15 Municipalities Participating in the Canadian Circular Cities and Regions Initiative

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The Circular Cities & Regions Initiative (CCRI) is a one-year pilot created and developed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Green Municipal Fund, the National Zero Waste Council, the Recycling Council of Alberta and RECYC-QUÉBEC to advance circular economy knowledge sharing and capacity building in Canadian cities and communities of all sizes.

Through direct support and guidance locally focused to their needs, and access to a peer network that will encourage and foster collaboration amongst participants, those taking part in CCRI will:

  • learn how to get started and to embed circular economy approaches in their respective communities,
  • access one-on-one mentoring, support and advice in the development of their local circular economy roadmap,
  • identify benefits to the members of their communities, challenges to overcome and opportunities during this transition,
  • collect lessons learned and best practices to support the future transition of other cities and regions to a circular economy,
  • and more.

Fifteen local governments have been selected to participate in the Canadian Circular Cities & Regions Initiative’s (CCRI) Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Network, designed to promote job creation and sustainable practices in the post-pandemic economy. The following local governments are part of the CCRI P2P Network:

  • Calgary (AB)
  • Canmore (AB)
  • Chapais (QC)
  • Gatineau (QC)
  • Mississauga (ON)
  • Montréal (QC)
  • Nanaimo (BC)
  • New Glasgow (NS)
  • Region of York (ON)
  • Richmond (BC)
  • Saskatoon (SK)
  • Sherbrooke (QC)
  • St. John’s (NL)
  • Vancouver (BC)
  • Whitehorse (YK)

Accelerating the transition to a circular economy is recognized as an opportunity for new jobs and environmental sustainability — at a time when governments and communities are in critical need of both. As the Canadian economy rebounds from the COVID-19 downturn, the circular economy provides a framework for achieving climate action commitments and nurturing a prosperous and equitable future for residents and businesses.

In a news release, Joanne Vanderheyden, President, FCM stated; “Municipalities want new models of economic practices that are efficient, better balanced, sustainable, and local. The circular economy is a key part of the solution.”

A series of national webinars is being hosted throughout the year to profile leading examples from within Canada and abroad. Webinars are open to the public and delivered in English with French simultaneous interpretation. Registration is available online.

 

Canada invests in waste-to-fuel study for Indigenous and Northern Communities

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The Government of Canada recently announced it was providing $95,000 in financial support to the Aurora Research Institute, in association with Delta Enterprises, a Gwitch’in owned company, to study the potential of converting waste cardboard into pellets as biomass feedstock for heating homes and businesses throughout Inuvik.

Northern communities are looking at ways to reduce their reliance on diesel for heating and electricity by increasing the use of local renewable energy sources and improving energy efficiency.  The goal of the project is to eventually build a facility that will take up to 60 per cent of the community’s cardboard bound for the landfill and instead, recycle it into heating pellets, thereby supplementing Inuvik’s biomass pellet supply and reducing reliance on fossil fuels used for heating.

Converting the cardboard to pellets and then burning the pellets to generate heat and electricity results in lower greenhouse gas emissions than disposing of the cardboard in landfill.

By supporting an emerging northern biomass industry, the Government wants to create local jobs, transition to clean energy and keep investments in the North by using local resources and building a regional economy. This will support healthier, more sustainable communities, across the North.

The funding for the study is through the Northern Responsible Energy Approach for Community Heat and Electricity program (Northern REACHE).  This investment is part of Canada’s nearly $700 million commitment to help rural and remote communities get off diesel, through programs delivered by Natural Resources Canada and Infrastructure Canada.

Local resource recovery drives bioplastics standards globally

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Written by Jonathan Cocker, Partner, BLG LLP

The push to overhaul the use of conventional plastics with bio-based and/or biodegradable alternatives is supported by many multi-national companies, particularly in the various consumer goods industries.

Therefore, international standardization of the bioplastic packaging or (single use) product content is seemingly foreseeable, if not inevitable. However, recent legal initiatives looking into this previously unregulated sector suggest bioplastics specifications will be based upon actual recovery in the communities in which they are waste-managed, turning a global development into a very local concern.

European Union (E.U.) mandates performance proof for biodegradable plastics (BDP)

The European Commission (EC) has been actively investigating the value of bioplastics under various end-of-life processes in an effort to capture the actual movement of such materials within Europe. In December 2020, the EC issued Biodegradability of plastics in the open environment, containing recommendations by an independent scientific advisory group looking at the performance of BDPs where no dedicated processing (such as in-vessel composting) has been applied.

