Industry 4.0 and the Circular Economy: Towards a Wasteless Future or a Wasteful Planet?

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Industry 4.0 and Circular Economy: Towards a Wasteless Future or a Wasteful Planet?
by Antonis Mavropoulos and Anders Waage Nilsen
Publishing September 2020

HOW THE MARRIAGE OF INDUSTRY 4.0 AND THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY CAN RADICALLY TRANSFORM WASTE MANAGEMENT—AND OUR WORLD

Do we really have to make a choice between a wasteless and nonproductive world or a wasteful and ultimately self-destructive one? Futurist and world-renowned waste management scientist Antonis Mavropoulos and sustainable business developer and digital strategist Anders Waage Nilsen respond with a ringing and optimistic “No!” They explore the Earth-changing potential of a happy (and wasteless) marriage between Industry 4.0 and a Circular Economy that could—with properly reshaped waste management practices—deliver transformative environmental, health, and societal benefits. This book is about the possibility of a brand-new world and the challenges to achieve it.

The fourth industrial revolution has given us innovations including robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D-printing, and biotech. By using these technologies to advance the Circular Economy—where industry produces more durable materials and runs on its own byproducts—the waste management industry will become a central element of a more sustainable world and can ensure its own, but well beyond business as usual, future. Mavropoulos and Nilsen look at how this can be achieved—a wasteless world will require more waste management—and examine obstacles and opportunities such as demographics, urbanization, global warming, and the environmental strain caused by the rise of the global middle class.

  • Explore the new prevention, reduction, and elimination methods transforming waste management
  • Comprehend and capitalize on the business implications for the sector
  • Understand the theory via practical examples and case studies
  • Appreciate the social benefits of the new approach

Waste-management has always been vital for the protection of health and the environment. Now it can become a crucial role model in showing how Industry 4.0 and the Circular Economy can converge to ensure flourishing, sustainable—and much brighter—future.

Source: Wiley Publishers

Waste To Energy (WTE) Market Size is Projected to Reach USD 27.7 Billion by 2025

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According to a recent market study, the global waste to energy market size was valued at USD 17.3 billion in 2017 and is projected to reach USD 27.7 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 6.1% from 2018 to 2025.

The Waste to Energy (WTE) or energy-from-waste (EFW) is the process of generating energy in the form of electricity and/or heat from the incineration of waste. The energy produced from this process is close to that produced from coal, natural gas, oil, or other processes. The waste to energy cycle is projected to reduce landfill municipal solid waste ( MSW) by 90 percent, which will further reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by the waste.

TRENDS INFLUENCING THE WASTE TO ENERGY MARKET SIZE

Substantial growth in energy consumption, coupled with increased emphasis on energy generation from renewable energy sources, is expected to push global waste to the energy market.

Increased domestic and industrial waste has prompted governments across regions to generate energy from waste. Furthermore, the increased investment by various governing bodies, particularly in developing countries in Asia-Pacific, such as China and India, coupled with rapid urbanization and significant growth in consumer spending capacity, is expected to drive global waste to the size of the energy market in the forecast period.

Biological treatments include the treatment of waste with microorganisms to generate energy. Such approaches are considered more environmentally friendly than thermal techniques, and their market penetration is expected to grow over the forecast period.

It is expected that high installation costs and toxic gas emissions during incineration would impede market growth over the forecast period.

WASTE TO ENERGY MARKET SHARE ANALYSIS

Thermal technologies have emerged as the leading technology employed to produce energy from waste. In 2019, the segment generated 87 percent of total market revenue.

Asia-Pacific is projected to witness the highest growth rate from 2018 to 2025, mainly due to the rise in demand for energy. The rise in industrialization, coupled with rapid urbanization activities in emerging economies such as China and India, is expected to drive the market during the forecast period.

In 2017 Europe, in terms of sales, retained the leading waste to the energy market share. This dominance is attributed to the rise in the production of municipal solid waste (MSW), combined with the increase in energy demand. This region is investing heavily in developing renewable energy production.

