New Guideline related to Construction, Renovation, and Demolition Waste Management

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The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) has posted a Guide for Identifying, Evaluating and Selecting Policies for Influencing Construction, Renovation and Demolition Waste Management.

Construction, renovation and demolition (CRD) wastes make up one of the largest solid waste streams in Canada. This waste comes at a significant cost: it is expensive to manage, poses risks to human health and the environment, and represents a missed opportunity to recover value from
discarded materials. Consequently, there are strong social, economic and ecological imperatives to both reduce the rate of CRD waste generation and increase the quantities diverted from disposal.

This guide provides decision-makers with high-level guidance for identifying, evaluating and selecting effective policies for influencing CRD waste management. This includes reducing the amount of waste generated by CRD activities, decreasing the amount of CRD waste that is disposed, lessening the environmental impacts of the CRD waste that is disposed, and
strengthening the markets for, and value of, diverted CRD materials.

Reducing the amount of CRD waste heading to landfill is a complicated task, and there is no single policy that can address the issue on its own. CRD waste reduction and diversion requires a comprehensive approach. Successful jurisdictions use a combination of policies that are tailored
to their unique regional political, economic and market conditions. Policymakers can leverage a three-step process for evaluating CRD waste management policies:

  • Assess: The starting point is to assess the regional context to determine the current state of CRD waste management and identify the materials and systems with the greatest potential for reduction or diversion.
  • Prioritize: The second step is to establish a set of goals and select a short list of strategies and policy measures that are most closely aligned with the regional priorities, needs and context. This may include setting diversion targets and identifying priority materials, construction life-cycle stages and actors for action.
  • Evaluate: The final step is to assess the potential benefits and impacts of each policy and decide on a path forward.

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

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

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

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

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

Why was Loop created?

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

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

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

An issue of efficiency, economics and equity

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

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

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

A distance too far: Environmental and economic impacts of transportation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The road to the landfill is paved with good intentions

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

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

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

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


About the Author

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

Windsor scores a 96% recycling rate in demolition of its Old City Hall

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96.5% waste recycling rate for old city hall demolition saves money, helps environment. Hardly anything except hazardous material went into a landfill from demolition of the old Windsor city hall, a recycling feat being hailed as “truly remarkable.

Most of the old city hall building has been recycled.

When the project began, the city was hoping to achieve an 80 to 85% recycle rate from materials left behind from the demolition of the old building, including crushing the concrete on site and reusing it is as backfill where the old foundation was removed.

This effort was made to save money on both backfill and the cost that would have been involved to transfer material to the landfill, not to mention the environmental benefits.

Budget Environmental Disposal, the contractor tasked with this project, reports that the actual waste diversion achieved was 96.5%.

Of 8,301.13 metric tonnes of waste, only 283 ended up in landfill.

City of Kamloops to ban cardboard in Landfills

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The City of Kamloops, British Columbia is the latest municipality looking to ban a recyclable material from landfill. In the case of this south-central BC community of 90,000, IC&I cardboard is the target.

In an interview with Kamloops This Week, Glen Farrow, the city’s environmental services manager, stated: “We’re still seeing some businesses, some loads coming to our landfills from some of the other private haulers in town, with a large percentage of all their waste is cardboard,” city environmental services manager Glen Farrow told KTW. “In those particular cases, why can’t that be separated? Why can’t that be diverted?”

Currently, the City collects residential cardboard curbside and delivers it to the Emterra waste processing facility, the only location in Kamloops that recyclings cardboard. Cardboard generated by the IC&I sector is collected by the City on a piecemeal basis. Most businesses pay to have their cardboard hauled privately.

The city is considering the ban on cardboard in landfills as part of a region-wide initiative,that will put the onus back on businesses to find an alternative way to dispose of the material.

“It’s the lowest-hanging fruit,” Farrow said in his interview with Kamloops Today. “We’ve been talking about commercial recycling for years and, based on the global markets, soft plastics, mixed paper — all those are challenging in finding an end market. The product that has the greatest value and the ability to be pulled out more easily from your product mix is cardboard.”

With Emterra being the only cardboard recycler in the City, there are issues when cardboard loads are not accepted at the facility due to contamination. If a landfill ban is in place, there will only be expensive out-of-city options for cardboard 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.