The recommendations constrain the promotion of BDP and require performance verification based upon the particular waste management environments in which they are processed. These recommendations include:

  • Supporting the development of testing and certification schemes evaluating actual biodegradation of BDP in the context of their application in a specific receiving open environment;
  • Required assessment of biodegradation and environmental risk of BDP under the conditions of specific open environments; and
  • Supporting the development of a materials catalogue and their relative biodegradation rates in a range of environments.

As the EC is aware from its ongoing assessment of compostable/biodegradable plastic packaging standard CEN 13432, processing of waste, even industrial composting activities, differs among E.U. members, making the “specific open environment” a domestic designation at best.

Japan places biomass at centre of bioplastics strategy

Similarly, Japan recently issued a Bioplastic Introduction Roadmap specifically tied to growth of “sustainable bioplastics” driven by a national plastic resource recycling strategy. The roadmap focuses on switching from fossil fuel to biomass-based polymers, specifically plant-derived inputs, reflecting the availability of local resources.

Manufacturers of products using plastics, such as containers and packaging, plastic shopping bags, electrical and electronic equipment, clothing, footwear, furniture and toys, are to introduce biomass content into their products, with the coincident growth of recycling infrastructure to match this material profile. Concerns over international compostability standards and certifications are secondary to Japanese resources and their recovery.

Canada looks at aerobic/anaerobic bioplastic performance

The country’s Zero Waste Plastic Initiative is funding an assessment of the performance of certain “compostable” bioplastics in both aerobic and anaerobic organic waste facilities, recognizing that plastic waste frequently contaminates organic waste streams, particularly residential source-separated “green bin” organics. In doing so, locally-demonstrated resource recovery is prioritized over international bioplastics standards:

While national and international certification standards exist, meeting those standards does not necessarily ensure that Compostables can be properly managed after reception of the source separated organics, including Compostables, at Ontario’s aerobic composting or anaerobic digestion facilities.

A similar study was funded last year by the EC and found the demonstrated value of compostable plastics in these processes to be “sparse and inconclusive”.

Bottom-up waste management over top-down product standards

While there are significant growth projections for bioplastics and plans for further standards developments, such as under the EU Circular Economy Action Plan 2020, obtaining product certification under an international regime will not necessarily mean acceptance in any domestic market. Instead, demonstrable performance of the bioplastic within existing local waste management infrastructure will ultimately be needed.

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About the Author

Jonathan Cocker, a Partner at BLG LLP, provides advice and representation to multinational companies on a variety of environmental and product compliance matters, including extended producer responsibilities, dangerous goods transportation, GHS, regulated wastes, consumer product and food safety, and contaminated lands matters. He assisted in the founding of one of North America’s first Circular Economy Producer Responsibility Organizations and provides advice and representation to a number of domestic and international industry groups in respect of resource recovery obligations.

Manitoba Launches Organics Green Impact Bond

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The Manitoba government is launching a unique $1-million Green Impact Bond that will support projects that help divert organic waste from landfills, create green jobs and reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions.

The Green Impact Bond is a finance tool to fund impact-driven projects, enabling the government to rapidly innovate and implement new solutions for organic waste and GHG emissions while sharing risks with the private sector. This tool brings the public, private, non-profit and charitable sectors together to develop innovative solutions to complex problems that have not been solved by one sector alone. Through the Green Impact Bond, a service provider is to meet agreed-upon outcomes for organic waste diversion, job creation and GHG reduction. Investors will provide up-front funding to the service provider. A third-party evaluator will determine whether the outcomes have been met and the return on investment to be paid by the province.

Waste and landfills account for 3.3 per cent of Manitoba’s annual GHG emissions. Manitoba’s landfills are approaching capacity and by some estimates, approximately 40 per cent of their waste is organic material. Organic waste produces methane, a harmful GHG, so diverting organic waste from landfills will reduce emissions, contributing to the Made-in-Manitoba Climate and Green Plan and Carbon Savings Account.

Innovative NRG, a Manitoba waste-to-energy company, has been chosen as the Green Impact Bond service provider. The company will use its patented and proprietary innovative technology, branded as Rapid Organic Conversion (ROC), to process organic waste such as animal byproducts and waste-water sludge through a gasification process. The ROC technology is a made-in-Manitoba innovative, clean-tech solution that vaporizes carbon-based waste material. Thermal energy released in the process is captured and can heat buildings or water for industrial uses, thereby reducing the use of fossil fuels. Waste-to-energy can be appropriate for materials that do not have landfill diversion options such as recycling. Innovative NRG’s waste diversion units will be installed in the rural municipalities of Cartier and Rossburn, as well as in the town of Carman.