TOP COMPANIES IN THE WASTE TO ENERGY MARKET

Many players operating in this waste to the energy market are actively pursuing marketing strategies such as partnership, company expansion, mergers & acquisitions, and joint ventures to improve their position.

Key Companies:

  • Waste Management Inc.
  • Suez Environnement S.A.
  • C&G Environmental Protection Holdings
  • Constructions industrielles de la Méditerranée (CNIM)
  • China Everbright International Limited
  • Covanta Energy Corporation
  • Foster Wheeler A.G.
  • Abu Dhabi National Energy Company PJSC
  • Babcock & Wilcox Enterprises, Inc.
  • Veolia Environment.

Lethbridge Biogas facility undergoing $7 million expansion

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The Lethbridge Alberta Biogas facility is undergoing a $7 million expansion.  The expansion will introduce the company into the natural gas market by allowing biogas to be purified into pipeline-grade biomethane.  With the expansion it will soon be able to supply renewable natural gas to the Lethbridge area and also expand into the British Columbia market.

The expansion will introduce Lethbridge Biogas into the natural gas market, by allowing for the plant’s biogas to be purified into pipeline-grade biomethane, (renewable natural gas or RNG), which will be injected into ATCO’s natural gas grid. This carbon-neutral biomethane will also be supplied to FortisBC under a long-term supply agreement by mid-2021. Once the expansion is complete, Lethbridge Biogas will have the first full-scale, commercial renewable natural gas application in Alberta.

“This expansion at our Lethbridge Biogas facility is another significant milestone in the history of our project,” says Lethbridge Biogas Director of Operations Stefan Michalski. “It is the result of dedication and very hard work from our team over many, many years to get our business established, not only in the Lethbridge area but beyond in the Canadian and North American context. A lot of players in the RNG market were interested to become part of this expansion, as RNG has become a highly sought-after commodity to reduce the carbon footprint in the natural gas supply chain.”

Feedstock

The Lethbridge biogas/cogeneration plant processes organic residues such as agricultural manures and food processing by-products. The facility is currently able to process the following categories of organic materials:

  • Liquid & solid manures from Intensive Livestock Operations (beef, dairy, hog & poultry etc.)
  • Fats, Oil & Greases (FOG) from slaughterhouses, meat packing plants, canneries, restaurants, food processors, cafeterias & grocery stores
  • Food processing residues (oils seeds, grains, fruit & vegetables, corn, beet, potato, dairy products, alcohol, etc.)
  • Aerobic sludges from non-municipal wastewater treatment & industrial process water
  • Pet food residues
  • Separated kitchen & market residues from food processors, bakeries, pizza parlours, restaurants, cafeterias, grocery stores, hospitals, universities, households
  • Paunch manure from meat packing plants
  • Non-wood containing garden & horticultural residues from greenhouses, garden centers, flower shops, municipalities, households
  • Glycerol from industrial biodiesel production
  • Silage from farm operations (corn, grain, grass etc.)
  • Pulp & paper sludges from paper mills
  • Animal by-products from slaughterhouses and packing plants and animal carcasses from intensive livestock operations incl. Specified Risk Material (SRM)

History of the Facility

In 2013 Lethbridge Biogas LP officially opened the largest anaerobic digester/co-generation facility in Canada at the time. Designed and built by PlanET Biogas, the $30 million facility has a generating capacity of 2.8 MW – enough to power 2,800 homes. It was built such that it has the capacity to expand to produce as much as 4.2 MW in the future with the addition of new generating units.

The End of Landfills in Ontario? Proposed amendments to the Environmental Assessment Act and the Impact on Waste Management

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Written by Harry Dahme and Jessica Boily, Gowlings WLG

On July 8, 2020, the Ontario government introduced Bill 197 in the Legislative Assembly. Entitled the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, the proposed changes within the Bill amend twenty different Acts, including the Environmental Assessment Act.

While some of the amendments proposed in Bill 197 seek to address challenges encountered during COVID-19 (such as the changes to the Provincial Offences Act, covered in our COVID-19 Update), the Bill primarily includes reforms that were on the government’s agenda prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. These reforms include some of the most significant reforms to Ontario’s environmental assessment regime in many years. The Gowling WLG Environmental Law Group will be publishing a series of articles on these proposed reforms, which are expected to be fast-tracked through the Legislature this week.