New Waste Plastic to Hydrogen Facility planned in the UK

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Peel Environmental – part of Peel L&P – recently announced it was working in partnership with Waste2Tricity to build a waste plastic to hydrogen facility at its 54-hectare Protos site near Ellesmere Port, England.

The $12 million (Cdn.) plant will use ‘UK first’ advanced thermal treatment technology developed by PowerHouse Energy Group (AIM:PHE) at Thornton Science Park, next door to Protos. The pioneering DMG® (Distributed Modular Generation) technology could transform the way plastics are dealt with in the region. The plant will take up to 35 tonnes of unrecyclable plastics a day and create a local source of hydrogen which could be used to power road vehicles.

This local source of hydrogen could be used as a clean and low-cost fuel for buses, Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) and cars, helping to reduce air pollution and improve air quality on local roads. The facility would also generate electricity which could be provided to commercial users via a microgrid at Protos, helping to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Peel Environmental is looking at developing a closed loop solution at Protos where plastics are recycled on-site with the leftover material used to create hydrogen.

The development would see a further 14 full time permanent jobs created at the Protos site with over 100 jobs created in the North West during fabrication and construction.

Myles Kitcher from Peel Environmental – part of Peel L&P – said, “This is a great step forward towards delivering the first of many waste plastic to hydrogen facilities across the UK. There is huge potential for hydrogen to replace fossil fuels in our transport system. We already have hydrogen buses in Liverpool and trains being converted to hydrogen in Widnes. Using waste plastic to generate a local source of hydrogen could not only help to reduce our reliance on landfill but improve local air quality with a clean and low-cost fuel for buses, HGVs and cars.”

David Ryan, CEO of PowerHouse Energy Group (AIM:PHE), said, “The submission of the planning application is an important step forward in delivering the first commercial application of the DMG technology, creating hydrogen from waste plastics. The team have worked hard to develop a robust application and we’re hopeful of securing consent and subsequent financial close in the coming months.”

The Protos strategic energy hub sits within the Energy Innovation District (EID), which is spearheaded by the Cheshire Energy Hub and brings together energy users, network owners, innovators and partners working alongside Cheshire & Warrington LEP, Cheshire West and Chester Council and the University of Chester. The EID is looking to develop a local, smart energy microgrid which a recent report demonstrated could lead to energy cost savings of up to 25% and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 34%.

The project is also one of many under the North West’s bid to become the UKs first low carbon cluster by 2030. The North West Energy and Hydrogen Cluster is being led by the North West Business Leadership Team, with support from Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region Mayors and the Cheshire & Warrington LEP.

Unintended consequences: How Environmentalism is becoming a luxury that poor and marginalized communities cannot afford

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Written by Calvin Lakhan, Ph.D, Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University

The title of this article may seem like a bit of “click bait”, but the topic itself is one near and dear to my heart, but is often neglected in conversations surrounding waste. How socio-economic inequality manifests itself in the form of impeded access, or participation in waste management initiatives is a poorly understood topic. Much of the existing academic research on environmental justice has been on the unequal distribution of environmental hazards and benefits along racialized lines, where there are consistent indications that waste facilities and waste related hazards are disproportionally located in lower income areas (or those predominated by minorities). Perhaps more alarmingly is the epidemiological link between waste exposure-related health effects and low income areas.

But that isn’t what this article is about – My hope is to begin an uncomfortable conversation about a two tiered waste management system in Ontario (one for affluent “woke” Ontarians, and one for lower income groups making the daily grind), that by all indications is going to get worse, before it gets better.

I want to preface by saying I don’t think this is necessarily the result of deliberate, malicious design (or least I wouldn’t like to think so). Equitable access to a clean and sustainable environment is an issue that has garnered enormous attention, and I would expect this issue to grow in importance moving forward.

I just ask that from the perspective of waste management (diversion, recycling etc.), that we take the time to consider how changes in our industry affect, or are going to affect, the most vulnerable or marginalized groups of our society.

In all fairness, the connection between waste management and socio-economic inequality is not something that is top of mind for most policy makers. Generally speaking, there is an idea that a municipality will provide waste management services to a particular area, support that initiative through a combination of promotion and education efforts, and hope for sustained public participation.

The help provide some boundaries on this wide ranging discussion, I am going to break my comments down into three key areas: Economic Access and 2) Knowledge Access, and 3) Infrastructural Access

Economic Access

I was recently interviewed by the CBC, and almost inevitably, the conversation shifted to the perils of plastic packaging.