“We need to take steps to prolong the lifespan of our landfills and this Green Impact Bond provides a great opportunity to reduce organic waste while growing Manitoba’s green economy,” said Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah  Guillemard. “By reducing organics in our landfills, we lower the production of methane and create new, clean-growth job opportunities.”

The concept of impact investment is growing globally. The Green Impact Bond creates a unique investment opportunity for those committed to driving environmental change. Organizations can now support transformational work while investing at competitive rates in Manitoba, Families Minister Rochelle Squires noted.  The Manitoba Department of Families includes the Social Innovation Office.

“Our ROC innovation represents a leap forward in reducing GHG emissions and costs, disrupting the existing centralized waste landfill disposal system by locating ROC plants at commercial operations sites to recover their waste energy profitably,” said Del Dunford, CEO, Innovative NRG. “By eliminating the need to transport waste to landfills, we eliminate the cost and GHG emissions from transportation and landfilling, and take advantage of a renewable energy resource for economic development in remote and northern Manitoba communities.”

Investors with an interest in supporting leading-edge environmental projects are invited to learn more by emailing [email protected]  and visiting www.manitoba.ca/sio.

 

Giant ‘vacuum cleaner’ leaves beaches microplastic-free

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

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

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

Canada Business Opportunity for Waste Management Entrepreneurs

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The Canadian government, through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, recently issued a Food Waste Reduction Challenge to entrepreneurs that have concepts and demonstration projects to reduce the food waste, fight climate change, and strengthen food systems.  The prizes range from $100,000 to $1.5 million.  The Food Waste Reduction Challenge is currently accepting applications for Streams A and B. The deadline to apply is January 18, 2021.

Food Waste

Food Waste refers to all food that is grown, harvested, processed, manufactured or prepared for human consumption, but never eaten by people. It occurs at all stages of the food supply chain, from farm to plate.

In Canada and around the world, food waste continues to increase, resulting in an overuse of our natural resources such as water, soil and land, while contributing excess greenhouse gas emissions to our atmosphere. Meanwhile, a growing number of Canadians are facing food insecurity.

Over half of all food in Canada is wasted every year

Globally, food waste accounts for 8% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions

1 in 7 Canadians suffer from food insecurity

In response, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), under the Food Policy for Canada, is launching the $20M Food Waste Reduction Challenge.

By encouraging more solutions to food waste in Canada, we can increase food availability, save consumers and businesses money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and strengthen our food systems.

Challenge Streams

Food waste is a complex issue, and there is no single solution. That is why the Food Waste Reduction Challenge will include four complementary innovation streams. We know there are many great innovators out there who have high-impact solutions to tackle food waste throughout our food systems. Through the Challenge, we want to support innovators to establish and grow their solution in Canada.

Try our interactive tool to help you identify which stream is the best fit for your solution.

We are accepting applications for Challenge Streams A and B until January 18, 2021:

  • Challenge Stream A: Business models that prevent food waste
  • Challenge Stream B: Business models that divert food waste, food by-products and/or surplus food

The most promising solutions will be selected by an external committee of subject-matter experts. Innovators will receive grant funding as well as other benefits to help them succeed.

Streams A and B – Stages

Applicants will move through three stages to compete for the grand prize.

  • Stage 1 – Concept Application: Challenge Streams A and B are launched, and application intake begins on November 19, 2020, lasting until January 18, 2021.
  • Stage 2 – Market Demonstration Results: Beginning in Spring 2021, Semi-Finalists selected in Stage 1 will move on to Stage 2, where they will need to demonstrate the success of their solutions with an implementation partner in Canada over an eight-month period.
  • Stage 3 – Grow and Scale in Market: At this stage, Finalists selected in Stage 2 will grow and scale up their solutions in Canada over a one-year period starting in Spring 2022 and will be competing to be one of the Grand Prize Winners of the Challenge.
  • The Grand Prize Winners for The Food Waste Reduction Challenge – Streams A and B will be announced in Summer 2023.

Who Can Apply to a Challenge Stream?