From the point of view of waste management in Ontario, one of the most significant changes to be made by the Bill is the addition of a new section to the Environmental Assessment Act that would give municipalities the right to veto new landfills proposed to be located within their own borders or in adjacent municipalities where the proposed new landfill is within 3.5 kilometers of the municipal border. This amendment to the EAA would provide municipalities with the unprecedented ability to stop new landfills for any reason, even where the environmental assessment for that landfill would otherwise be satisfactory to the provincial government.

Demand the right coalition emerges

In 2018, Ingersoll Mayor, Ted Comiskey, started the “Demand the Right” Coalition of Ontario Municipalities, seeking support from other municipalities for legislation that would allow municipalities to say no to projects like windfarms and landfills.

On March 1, 2018, Ernie Hardeman, MPP for Oxford, the riding that includes Ingersoll, introduced a private members bill dealing with the issue. Bill 201Respecting Municipal Authority over Landfilling Sites Act, 2018, would have amended the EAA to prevent the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks from giving approval to an undertaking unless the municipal council had passed a resolution supporting the establishment of the landfilling site. The Bill did not receive Second Reading in the Legislature and died on the Order Paper when the Legislature was dissolved for the last provincial election.

During that election in 2018, Doug Ford stated that he respected “the right for local municipalities to make the decisions best for their communities.”

Following the election in 2018, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (“MECP”) released the Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan, which stated it intended to provide “municipalities and communities they represent with a say in landfill siting approvals “. No firm commitment to a veto was made at that time and there were no consultations on the proposed amendments to the EAA affecting landfills prior to the introduction of Bill 197.

The state of landfill capacity in Ontario

Many Ontarians are not aware of the waste disposal crisis in which Ontario finds itself. The Ontario Waste Management Association reports that unless new landfills are built, Ontario’s landfill capacity will be exhausted by 2032. More than 80% of this capacity is located within a small number of sites (15 public and private landfills). These predictions assume that Ontario will continue to export approximately 30% of its waste to the United States, primarily to landfill sites in Michigan and New York. Should those exports stop, Ontario’s landfill capacity would be exhausted by 2028: only eight years from now. This is significant since it takes years, and sometimes more than a decade, to obtain approval for a new landfilling site.

Even before the introduction of Bill 197, the length and uncertainty of the environmental assessment process for new landfills and expansions to existing landfills meant that this crisis was not improving. While increased waste diversion is a laudable goal, even with significantly improved waste diversion rates, existing landfill capacity will be put under significant pressure in the next ten years.

Bill 197

Given the near future waste disposal crisis in the province, there is a demonstrated need for new landfills to be built and existing landfills to be expanded. While Bill 197 aims to streamline existing environmental assessment processes for some projects, it introduces a municipal veto over new landfills that is expected to almost entirely halt the planning for and building of new landfills in Ontario.

Section 10 of Schedule 6 to Bill 197 proposes to amend the EAA by adding a new section 6.01, which would provide that proponents who wish to establish a landfilling site that is subject to Part II of the EAA obtain “municipal support” for the undertaking. Municipal support must be obtained, not only from the local municipality in which the landfilling site is situated, but from any other municipality located within a 3.5 km distance from the property boundary of the proposed landfilling site. This support, as set out in s. 6.01(5), is demonstrated by providing a copy of a municipal council resolution from each of the municipalities, indicating that the municipality supports the undertaking.

This requirement applies to not only new future landfill proposals but also to landfills currently undergoing the environmental assessment process, even though EAA approval had been previously obtained for the Terms of Reference for that environmental assessment process and even though the environmental assessment process was proceeding in compliance with the approved Terms of Reference.

Proposed section 6.01 applies only to landfills, as opposed to all types of waste management facilities based on the definition of “landfilling site” which is defined as a waste disposal site where landfilling occurs.