Given that I am actually an advocate of some single use plastics, I was trying explain how a cucumber wrapped in plastic isn’t the world’s worst idea, considering that it can help mitigate against spoilage.

That’s when the interviewer said something that surprised me a bit “Don’t you think consumers should be paying a little more to ensure that less waste is being generated?”

I actually didn’t know how to answer that question, largely because it depends on so many different factors. Do I think all consumers should be willing to pay a little bit more to avoid waste? No – absolutely not. I do however I think that consumers who have the discretionary purchasing power to make more sustainable choices should try and do when possible, but I ascribe no right or wrong in doing so.

What people can and choose to purchase is largely a function of economics –those of us that have the luxury of being conscientious consumers that can shop locally and participate in programs such as Terracycle’s Loop should be applauded.

However, it is important to recognize that the ability to do so is a luxury – in a focus group conducted of more than 1800 consumers in the Greater Toronto earlier this year, more than 80% of respondents indicated that price was the primary determinant for making a purchase. If possible, respondents indicated that they would like to make more sustainable purchases, but budgetary restraints largely impeded them from doing so.

More than 70% of respondents also indicated that they did not have the ability to travel outside of a 5km range to make daily purchases, and often shopped at specific retailers because of a mix of multiple factors such as: convenience, price, familiarity and purchasing agglomeration (one stop shopping).

In a 2019 analysis of consumer purchasing preferences in the Greater Toronto Area, households characterized as “low income” (household income less than $40,000 per year) consumed 18.4% more pre-packaged goods (namely grains, produce and frozen meats), when compared to families whose household income exceeded $100,000 a year. There is an inverse, statistically significant correlation between household income and % of prepackaged foodstuff of overall weekly purchases.

The expectation that households have the ability to readily switch between products based on packaging type doesn’t appear to be a realistic one. People might like the idea of Loop, or want to participate in more sustainability initiatives, but at present, they are priced out of “taking part”.

A particularly interesting phenomenon is that more than 30% of respondents indicated that they are increasingly feeling a “shame” factor from friends or family, who were questioning why they continue to make “unsustainable” choices in light of increasing awareness surrounding single use plastics (i.e. using plastic bags, seran wrap etc.). An anecdote provided during one of the focus group sessions included “A co-worker admonished me for purchasing frozen meat products for my children, alluding to the fact that fresh is better… obviously it is, but I can’t afford that every time and I was left feeling guilty”

While the results of these focus groups/surveys are merely a subset of the diverse range of experiences faced by Ontarians, the sample was designed to be statistically significant and stratified to reflect different demographic contributions.

What was not considered in this study is the potential impact on packaged good prices once a 100% producer responsibility model is implemented in Ontario. Given that lower income groups are the greatest consumers of packaged goods (both in absolute terms, and as a relative % of the overall purchasing basket), any upwards pressure in the cost of food stuff could have potentially adverse impacts.

Knowledge Access

Did you know that I could now schedule my used clothing bin pickup with Diabetes Canada? Or that the TOwaste App allows users the ability properly sort more than 2000 materials?

Even the University’s own Waste Wiki site offers users the ability to download thousands of resources related to waste.

While advents in technology that allow us to engage and communicate in new ways with city residents, we have to remember to ask ourselves: Who is my intended audience? And who is my tool designed for? We often erroneously presume that the majority of people are social media savvy and have the ability to navigate and use a smartphone, but research conducted by York University suggest that smartphone ownership among first generation immigrants is as follows:

Figure 1: Smart Phone Ownership

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Amongst the more than 1200 survey respondents, only adults between the ages of 17-44 reported owning and regularly using a smart phone. The average across all age groups was actually less than 50%. A perhaps more salient finding is that the majority of first generation immigrants using smartphones DO NOT have English as their primary system language (in fact, for ages 45 and older, smartphone users almost exclusively navigate using their native language)

Figure 2: Primary System Language

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Now, you may be asking yourself why does this matter? And what does this have to do with socio-economic inequality?

Simply put, these applications have largely been designed and tested with a demographic that assumes a person is: fluent in English, knows where to download and remove applications from the Play Store, possesses the technical proficiency to consent to location tracking, cookies etc. and lastly, cares enough to see out these types of resources.