Are you an innovator with a great solution that prevents and/or diverts food waste? Or are you trying to advance a technology that can extend the shelf-life of food or transform food waste? If so, the Food Waste Reduction Challenge is for you!

We are inviting innovators of all types and sizes to apply to one of the four streams of the Food Waste Reduction Challenge. International applicants with a Canadian partner or an ability to register to do business in Canada are encouraged to apply. Ideas and concepts can originate from anywhere globally, but to receive funding under the Challenge, the solutions presented in the submissions must be developed, tested, piloted, demonstrated, and deployed in Canada.

We are currently accepting applications for Challenge Streams A and B. Application intake for these streams closes January 18, 2021. Please see the Applicant Guide for more eligibility details. Applications for Streams C and D will open in Spring 2021.

Up to 30 Prizes of $100,000

Open to all eligible innovators submitting a concept application at Stage 1.

Up to 12 Prizes of $400,000

Open to all Semi-Finalists who reach Stage 2.

Up to 2 Grand Prizes of $1,500,000

Open to all Finalists who reach Stage 3.

Note: The number of winners and prize amounts may vary depending on the applications received.

Challenge details: Streams A and B

Who can apply?

  • Businesses and social enterprises of any size
  • Not-for-profit and charitable organizations
  • Indigenous organizations and groups
  • Post-secondary/academic institutions
  • Individuals or group of individuals

International applicants with a Canadian partner or an ability to register to do business in Canada are encouraged to apply.

Key Dates

  • Stage 1 – Concept Application Deadline: January 18, 2021
  • Up to 30 Semi-Finalists Announced: Late Winter/Early Spring 2021
  • Stage 2 Ends – Up to 12 Finalists Announced: Late Winter/Early Spring 2022
  • Stage 3 Ends – Grand Prize Winners Announced: Summer 2023

Prizes

  • Up to 30 Semi-Finalists will be selected in Stage 1 and will receive approximately $100,000
  • Semi-Finalists will move into Stage 2 and compete for a chance to be a Finalist and receive approximately $400,000
  • Up to 12 Finalists will compete in Stage 3 to win one of two Grand Prizes of up to $1,500,000

Note: The number of winners and prize amounts may vary depending on the applications received.


Ontario’s Proposed Blue Box Transition Legislation: Progress, or doubling down on a broken system?

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

For much of this past week, I have been asked by a range of stakeholders and media outlets to provide my thoughts on Ontario’s proposed Blue Box transition plan. Generally speaking, the headlines surrounding the province’s announcement have been positive: “Ontario is developing a stronger, more effective Blue Box Program”, and that the proposed changes will be “Good for the environment, good for the economy, encourage investment, job creation and spur innovation in the recycling and resource recovery sector”.

Before I offer my opinion, let us first touch on what changes are being made to the Blue Box program, and what the perceived benefits are supposed to be:

What is being proposed:

  • Standardize and increase the list of materials accepted in the Blue Box, including paper and plastic cups, wraps, foils, trays, bags, and other single use items such as stir sticks, straws, cutlery and plates.
  • Transition the costs of the program away from municipal taxpayers by making the producers of products and packaging fully responsible for costs, resulting in an estimated savings of $135 million annually for municipalities.
  • Expand blue box services to more communities, such as smaller, rural and remote communities, including those under 5,000 people.
  • Set the highest diversion targets in North America for the various categories of waste producers are expected to recycle such as paper, glass, beverage containers and rigid and flexible plastic, encouraging innovation such as better product design and the use of new technologies for better environmental outcomes.
  • Expand the steward obligation to include three additional IC&I sectors (long term care/retirement homes, elementary/secondary schools, and private multi-residential buildings)
  • Provide bin “twinning” in all public spaces (increasing density of both garbage and recycling collection points in public spaces and other high foot traffic areas)

What are the (purported) benefits:

  • The transition to 100% producer responsibility will reduce municipal costs by approximately $135 million dollars annually
  • Municipalities will pass this savings on to households, in the form of reduced property taxes or levy-rates.
  • Standardizing the list of materials accepted in the Blue Box makes it easier for Ontarians to understand “what goes in the bin”
  • Expanding the list of materials accepted in the Blue Box makes it easier for Ontarians to participate “Put it in the bin, and we will figure it out”
  • Increasing service coverage to ensure that smaller communities, particularly in the provinces rural and northern areas, are able to receive Blue Box collection
  • A producer lead system is believed to have better control at containing costs, realizing operational efficiencies, and designing more sustainable packaging
  • A producer lead system will be able to invest in sorting/processing infrastructure and develop robust end markets for difficult to recycle light weight and composite materials
  • Investments in recycling infrastructure will lead to job creation and spur the development of new secondary industries.