While section 6.01 certainly applies to new landfills within the province, it could also potentially  be read to apply to expansions of existing large landfills as well. Section 6.01(3) states that the section applies “in respect of a proponent who wishes to proceed with an undertaking to establish a waste disposal site that, (a) is a landfilling site; and (b) is subject to this Part.” While the plain meaning of “establish”, which connotes the initial or first approval and construction of a project, is consistent with the meaning used within the Environmental Protection Act in the context of waste disposal sites, “establish” is not defined within the EAA itself. This leads to the possibility that the unique characteristics of any landfill expansion could lead to an interpretation that the expansion involves the establishment of a waste disposal site. If that interpretation is adopted, then that has huge ramifications with respect to the future availability of landfill capacity in Ontario, exacerbating even more the imminent waste disposal crisis in Ontario.


NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Information made available on this website in any form is for information purposes only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. You should not rely on, or take or fail to take any action based upon this information. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking legal advice because of something you have read on this website. Gowling WLG professionals will be pleased to discuss resolutions to specific legal concerns you may have.

 

About the Authors

Harry Dahme is a partner in Gowling WLG’s Toronto office and past leader of the firm’s Environmental Law Group. He has practised exclusively in the area of environmental law since 1984, and has a solid reputation as one of the foremost environmental lawyers in Canada. Harry is certified by the Law Society of Ontario as a specialist in environmental law, and is described by Who’s Who Legal: Canada 2014 as “widely regarded as a leading authority in the field,” by Legal 500 Canada 2017 as “absolutely fantastic” and by Acritas Stars 2017 as “an acknowledged expert in environmental law.”
Jessica Boily is an environmental lawyer in Gowling WLG’s Toronto office. Her practice focuses on environmental litigation, drawing on her commercial litigation background to achieve successful and cost-effective outcomes. She uses her procedural expertise and technical knowledge to advocate for her clients. Jessica understands that complex disputes require creative scientific and legal approaches. Her clients appreciate her practical advice when managing and resolving multi-party environmental disputes. When litigation is necessary, her clients know her courtroom and tribunal experience will help them achieve the outcome they want.

Lessons Learned on Collection Policies in Ottawa

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Written by the Continuous Improvement Fund

In anticipation of the curbside collection contracts renewal, pending regulatory/policy change and the development of a 30-year Solid Waste Master Plan, the City of Ottawa retained Dillon Consulting Limited (Dillon) to complete a study and develop a curbside collection model. The model assisted the City in identifying the most cost-effective curbside waste collection system to help support increased waste diversion and reduce residential garbage, while also considering greenhouse gas impact, and cost of implementation.

The Microsoft Excel model was designed as a tool to assist staff in developing curbside collection options and/or new policies. It is based in Microsoft Excel.

The different waste diversion policies that were considered in the model were:

  • Bag/container limits for garbage
  • Pay As You Throw
  • Clear bag program for garbage
  • Containerized garbage program
  • Mandatory participation in diversion programs
  • Material bans e.g., grass clippings, organics and recyclables in garbage

The collection options considered in the model were:

  • Status quo
  • Weekly co-collection of blue/black box
  • Status quo level of service with a 4-day collection week
  • 4 day collection week
  • Status quo with separate weekly leaf/yard waste collection
  • Separate bi-weekly leaf/yard waste collection
  • Weekly collection of recyclables and leaf/yard waste

The model requires input of household information, collection seasons/periods, materials collected, truck compartment and utilization parameters, collection factors, collection costs and waste tonnage breakdown by material type to establish a baseline scenario, which is then used to compare against several different collection and policy options. It can compare new collection and policy options against status quo parameters including costs, vehicles required for servicing, diversion rates, and greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts.

Modeling required resources and system performance

Designed for adaptability, the model will allow other Ontario municipalities to analyze their integrated waste collection system by revising the inputs to the model and waste collection program policy customizations. The model produces several estimated outputs, including:

  • Number of trucks required (per season, per collection stream);
  • Number of hours required to collect materials (per season, per collection stream);
  • Annual cost per household and per person ($);
  • Capture rate (kg/person);
  • Diversion rate (%); and
  • GHG impacts (tonnes CO2 equivalents per year).