In a 2016 study conducted by York University examining “Effectiveness of Recycling Promotion and Education Initiatives among First-Generation Ethnic Minorities in Ontario, Canada” (Lakhan, Social Sciences, 2016), focus group participants struggled to navigate online promotion and education materials and resources (such as the Waste Wizard). The following is an excerpt from this study:

48 of 77 focus group participants expressed difficulty in navigating to and within municipal waste websites (commonly coded phrases included “It’s hard to find the information I’m looking for”). Of particular note, The second most frequently coded response for this question was that the municipality’s web pages were often translated incorrectly (coded 33 times), making it difficult to locate the appropriate waste related resource. While the Google translate feature was available on each of the municipal web sites, the translation was often inaccurate (mistranslated words and phrases, grammar, etc.). 24 study participants indicated that this was actually insulting to them—anecdotes recorded during the sessions include “If you’re not going to do it properly, don’t bother doing it at all” and “It shows how much they (the municipality) care about us”. The notion of “us” and “them” was a recurring theme during the focus group sessions. There was a sentiment that municipalities catered to “white” households and ignored (or placed less emphasis on) the needs of ethnic minorities.

Returning to the conversation of equitable access, how do we ensure that all participants within the system are aware of the tools that are available to them, and by extension, how do we ensure those tools are usable and meaningful to communities?

As an anecdote, I am going to pick on my late father again. As I have noted before, he was a brilliant man who was a professor in Environmental Science, (but he wasn’t exactly the best environmentalist). In spring of last year, as he was cleaning his house post retirement, I told him he could now schedule a pick up on his phone for someone to come get all of his clothes for a donation – no need to leave the house. He just scoffed at me as he loaded bag after bag of used clothing in to my car, ordering me to drive to the Salvation Army. The tool that gets a person like my father to participate, someone who wouldn’t have previously participated if not for this app, is what’s going to be the game changer. Tech savvy recyclers are already taking advantage of these services, and it is unlikely that future increases in diversion are going to come from them. 

Infrastructural Access

Infrastructural Access to waste management services is something that is more difficult to readily quantify, but perhaps, is most insidious in that it highlights that services (not just those pertaining to waste management) are two tiered: One for the rich, and one for everyone else.

Having done extensive work in multi residential buildings throughout the Greater Toronto Area, I have been privy to see the unique challenges that building managers face when attempting to promote diversion. While these are not an exhaustive list of observations (ultimately, every building is unique), but based on data collected over a three year period (which included gauging self-reported recycling behavior among building residents), the following was observed.

1)     Very few buildings are equipped with floor level recycling chutes, with most older buildings having a “recycling room” that required residents to drop off their recyclables at a designated location (normally in a room in the basement). Only recently constructed condominiums have floor level tri sorters.

2)     Not all building managers have the same level of commitment in promoting and maintaining waste management services in their building. City Staff are routinely engaged with building managers to provide materials to residents instructing them about various elements of the City’s waste management programs. 

3)     Recycling/Waste rooms located in building basements or parking garages were seen as an inconvenience, and potentially unsafe

4)     Many “waste/recycling” rooms were seen as dirty, poorly lit and heavily contaminated, which significantly deterred participation among residents. As an extension of this, a household’s willingness to use the waste room was directly related to the building manager’s commitment to maintaining the waste room.

5)     Residents wanted to recycle, but found the inconvenience of both storing and transporting waste to the designated room acted as a deterrent

6)     Residents had much lower rates of recycling awareness compared to single family households, as it was a situation of “out of sight, out of mind”. In the absence of weekly/bi-weekly collection, people forgot about it.

The common thread across each of these observations is that the more affluent the building (ownership was a significant predictor of diversion behavior), the more building/site staff were committed to promoting and maintain a safe and accessible recycling room. It should be noted that this was not universally the case, and overall, building residents expressed strong positive attitudes towards recycling, but low levels of perceived behavioral control that ultimately deterred recycling behavior. Generally speaking, these behavioral obstacles were most prevalent in buildings characterized by lower income and/or immigrant families.

Figure 3 below is taken from as an excerpt from a study I had conducted examining the link between public space recycling and neighborhood income levels (2017)

Figure 3: Density of Bin Per Sample Area

1 – # of Recycling Bins Per Transit Stop

2 – # of Recycling Bins Per 1km sampled roadway/sidewalk

3 – # of Recycling Bins per sampled area

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While the scale makes it a bit difficult to follow, what the figure above shows is that the frequency of recycling bins in three public spaces (Transit Stops, Sidewalks and Parkettes/Playgrounds) is in direct correlation with neighborhood income level (greater income = greater density of bins).