For all intents and purposes, the province has doubled down on their approach to try and recycle “everything” and “everywhere” – after all, more recycling can’t be a bad thing, can it? This is the question that I find myself grappling with as I consider the scope and potential impact of these changes – telling people that recycling can actually be a bad thing has made me a relatively unpopular figure in Canada’s waste world.

While I have written on this subject extensively in the past, I think the easiest way to start this conversation is: “How much are willing to spend to recycle something?”. Now, the answer to this will depend on the material in question, perceived risks to the environment, available infrastructure and the attitudes/opinions/awareness of the person answering the question, but the purpose behind the question is to gauge at what point is it no longer beneficial (economically or environmentally) to recycle a product? In an ideal world, we would want to recycle everything, but our reality (particularly in Ontario), is that we operate in a resource constrained system. There is an opportunity cost to every decision that we make – a dollar spent on one activity, is one less dollar spent on something else. Which is what makes the government’s announcement so perplexing…. The costs of operating our existing Blue Box program have grown exponentially in the past decade, as waste management infrastructure has become increasingly incompatible with the types of packages that are being used today. This is actually one of the primary concerns expressed by municipalities in Ontario – our households want to recycle and put everything in the Blue Bin, but much of these materials are either not recyclable, or are virtually worthless as a commodity.

I have personally been part of conversations advising municipalities about what does and does not belong in the Blue Bin – overwhelmingly, the sentiment was that many composite and light-weight materials shouldn’t be collected, and the challenge was educating households (and city councils) that some things are better off not being recycled -a daunting task given Canadians love affair with recycling)

Catalyst for change

So, what has changed? Why do we suddenly want to expand the list of materials accepted in the program, including materials we know cannot be readily recycled in our current system? The answer as it turns out, is who pays the bill. In the transition to full producer responsibility, packaging producers (often referred to as stewards in Canada), will be financially and physically responsible for end of life packaging waste. The transition to 100% EPR has been a long time coming, but the decision to expand the list of approved materials and include three additional IC&I (Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional) sectors came as a surprise to many. The province has repeatedly said that the costs associated with these changes are relatively minor ($15 million dollars in their original estimates) – however, when faced with push back on these estimates and questions were raised regarding the methodology used to calculate them, the province acquiesced and revised their estimates to $115 million dollars (please see attached regarding the university’s cost model critique that served as the basis for the revised numbers). This is in addition to the $135 million that producers will now have to pay because of the transition to 100% EPR.

Regardless of these cost increases, the sentiment shared by many advocates of the transition plan is that if a producer makes it, they should pay for it. Even if it cannot be recycled now, then producers will have to find ways to develop the necessary infrastructure and end markets to make their packaging recyclable in the future. It is these investments in the recycling system that will not only lead to increased diversion but spur economic growth in the sector. This is a very easy message to get behind and sell to the public – multi-billion dollar CPG companies have shirked their responsibilities for too long, and they must pick up the tab for keeping packaging waste out of landfill. But let us dig a little deeper into the implications behind transitioning the costs to producers, as well as what it means to expand the scope and scale of the Blue Box program.

Right off the bat, we know that the minimum bill that producers will face is $250 million dollars annually, as estimated by the MOECP. But this paints an incomplete picture of the broader situation – We must consider the costs of developing the collection and sorting infrastructure to effectively capture new materials (something that has yet to be modeled). If Ontarians are now able include plastic cutlery, foil trays, wrap and bags etc. in their Blue Box, our waste management system will require a massive overhaul.

As of today, most of the items listed above are treated as contamination, screened out at material recycling facilities, and ultimately landfilled. Municipalities don’t want to collect these materials due to the difficulty (and cost) associated with recycling. End markets do not want them either as they have little to no value, and limited end use applications. If anything, the presence of these materials in the recycling system increases the costs of managing all other materials – something that the university has attempted to explain using the endogeneity hypothesis: “the “endogeneity hypothesis” refers to a situation where the cost of one material is dependent on the presence of other materials being managed in the system.  As a crude example, a hypothetical material mix of just newsprint and cardboard may take minutes to sort one tonne, but a mix of newsprint, cardboard and film would take substantially longer to process the same amount. There is a collinearity in the impact on costs that materials have on one another that are virtually impossible to predict.