Note that this study only looks at residential households that receive curbside collection and does not include bulk material collection.

Lessons learned in Ottawa

Key outcomes of the modelling exercise for Ottawa were:

  • Higher curbside collection costs are attributed to weekly co-collection of dual stream recyclables and leaf/yard waste over a four-day collection week due to the number of vehicles required.

  • The lowest collection costs are for the status quo, and separate weekly or bi-weekly leaf/yard waste collection due to a lower number of vehicles being required than the other scenarios. Separate bi-weekly leaf/yard waste collection may produce less CO2 equivalents per year than status quo for all policy scenarios modeled.

  • Weekly co-collection of blue/black box under a four-day collection week is likely to produce the most CO2 equivalents per year due to the number of vehicles required and hours collecting waste materials.

  • There appears to be a correlation between cost effectiveness and greenhouse gas emissions; higher costs are attributed to model runs that have the higher number of CO2 equivalents per year.

  • Enforcement is key.

Quebec Government commits to Province-wide composting by 2025

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The Quebec government recently announced that is was putting $1.2 billion towards a composting strategy that will result in all citizens in the province having  access to composting services come 2025 and with the fully implemented by 2030.  In addition to providing composting services to citizens across the province, the plan is to manage composting in all industries, businesses and institutions by 2025 as well, in the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 270,000 tonnes per year by 2030.

“We are taking another step forward by investing $1.2 billion to divert organic matter from disposal sites and ensure their recovery, which will significantly contribute to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions,” Benoit Charette, Quebec Environment Minister said in a statement. “Thanks to the support of the government and the municipalities, the entire population as well as industries, businesses and institutions will be able to contribute to an even healthier management of our residual materials.”

Currently, only 57 per cent of Quebecers have access to food waste collection services. The province’s waste totals in at 5.8 million tons per year, 60 per cent of which is organic matter. The waste sector also emits around 4.55 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year and is the fifth largest contributor in the province.

The new strategy aims to adapt collection services as well as processing facilities to Quebec’s many regions. To promote composting and limit waste, the government is increasing landfill charges from $23.51 to $30 per ton.  Charette said this sends a clear signal that Quebec intends to discourage the elimination of residual materials in favour of their recovery.

The government claims that for this strategy to work, all actors, including those at the municipal level, must share responsibilities – and it says it plans on helping them better manage their green waste and improving their ecocentres to do so. Quebec will work with municipalities to speed up the establishment of collection services and processing facilities. In addition, the province will promote the quality of the organic matter treated and the development of local outlets for composts and other residual fertilizing materials from this collection.

The program to reduce, recover and recycle organic materials from industries, businesses and institutions, administered by Recyc-Québec, will be awarded $9.6 million. The Crown corporation is also responsible for a new recognition program for sorting centres for construction, renovation and demolition residue. That program is the result of concerted discussions with the residual materials management industry.

In summary, the goals of Quebec’s compost strategy are as follows:

  • Offer the collection of organic matter to all citizens of Quebec by 2025.
  • Manage organic matter in 100 per cent of industries, businesses and institutions by 2025.
  • Recycle or recover 70 per cent of the organic matter targeted by 2030.
  • Reduce 270,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

The plan also intends to allocate funds to programs that finance the management of organic matter, which will help boost green infrastructures. The government says this will help boost the province’s economic recovery.

 

Understanding the Complexities of Waste Audits

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The Continuous Improvement Fund (CIF), a partnership between the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), the City of Toronto, Stewardship Ontario (SO) and the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (formerly Waste Diversion Ontario – WDO), recently published an article on understanding the complexities of waste audits.

The article provides extols the virtues of waste composition studies including the insights gained into program operations, aid in directing promotion & education (P&E) resources and developing long-term waste management strategies.  It also provides information on the correct sample size, frequency of sampling and distribution for a waste audit.

Below are some of the highlights from the original article.

How many samples should I take?

The challenge with waste audits is ensuring that an accurate representation of the waste being generated is obtained at minimal cost.  Statistical analysis provides information on confidence levels and margins of error.  Howe does that apply to waste composition studies? The confidence level and margin of error effectively represent a range, where if you repeat the same study, you can be ‘confident’ your results won’t change by more than the margin of error.