It is important to note that incidents of illegal dumping or littering were not necessarily shown to be higher in these areas, but the purpose of this exercise was to merely determine whether “access to recycling” was equitable across all income groups. The answer, at least based on the time this data was collected, was no. Higher income areas have greater opportunities to recycle, at least with respect to the density of public space Blue Bins.

With respect to infrastructural access, it is very much a tail of two cities (although it would be difficult to say that was the result of deliberate design). Higher income households have greater opportunities to participate in diversion programs, experience more regular/predictable service and have access to supplementary tools and resources that are tailored more specifically to an English speaking audience. These experience further reinforce positive attitude attachments towards the environment, and may subsequently lead to recycling habituation. While this is a desired outcome, high income English speaking households already participate in household recycling at rates that exceed 90% – the next diverted tonne is unlikely going to come from these groups.

Stop and Think

I would strongly caution the reader from jumping to any conclusions based on this information – questions surrounding environmental equality is complex and multi-faceted, and I certainly don’t do any justice to them in this short article.

However, what I do want people to think about what our waste management system is going to look like moving forward. Will we all be using reusable ice cream cans and storing our mouth wash in artisanal metal bottles? I say that tongue in cheek, but conversations surrounding sustainability cannot be had without considering equitability and inclusiveness.

Both brand owners and policy makers cannot stop at saying “We found a divertable solution” and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. Instead, we need to be thinking about how can we deliver this solutions at scale, across all income groups, so that everyone can participate in creating a circular economy?


About the Author

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

Raining on the parade: A critique of packaging “take back”​ programs (Terracycle,Loop, Nespresso etc.)

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Written by Calvin Lakhan, Ph.D, Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University 

I want to preface this post by saying that I wan’t to be proven wrong – while it may be a peculiar stance to take as a researcher, I want to believe in the environmental benefits of packaging take back programs offered by Terracycle, Recycle Bank etc.

The idea that we are now finding innovative ways to recycle problematic materials and transition towards reusable packaging is a breath of fresh air in an industry that finds itself in a waste crisis.

With that being said, it is important to fully understand what it is we are trying to achieve as we work towards a circular economy. A circular system is our end point, but the path that we ultimately take to get there is where we should focus our attention.

The following is an excerpt from the study (I have attached the full white paper for people to download). Please note that I welcome any and all questions, criticisms and comments – my goal is not to pick on any particular organization, but shed light on the challenges of using a decentralized network for waste collection.

Study Excerpt

In Spring of 2019, York University’s Waste Wiki team was asked to investigate the environmental and economic impact of take back programs involving coffee pods, and other reusable/recyclable items that have de-centralized collection networks (i.e. Terra Cycle programs for shampoo bottles, cigarette butts etc.)

It is a relatively recent phenomenon that consumer packaging goods companies are exploring end of life waste management solutions that exist outside of conventional curbside collection. Increasingly, CPG companies are announcing partnerships with “niche” recyclers (where niche is characterized as a company that specializes in the recovery of problematic/difficult to recover materials), enabling consumers to directly return used packaging to re-processors and have it be diverted from landfill.

However, scant attention has been paid as to whether these types of programs offer legitimate environmental benefits when taking a life cycle approach. While it may seem intuitive that keeping material of a landfill is a good idea, what constitutes recyclability is a much more nuanced question that requires a careful consideration of environmental benefits, costs, accessibility, availability and infrastructural capacity.

In the case of most take back programs offered by companies such as Terracycle, problematic materials are down-cycled into “one off” products. As an example, Terracycle presently has take back programs offered for a range of commonly used household products, including razors and other personal hygiene items, chip bags, multi laminate pouches, sharpies/markers and cigarette waste.

While this initially seems like a good thing, each of the aforementioned items are down-cycled, wherein the end of life secondary product cannot be subsequently recovered, and ultimately is disposed of (i.e. a shampoo bottle is converted into a running shoe, but that running shoe cannot be recycled at its end of life, and will either be landfilled or incinerated).

While Terracycle and their peers should be celebrated for their innovation and commitment to finding new uses for problematic materials, their approach to recycling and reuse creates a dangerous perception among the public about what items can (and should be) recycled/reused.

At present, the processing technology involved in any of the aforementioned take back programs is economically prohibitive, and is really only available in jurisdictions in which the collection program is being offered. Simply put – municipal waste management infrastructure is not designed to either collect or recycle problematic materials.