While there have been no formal attempts to model the marginal costs associated with infrastructural investment, it is a fair assumption to say that it will not be $0 – the $250 million dollar estimate made by the MOECP fails to capture the financial impact of developing, operating and maintaining new infrastructure. These are costs that will not be absorbed by industry, as (in my opinion) costs will be transferred to consumers and ultimately manifest in the form of higher prices for packaged goods. While many have vehemently disagreed with this assertion, arguing that EPR will save households money as a result of a decrease in municipal taxes, the math says otherwise.

Impact to industry and households

In a previous post, I mentioned that York University had conducted a study examining the impact of the Blue Box transition plan on packaging prices (and subsequent effect on households). This study found that depending on locality, the increase in “basket of goods” prices resulting from the proposed legislation would range between 6% and 12% (a number that has been criticized by transition advocates). However, even if we are to set aside assumptions surrounding the direct, indirect and induced effects resulting from the proposed legislation; and assume that municipalities reduce property taxes/levies in direct proportion to the $135 million dollars resulting from the transition to 100% EPR; we are still adding (at minimum) an additional $115 million dollars in annual program costs as a result of service expansion. If we begin to add in the costs associated with building additional infrastructure, end market development, P&E and administrative expenses, it quickly becomes apparent that producers will be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars over and above what they pay today. Even if people disagree with whether these costs will be downloaded onto the consumer, costs internalized by industry can result in numerous unintended and unwelcome outcomes. Perhaps it is best to think of the issue as reducing investment in the province by $115 million dollars – can these costs be readily borne by industry, and if not, what will the outcomes be? (job loss, operational contraction etc.).

These proposed changes would be much more palatable if it resulted in superior environmental, economic, and social outcomes for Ontarians. However, the benefits of trying to recycle many of the materials that are being added to the Blue Box are highly questionable. In addition to the technical difficulties associated with trying to recycle these materials, the costs to do so are enormous. To make matters worse, the carbon savings resulting from recycling are nominal relative to the benefits of high impact materials like aluminum, OCC/OBB etc. As a result, producers are going to be paying a huge bill for the Blue Box, but to what end?

What are we trying to achieve?

Returning to the topic of opportunity cost, the primary issue is trying to determine what we want to achieve with the Blue Box. Based on what the province has put forward under the transition plan, it appears as though Ontario’s goal is to recycle more, expanding the list of accepted materials and setting the highest material specific diversion targets in North America. The Blue Box transition plan is trying to eliminate the barriers to recycling, making it simpler, easier to understand, accessible and convenient to all households. But there in lies the problem – despite Ontario’s fixation on recycling, it is not, nor has it ever been, the preferred end of life scenario. It seems a touch ironic that the Blue Box transition was announced during waste reduction week. We continue to conflate recycling with sustainability, reinforcing the narrative to households that recycling is our primary goal.

In many ways, the proposed legislation can do more harm than good – even if we are to set aside the costs of operating the system – what is it are we asking Ontarians to do? Based on the government’s announcement, we are making it as easy as possible for households to participate. While this can certainly encourage participation, it can also lead to complacency and confusion. Households (as much as possible) need to understand that not all recycling is created equal, and that waste reduction, reuse and composting are additional strategies that may be more appropriate depending on the waste in question. Our goal should not be to trying to maximize the quantity of material being put in the bin – it should be about achieving the best environmental outcome at the lowest possible cost. What good is it to have households put plastic wrap and foil trays in the Blue Bin, only for it to get tossed as residue, or downcycled at an exorbitant cost.

Proponents of a “recycling first” approach will make an argument that recycling will help maximize the full use value of a material, and ultimately help keep these materials out of landfills and our environment. I don’t disagree – however, I do think that we need to remember “what did I have to give up doing it?”.  Over the past 10 years, Ontario has spent almost 3 billion dollars on the gross costs operating the Blue Box program. During this same period, recycling rates have stalled and are trending downwards, year over year increases in operating costs are in the double digits and changes in the packaging mix have rendered existing infrastructure dated and incompatible. Was this money well spent? Could it have been better utilized on other sustainability initiatives? Could we have used that money to invest in end of life technologies that do not rely on recycling to divert material? Despite my criticism of the program, I do not have an answer for this. In hindsight, the province could have done things differently, but nobody could have predicted package light weighting, the Chinese sword and collapses in commodity prices etc. Considering these unexpected challenges, Ontario should be commended for what it has accomplished with the Blue Box. However, now is the time that we should be moving away from our reliance on recycling, not  doubling down on it.

