more marketable materials. But many have had to make changes, including dropping some harder-to-recycle materials from their programs. Sacramento, California, for instance, halted collections of plastics labeled #4 through #7 for several months last year at the city waste operator’s request. Residents were told to discard those items in their household garbage.

“That was a real eye opener for a lot of folks who love to feel good about putting their recycling in their blue bin and then it magically turns into something else,” says Erin Treadwell, community outreach manager for Sacramento Public Works. “We wish it was that easy.” Collection there resumed in November after a public education campaign on how households should clean and sort their recyclables.

In Philadelphia last year, when the city’s waste contractor demanded higher fees for collecting and processing recycled materials, the city sent half its recyclables to a waste-to-energy plant, where they were burned to generate electricity; the rest went to an interim contractor.

Displaced Chinese companies have announced plans to open new processing plants in South Carolina and Alabama.

Simon Ellin, CEO of The Recycling Association, a UK industry group, said these countries have struggled to cope with the volume displaced by the Chinese ban and were beginning to impose their own import restrictions.

Whether China’s ban leads to increased plastic pollution in the environment remains to be seen. “The plastic is now getting diverted to countries with a high risk of improper management and high leakage rates,” says Roland Geyer, an industrial ecology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management and lead author of a recent study on the ultimate fate of disposed plastics. Still, China, with its high volume of imports, had been the source of more than a quarter of the world’s mismanaged waste, Jambeck says. So if proper alternatives are found, plastic pollution could actually decrease.

Some options are beginning to emerge. Several U.S. materials recovery facilities are expanding operations, upgrading equipment, and adding workers to improve sorting and reduce contamination so that the materials are acceptable to more discerning buyers. Duong’s Oakland-based company — which handles paper, plastics, and some metals — has modified its equipment and devised better ways of separating materials. The company has developed new markets domestically and in places like South Korea, Indonesia, and India.

And displaced Chinese processors have announced plans to open new U.S. processing plants in Orangeburg, South Carolina and Huntsville, Alabama. The companies will shred or pelletize things like plastic food containers to make products such as artificial plants and hangers.

“There is the expectation that we’ll be able to expand domestic processing,” says Germain. “That’s the good news. [But] you don’t build a new facility overnight.”

A variety of new policies aimed at reducing plastic waste are also in the works. The European Parliament recently approved a ban on single-use plastics, including plastic cutlery, straws, and drink-stirrers. Several North American cities, including Seattle and Vancouver, and companies like Starbucks and American Airlines have taken similar actions. And many places around the world now restrict plastic shopping bags.

“Reducing the amount of waste we generate in the first place is the most important thing we can do,” says Lance Klug, information officer for California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. The agency has been working with manufacturers for the past decade to reduce the discarded packaging that makes up about a quarter of what’s in the state’s landfills, he says, adding, “We’re trying to get industry more involved in the end-of-life disposition of their products.”

Britain is planning to tax manufacturers of plastic packaging with less than 30 percent recycled materials. And Norway recently adopted a system in which single-use plastic bottle-makers pay an “environmental levy” that declines as the return rate for their products rises. The bottles must be designed for easy recycling, with no toxic additives, only clear or blue color, and water-soluble labels.


About the Author

Cheryl Katz is an independent science writer covering climate change, energy, earth sciences, and environmental health. A former newspaper reporter, she has reported from Iceland to Africa on topics ranging from new geothermal technology to rapidly warming lakes. Her articles have appeared in Scientific American, National Geographic News and Hakai Magazine, among other publications.

Innovative company fueling greener steel from Wood Waste

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Ontario-based CHAR Technologies is developing cost-effective and efficient alternative fuels that help manufacturers drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), all while adding value to otherwise wasted resources. Andrew White is CEO of CHAR Technologies Ltd., an innovative Toronto-based cleantech company specializing in biocarbon fuel development and provides custom equipment for industrial air and water treatment, environmental management services, site investigation and remediation and resource efficiency.

Mr. White began developing their first product, SulfaCHAR, while he was a grad student at the University of Toronto (U of T). SulfaCHAR is a patented form of activated biochar that removes hydrogen sulfide from renewable natural gas the same way a Brita® water filter removes contaminants from tap water, leaving behind a clean biogas that can be used for multiple energy applications.

The feedstock used in the production of SulfaCHAR is anaerobic digestate and/or compost.  Production of SulfaCHAR is achieved by pyrolysis under patented conditions that include specific hold times, temperatures, and conditions.  Currently, there is a SulfaCHAR production facility co-located at the Stormfisher Environmental biogas facility in London, Ontario.

CHAR Technologies’ next challenge is to develop a product it calls CleanFyre, a solid biofuel intended to replace traditional coal. On a fundamental level, CleanFyre is produced through pyrolysis, the same process that has been used to turn wood into charcoal since ancient times. “In pyrolysis, you have a bio-based material that you heat up in the absence of oxygen,” explains Devon Barry, Char Technologies’ Biocarbon Manager. “Since there is no oxygen, the organic material does not combust but instead the chemical compounds that make up the material decompose into combustible gases and charcoal.”

As we all know, burning coal proliferates GHGs, and unfortunately, a commercially viable solution that produces high enough energy levels to replace coal in many manufacturing processes, such as iron making, doesn’t exist yet. However, CHAR Technologies believes it can offer a solution to address the need for a high carbon, low ash coal replacement as an energy and reactant source.

The feedstock in the production of Cleanfyre is currently clean wood and waste wood. Other biomass materials are also being testing. The use of wood and biomass in the production the CleanFyre is considered carbon neutral as the source material is renewable.

ArcelorMittal Dofasco is Canada’s largest flat roll steel producer based in Hamilton, Ontario. In 2017, the steelmaker approached one of Ontario’s regional innovation centres, the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), looking for a cost-effective alternative fuel for their blast furnaces that would reduce GHGs.

Andrew White, CEO, CHAR Technologies

“There was nothing that could generate the high levels of carbon and energy needed for steel production,” says White, who has now been meeting with ArcelorMittal Dofasco for 18 months. CHAR Technologies is piloting their CleanFyre energy fuel product through this Ontario-based collaboration, with an eye on opening up a market estimated at $340 million in Ontario alone.

ArcelorMittal Dofasco has active plans towards an initial 20 tonne trial of CleanFyre in their blast furnaces, with the potential to scale-up once they confirm the fuel’s effectiveness. The major advantage of CHAR Technologies’ solution is ‘simplicity,’ says White. “There are no major modifications required for the iron making process; we’re striving towards a ‘drop-in’ solid biofuel.”

Ongoing research at the University of Toronto will be key to CleanFyre’s success. “We are working with researchers at the University of Toronto on some very innovative ways to drastically reduce the ash content, which will allow us to expand our feed stocks to low value ‘wastes’ that have valuable low GHG carbon that’s otherwise inaccessible.”

This article is an edited version from the one posted on the InvestOntario website.