As an example, the only cost analog that can readily be found in a municipal waste system is for multi-laminate plastic packaging (chip bags, yogurt squeeze containers etc.). In 2018, for the limited number of municipal programs that accepted multi laminate materials as part of their Blue Bin, the cost of recycling exceeded $2000 a tonne.

While comparing Terracycle’s costs (which are not shared) with a public municipal waste management system isn’t a particularly useful comparison, it is done to highlight just how costly it is to achieve, even with established collection, consolidation and sorting systems in place.

Take back programs offered by packaging companies and their partners must find ways to economically consolidate and transport their material to specific facilities, and ensure that those facilities are readily equipped to process that material at scale. The economic and environmental impact of a decentralized logistics network is questionable – take back programs that ask consumers to ship things like coffee pods, chip bags, razors etc. hundreds of kilometers can be both inefficient and costly.

At this time, neither Terracycle nor their partners were willing to share their cost and diversion data with the university, limiting the ability to model our own costing scenarios.

However, as an intellectual exercise, let’s look at a take back program that we have a better understanding of – The “Nespresso” Aluminum Coffee Pod (also managed by Terracycle). 

Results  (See link below)

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1rfERnYLOIhPsHcPA7JHf-BxPvErSiezB/view

Closing Comments

For those of you who may not be inclined to read through the entire white paper (although it is a relatively light read at a little under 8 pages – with lots of graphs), the closing comments are as follows:

Nespresso should be applauded for finding a recyclable alternative and innovating in a way that moves us away from single use plastic pods. However, the danger of programs such as Nespresso’s mailer program is that it creates the illusion of being a good environmental citizen (from both the perspective of the packaging producer and the consumer). However, as both consumers and decision makers, we have to perform our due diligence when evaluating whether our actions (in this case, recycling) are achieving our intended objectives (preferable environmental outcomes).

What is perhaps most damning is that Nespresso Aluminum pods is one of the only environmentally friendly packaging types managed by Terracycle that can readily be recycled at a low cost. Table 1 below summarizes the known emissions credits and recycling costs for commonly found Blue Box Materials (managed via curbside).

Table 1: Comparison of Emissions Credits and Recycling Costs

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Please note that the costs per tonne DO NOT include collection costs – these are just the costs of sorting and processing materials at a material recycling facility, net of any revenue received from marketed materials. Curbside collection costs for Blue Box materials typically range from $150-$300 a tonne (as different municipalities have different collection infrastructure, housing densities, labor rates etc.).

While Terracycle did not provide a breakdown of their collection costs for any of their take back programs, the purpose of this study is to highlight that voluntary take back programs, particularly involving those using a mailer system, can only work when there is a critical mass of consolidated material, and that material is being collected at designated intervals. A take back program that leaves it to consumer discretion for how and when they will return end of life materials is in all likelihood significantly more costly from a transportation perspective due to the number of unique trips required. The only way for material to be efficiently transported is when there is a critical mass of material to transport.

As a secondary concern, important questions surrounding the accessibility and affordability of take back groups needs to be considered. Many of the programs offered by Terracycle and their partners exist largely in urban areas – the reason for this is fairly obvious, as it is simply not economically feasible to offer recycling programs to everyone, everywhere. As a tangent to this statement, the introduction of reusable packaging such as Loop has placed upwards pressures on the price of packaged goods – once again, a novel and unique design, but one that is not readily affordable or accessible to a significant percentage of Canadians.

A recent study from York University estimated that lower income marginalized households are those most likely affected by increases in packaging prices, as a greater proportion of their purchases are made up of pre-packaged items.

The findings from this study should be interpreted with a degree of caution – in the absence of having Terracycle’s data, we can only make best guess estimates based on the existing cost of managing a municipal waste system in Ontario. We welcome critics of these findings to share their data, such that we can all have a better understanding of what it is we would like to achieve from our waste management systems moving forward.  

Simply “recycling” is not enough, and we need to be both ready and willing to explore packaging alternatives that “think outside the Blue Box”.

Canadian company claims it can 100% recycle Lithium Batteries

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Li-Cycle, a three-year old company headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario recently announced that had developed a method that allows it to achieve a recycling rate of 80% to 100% of materials in lithium-ion batteries.