Moving forward

When reviewing the proposed changes to the Blue Box program, I am reminded of the quote “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

For almost 20 years, we have seen the growth, maturation and success of the Blue Box, as well as the more recent challenges that have called into question its long-term viability. The current narrative surrounding Blue Box legislation is that the transition to 100% EPR producer run system will somehow be able to overcome these issues. According to the government, the Blue Box transition will usher in an era of reduced taxes, more sustainable packaging choices, new processing technology, increased accessibility, and improved diversion. Based on research done to date and experiences from other jurisdictions, it is questionable as to whether any of these things will happen.

What I find truly perplexing is the insistence that packaging producers will somehow be able to operate the system more effectively than municipalities and find solutions to the problems that plague our existing system. How exactly will producers be able to sort, process and market materials that currently have no end markets (film, multi-resin plastic, coated fiber etc.)? How will producers be able to effectively provide service to rural and northern municipalities under 5000 residents? How do we expand the steward obligation to include certain IC&I sectors, when we do not know how much waste is being generated and who is managing it? If municipalities have historically struggled to address these issues, why would producers be able to?

Handing producers the keys to the system and saying, “You figure it out”, is absolving the province of the responsibility to develop legislation that is effective, economic and equitable. It will also negatively effect Ontarians, as they will be the ones left having to pay the tab for any costs borne by industry. There are literally hundreds of millions of dollars at stake annually, so it is prudent that we make informed and reasoned decisions.

It has taken Ontario the better part of a decade to adopt a 100% EPR model for packaging waste, and now the province wants to introduce a slew of additional changes, without fully understanding the potential impacts. This was aptly highlighted when the MOECP revised their estimates surrounding the cost of the proposed changes, as they were an order of magnitude off (factor of 10). As we move forward with the new legislation, I think it is critical that the province approach any proposed change with caution, evaluating the full range of impacts to all affected stakeholders.

At a more general level though, I think it is time we re-evaluate the role of recycling in both our society and in promoting sustainability. For the better part of 30 years, we have been inundated with the message to recycle – it has been a fixture in many of our lives, and my earliest memories as a budding environmentalist was putting kraft paper in the Blue Bins in elementary school. The act of recycling makes us feels good, because we think it does good (for the environment and the economy). But that does not mean that we can’t be doing better. I do not want people to misconstrue this post or my opinion as being anti-recycling or anti-EPR – I think both can play a significant role in helping achieve our diversion and carbon abatement goals. What I do want to emphasize is that recycling will not always yield the best outcome – it is merely one tool in our tool box, and the decision to recycle something will depend on a multitude of factors that are site and situation specific. Waste reduction, reuse, composting, energy from waste and even landfilling may be preferred to recycling depending on the circumstance.

In my opinion, the Blue Box transition plan is a new coat of paint on a dated strategy – while it does move the province towards a 100% producer responsibility model, it is premised on a prescriptive “recycling first” approach. It is time for the province to start thinking “outside of the Blue Box” and identify new end of life strategies to help Ontario achieve its sustainability goals in the long run.

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About the Author

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

Canadian Government Proposed Integrated Management Approach to Plastic Products to Prevent Waste and Pollution

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A Canadian federal government recently released a Discussion Paper entitled A Proposed Integrated Management Approach to Plastic Products to Prevent Waste and Pollution.  The purposed of the discussion paper is to seek input on a proposed integrated management approach to plastics to take a number of actions, including regulations which would be developed under the provisions of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA).

According to a recent study conducted by Deloitte,1 over 3 million tonnes of plastics were discarded as waste in Canada in 2016, and only 9% was recycled. Plastic waste burdens our economy, representing a $7.8B lost opportunity. When leaked into the natural environment, plastic threatens the health of our wildlife, ecosystems, rivers, lakes and oceans. In 2016, 29,000 tonnes of plastic waste entered the Canadian environment as pollution.

Action is needed to eliminate plastic pollution at its source by reducing the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills or the environment. This can be achieved through greater prevention, collection, innovation and value recovery of plastic waste and transitioning to a more circular economy for plastics.  The development and scaling up of new forms of plastic and new technologies provides opportunities to incentivize and support improved recovery of resources from products and packaging at the end of their useful life. Retaining materials and products in a circular economy not only reduces greenhouse gases
emissions and pressure on the environment, but also has significant economic benefits. The transition to a more circular economy would save costs, increase competitiveness, stimulate innovation, support prosperity by creating new jobs and reduce the amount of plastic entering the environment.