Factors Affecting Sample Size Determination

In waste composition audits, there is a broad range of materials that are sorted plus they vary in total amounts. So not only does the methodology need to consider whether the material is present, but also how prevalent it is as a proportion of the total sample composition. Not surprisingly, materials present in smaller quantities require more samples to achieve the same confidence level and margin of error as those that are more prevalent.

Additionally, there is a long list of factors that affect material generation and composition. Variables like household demographics, seasonality and program participation have a big impact on waste generation. In most cases, municipalities simply don’t have enough budget to develop a study that can consider all of the possible variables and achieve high confidence levels (i.e., > 90%) with low margins of error across the broad range of material typically present in the waste stream.

Trade-Offs

Recognizing that most municipalities have a limited budget, three key questions should be considered:

  1. How diverse is the population demographics?
  2. Are most residents provided with the same level of waste service?
  3. Are you looking for big picture trends or looking to target a specific material?

Available budget will ultimately dictate the number of samples that can be taken and the project team will have to decide how best to allocate them to examine the issues in question and address identified variables such as demographics. Obviously, the more consistent factors such as the waste service levels and population demographics are, the greater the data consistency will be and the higher the confidence level will be across a set number of samples.

By way of example, the current CIF/SO waste composition studies typically samples 100 single-family households broken down into 10 samples areas with 10 households in each sample area. The material is typically sorted into about 62 individual materials categories (e.g., PET, Newspaper, Cardboard) at an average ‘all in’ cost of about $110/household sample.

Dealing with Demographics

For most municipalities, it will be more important to focus their efforts on getting the sample distribution across the community right, especially if the data is being used for program planning. Recognizing that many communities have distinct demographic groups, it’s typically easiest to divide a community based on income levels as a surrogate for demographic differences. This can be done by obtaining Stats Canada data on household income levels, and proportioning it out into Low, Medium and High Income. Alternatively, a more complex analysis can be done that considers multiple factors through an Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) test as outlined in CIF Project #1059: Residential Audit Sample Optimization Toolkit.

Coming Soon: New tool for determining confidence levels and sample size

In order to help municipalities determine their confidence level for a set number of samples, the CIF has hired Martin Lysy, Associate Professor of Statistics and Director of the Statistical Consulting and Collaborative Unit at the University of Waterloo (PhD in Statistics, Harvard University, 2012) to develop a tool and guidance document to provide municipalities with an assessment of the trade-offs between statistical accuracy and budget.

The tool relies on ballpark estimates of waste composition data that the CIF has collected, or users can specify from their own historical waste audits. Based on these inputs and user-specified margins of error and confidence levels, the tool will estimate the number of samples required. Users can also test different sample sizes to see the resulting confidence levels and margin of error to ensure they can meet budget constraints. Work is still under way to finalize this new tool but if you want more information contact Mike Birett at [email protected] or Neil Menezes at [email protected].

Australian Government to directly invest $190 million on a Waste & Recycling Plan to Transform the Industry

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The Australian Government recently announced that it will commit $190 million to a new Recycling Modernisation Fund (RMF) that will generate $600 million of recycling investment and drive a billion-dollar transformation of Australia’s waste and recycling capacity.

The government claims that more than 10,000 jobs will be created and over 10 million tonnes of waste diverted from landfill to the making of useful products as Australia turbo charges its recycling capacity.

The RMF will support innovative investment in new infrastructure to sort, process and remanufacture materials such as mixed plastic, paper, tyres and glass, with Commonwealth funding contingent on co-funding from industry, states and territories.

Australia’s waste and recycling transformation is being further strengthened by an additional:

  • $35 million to implement Commonwealth commitments under Australia’s National Waste Policy Action Plan, which sets the direction for waste management and recycling in Australia until 2030.
  • $24.6 million on Commonwealth commitments to improve our national waste data so it can measure recycling outcomes and track progress against our national waste targets.
  • The introduction of new Commonwealth waste legislation to formally enact the Government’s waste export ban and encourage companies to take greater responsibility for the waste they generate, from product design through to recycling, remanufacture or disposal (Product Stewardship).