​It is estimated that 5% of lithium-ion batteries are collected for recycling (i.e. not reuse) globally, with some jurisdictions (e.g. some member states of the European Union) having much more efficient portable battery collection rates of >20%. Once lithium-ion batteries reach recycling facilities today, the existing best available recycling technology uses high-temperature processing (i.e. >1,000°C, also known as smelting, a pyrometallurgical method) to recycle lithium-ion batteries.

Smelting typically recovers 30-40% of the constituent materials in lithium-ion batteries. The residual 60-70% is either volatilized, cleaned and emitted to the atmosphere, or ends up in solid waste (i.e. slag). Smelting specifically targets the recovery of the base metals in lithium-ion batteries – cobalt, nickel and copper – with only proportions recovered thereof. Critical materials such as lithium are not economically recoverable via smelting. Low recoveries result in an impartially closed lithium-ion battery supply chain loop.

Li-Cycle Technology™ uses a combination of mechanical size reduction and hydrometallurgical resource recovery specifically designed for lithium-ion battery recycling. The technology can do so with an unparalleled recovery rate of 80 – 100% of all materials. The recycling process consists of two key stages: (1) Safe-size reduction of all lithium batteries from a charged state to an inert product and (2) recovery of the electrode materials to produce battery-grade end products.

In 2018, Li-Cycle received $2.7 million in funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) to develop its novel process for the recovery and recycling of valuable materials from all types of lithium-ion batteries.

Earlier this year,  Li-Cycle was named as one of the top 100 international start-ups contributing to the energy transition through the 2019 Start-up Energy Transition (SET) Awards competition. This competition is run by the German Energy Agency (dena) and supported by the World Energy Council.

Li-Cycle has completed three research and development programs/physical validation work streams to date. The company is currently operating an integrated demonstration plant and is in the progressed stages of commercial plant development.  Li-Cycle’s physical validation work streams have been premised on a ‘scale-down’ focus, i.e. scaled down relative to commercial scale.  Each scale-down stage has been focused on the validation of specific key performance indicators.

Canadian Government funding for innovative plastic recycling technologies

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The government of Canada is partnering with Canadian businesses to develop innovative solutions to keep plastics in the economy and out of landfills and the environment.

The government recently announced six winners of the Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge, a part of the Innovative Solutions Canada program. Dealing with issues related to food packaging, construction waste, and the separation of plastics for recycling, these Challenges are an opportunity to invest in innovative ideas and technologies that could play a role in addressing plastic pollution and moving Canada toward a zero-plastic waste future.

Copol International Ltd., one of the funding recipients located in Sydney, Nova Scotia, is a local small business developing a food packaging solution that would incorporate biodegradable components extracted from marine waste into a cast polypropylene film.

The $150,000 in funding will be used on a research project, in partnership with Cape Breton University’s Verschuren Centre, to develop and test biopolymer formulations extracted from marine plants and marine waste products and replace the unrecyclable product that is currently being used to make polypropylene film. For example, shrimp shells could be utilized in the manufacture of polypropylene film.

The research project will last approximately six months. If it is successful, then a prototype film will be produced for commercial testing.

Polypropylene (CPP) film products from the Copoal International Ltd. facility (Source: Copol International Ltd. website)

Copol International Ltd. has 54 employees, operates 24/7 in a 90,000-square-foot building. The company began operations approximately 20 years ago. IT currently provides customized mono- and multi-layer films for food and textile packaging, industrial applications, and heath care products for customers across North America 

Copol International Ltd. joins other small businesses from across the country who will each receive up to $150,000 to develop their idea.

Phase 1 recipients, such as the six winners of the Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge, who successfully develop a proof of concept will be invited to compete for a grant of up to $1 million in Phase 2 to develop a prototype. The Government of Canada then has the option to be the first buyer of any successful innovation.

Innovative Solutions Canada consists of over $100 million in dedicated funding to support the scale-up and growth of Canada’s innovators and entrepreneurs by having the federal government act as a first customer for innovation. Twenty participating federal departments and agencies have set aside a portion of funding to support the creation of innovative solutions by Canadian small businesses.

A total of seven Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenges were put forward as part of the Innovative Solutions Canada program, each encouraging innovative solutions to a different problem area in addressing plastic waste.

The seven plastics challenges are sponsored by Environment and Climate Change Canada, Transport Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and Natural Resources Canada; who each oversee the selection of the winning projects for their respective Challenges.