The Government of Canada is taking steps toward eliminating plastic pollution in Canada, including potentially banning or restricting certain harmful single-use plastic products, where warranted and supported by science.  For example, under Canada’s G7 presidency in 2018, the Government of Canada championed the development of the Ocean Plastics Charter,2 which commits to a more resource-efficient and lifecycle approach to plastics stewardship, on land and at sea.

In October 2020, the Government of Canada released a Science Assessment of Plastic Pollution. The Science Assessment presents a thorough scientific review of the occurrence and potential impacts of plastic pollution on human health and the environment.  The Science Assessment recommends pursuing actions to reduce macroplastics and microplastics that end up in the environment, in accordance with the precautionary principle, which states that “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation”.

In order to take action as recommended in the Science Assessment, the Government of Canada has proposed using enabling authorities under CEPA to regulate certain plastic manufactured items. This will allow the Government to enact regulations that target sources of plastic pollution and change
behaviour at key stages in the lifecycle of plastic products, such as design, manufacture, use, disposal and recovery in order to reduce pollution and create the conditions for achieving a circular plastics economy.

Next steps and sending comments

The Government  of Canada recognizes the importance of balancing environmental protection and clean growth with the economic importance of plastic and its role in protecting human health, in particular during this COVID-19 public health emergency.

Taking into account lessons from the current pandemic and mindful of continued constraints brought about by the pandemic, Canadians and Canadian businesses will be given the opportunity to participate meaningfully in informing any measures taken.

Next steps for ECCC will include engagement with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous Peoples and stakeholders on the design of the regulatory instruments and the approaches outlined in this discussion paper.

Parties wishing to comment on any aspect of this paper, including the categorization of single-use plastics and proposed management approaches, are invited to provide written comments to the Director of the Plastics and Marine Litter Division of ECCC by December 9, 2020 at [email protected]

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expanded list of materials

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

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

Special rules for compostables

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

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

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

New definitions targeting online free riders?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annual allocation table

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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About the Authors

Jonathan Cocker, a partner at BLG, provides advice and representation to multinational companies on a variety of environmental and product compliance matters, including extended producer responsibilities, dangerous goods transportation, GHS, regulated wastes, consumer product and food safety, and contaminated lands matters. He assisted in the founding of one of North America’s first Circular Economy Producer Responsibility Organizations and provides advice and representation to a number of domestic and international industry groups in respect of resource recovery obligations.

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

Scientists develop enzyme capable of breaking down plastic waste in record time

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Researchers from the University of Portsmouth recently published their work on an re-engineered, plastic-eating enzyme capable of digesting plastic six times faster than previous attempts.  The work, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, describes how they created an enzyme cocktail from waste-dwelling bacterium that derive their energy from digesting plastic bottles.

Previous Discovery

The cocktail consists of two separate enzymes from bacteria found in trash.  The first enzyme, PETase had already been discovered.  PETase breaks down polyethylene terephthalate (PET) back into its building blocks, creating an opportunity to recycle plastic infinitely and reduce plastic pollution and the greenhouse gases driving climate change.

PET is the most common thermoplastic, used to make single-use drinks bottles, clothing and carpets and it takes hundreds of years to break down in the environment, but PETase can shorten this time to days.

The initial discovery set up the prospect of a revolution in plastic recycling, creating a potential low-energy solution to tackle plastic waste. The team engineered the natural PETase enzyme in the laboratory to be around 20 percent faster at breaking down PET.

Latest Discovery

Now, the same trans-Atlantic team have combined PETase and its ‘partner’, a second enzyme called MHETase, to generate much bigger improvements: simply mixing PETase with MHETase doubled the speed of PET breakdown, and engineering a connection between the two enzymes to create a ‘super-enzyme’, increased this activity by a further three times.

The team was co-led by the scientists who engineered PETase, Professor John McGeehan, Director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI) at the University of Portsmouth, and Dr Gregg Beckham, Senior Research Fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the US.

PETase and the new combined MHETase-PETase both work by digesting PET plastic, returning it to its original building blocks. This allows for plastics to be made and reused endlessly, reducing our reliance on fossil resources such as oil and gas.