The moves are part of a national strategy to change the way Australia looks at waste, grow the economy, protect the environment and reach a national resource recovery target of 80% by 2030.

“As we cease shipping our waste overseas, the waste and recycling transformation will reshape our domestic waste industry, driving job creation and putting valuable materials back into the economy,” Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said in a recent news release.

Susan Ley, Australian Minister of the Environment

“Australians need to have faith that the items they place in their kerbside recycling bins will be re-used in roads, carpet, building materials and a range of other essential items.

“At the same time, we need to stop throwing away tonnes of electronic waste and batteries each year and develop new ways to recycle valuable resources.

“As we pursue National Waste Policy Action Plan targets, we need manufacturers and industry to take a genuine stewardship role that helps create a sustainable circular economy.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity to remodel waste management, reduce pressure on our environment and create economic opportunity.”

Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management, Trevor Evans, said that the unparalleled expansion of Australia’s recycling capacity followed close consultation with industry.

“Our targeted investment will grow Australia’s circular economy, create more jobs and build a stronger onshore recycling industry,” Assistant Minister Evans said.

“Australian companies are turning plastics and household waste into furniture, decking, fencing and clothing, and we are developing new domestic markets for recycled materials by setting national standards for recycled content in roads and making recycled products a focus of procurement for infrastructure, defence estate management and general government purchasing.

“Our targeted investment will grow Australia’s circular economy, create more jobs and build a stronger onshore recycling industry.

“Companies are already moving with The Pact Group announcing a $500 million investment in facilities, research and technology, Coca-Cola Amatil committing to new recycling targets, and Pact, Cleanaway and Asahi Beverages establishing a $30 million recycling facility in Albury.”

Waste export ban to start from January 2021

The unparalleled expansion of Australia’s recycling capacity follows the 2019 National Waste Policy Action Plan, Australia’s government ban on exports of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, and this year’s first ever National Plastics Summit.

The waste export ban was due to commence on July 1st, 2020. After consulting with industry and as a result of restrictions related to COVID-19 impacting Parliament’s ability to pass legislation in by July 1st, the ban will now commence on January 1st, 2021. The schedule for implementing the export ban on waste plastic, paper and tyres remains unchanged.

 

 

Universal Truths: Is Landfilling always a bad thing?

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

It’s not every day that an article about garbage is inspired by the philosophical works of Immanuel Kant. While I wish I could tell you that I am a philosophy scholar in my spare time who makes a regular habit of contemplating topics such as moral relativism and deontology, the truth is, I decided to Google a quote I read on an Instagram meme.

With that being said, I am glad I did, because it got me thinking about whether environmentalism, and by proxy, waste, has a set of universal truths that we could all agree upon. To be honest, not many readily come to mind – even for something as insidious as anthropogenic climate change, there are still a significant number of people who either downplay its impacts, or don’t believe in at all. However, one topic my mind kept on going back to was landfilling – When it comes to managing waste, is landfilling is always a “bad” thing?

Intuitively, this seems to make sense – the waste management hierarchy characterizes landfilling as an absolute last resort for managing waste, and many of my earliest memories of environmental issues revolved around the landfilling problem “We are throwing too much stuff away, and we are running out of places to put it”. Even our policies seem centered around keeping waste out of landfills, with system performance being measured in terms of “tonnes recycled and waste diverted”. Jurisdictions across the world are now championing the zero waste mantra, looking to maximize both the economic and environmental impacts of materials by keeping it out of the landfill.

With the above in mind, have we found the illusive universal truth for waste? Can we reach consensus that our goal should be keeping materials out of landfills, and that landfilling as a waste management strategy, is bad? Much like most other waste issues, the answer isn’t as black and white as it may first appear, and landfilling may not be as bad as you think (depending on how you choose to look at the problem).

Before delving into that discussion, let’s briefly remind ourselves about why landfilling is generally seen as bad:

1) There is a paucity of available landfill space – based on existing depletion rates, it’s estimated that Ontario will run out of landfill capacity within the next 15 years (with some even predicting less than 10)

2) If we consider waste a resource, landfilling fails to capture the full economic value of that material, as we do not exhaust all other potential use values prior to disposal.

3) The environmental impacts of sending a material to a landfill aren’t fully quantified or understood. Landfills are sometimes seen as a source of contamination for when waste enters both terrestrial and aquatic environments. Poorly designed landfills also pose acute risks with respect to leachate contamination, which could compromise soil and water health.

4) Landfilling sends the wrong message to the public – as noted above, the bulk of our environmental programming for the past 30 years has centered on recycling and reducing the amount of waste we send to landfills. Landfilling indirectly incents and rationalizes unnecessary waste generation.

5) One of the goals of a waste management system should be to prioritize other end of life applications, such as waste reduction, reuse and recycling. Landfilling runs the risk of undermining the benefits and importance of the 3Rs.

If the above statements are true, how on earth could landfilling not always be the worst option? The answer (as it often is), is tied to how we choose to define the goals of a system and measure success. If we measure success exclusively in terms of diversion rates, then yes, landfilling is probably always going to be a bad thing. However, if we take a step back and look what makes a waste management system sustainable, we must consider economic and social factors as well. The decision to reduce, reuse, recycle, incinerate or dispose of a material does not exist in isolation. There is always an “opportunity cost” to any decisions we make, and the decision to landfill or not to landfill a material must be evaluated relative to other options that we may have available.

The Cling Wrap Case Study

To better illustrate this point, let’s consider cling wrap, a plastic film made from LLDPE that is most commonly used by households to wrap and store food. If you were to ask most waste management operators, they would tell you that cling wrap is bad for the environment and extraordinarily problematic to manage – it’s difficult to screen and sort plastic film at a material recycling facility, and even when that is possible, there are virtually no end markets for the material. When it is recycled, it costs in excess of $2000 a tonne and that material is almost inevitably downcycled into a good that is still destined for landfill. In this scenario, our desire to keep cling wrap out of landfills via recycling results in an a massive bill – if 5000T of cling wrap are collected every year, and we attempt to recycle that material to avoid landfilling, it would cost approximately $10 million dollars to do so. To provide context, 5000T would represent less than half of a percent of all Blue Box materials recycled in Ontario, while the $10 million dollars would make up almost 4% of all costs. In this scenario, we are allocating an inordinate amount of resources to a material that for intents and purposes doesn’t net much in terms of environmental benefits.

The latter point is something worth highlighting, as not only does cling wrap have negligible environmental benefits in the event you are able to recycle it, but even if it does end up in a landfill, both acute and indirect harm to the environment from landfilling is negligible. For all intents and purposes, cling wrap is a relatively innocuous product that represents a tiny fraction of all material sent to a landfill (a drop in the bucket of overall capacity). It is inert and will not break down into the surrounding environment in any meaningful time frame (unless exposed to a catalyst of some type). Beyond the negative optics of discarding cling wrap in landfills, there is negligible measured harm.

While some may point to these issues as a reason for why we need to abandon cling wrap all together, it is important that we don’t myopically focus on an end of life problem, and consider the product’s entire life cycle when evaluating its environmental impact. As noted in the very first sentence of this section, cling wrap is most commonly used as a form of food storage.

In a 2019 study conducted by York University examining the life cycle impacts of various food storage products, the use of cling wrap by households was able to achieve both avoided food waste (less edible material being discarded) and food source reduction (reducing the need to go out and buy more food).

The carbon savings attributable to this change in consumption and storage habits for food resulted in a net carbon savings exceeding 10 T/CO2e for every 1 tonne of product manufactured. This modeling also assumed a worst case scenario, and assumed that cling wrap (and packaging) was comprised of 100% virgin materials, and that all materials would be landfilled at end of life. The recyclability (or lack thereof) of cling wrap had no bearing on the environmental benefits resulting from avoided food waste, even if every tonne of cling wrap was sent to landfill.

In short, cling wrap, a product that is often characterized as being environmentally harmful due to low levels of recyclability, abates more carbon than the average Blue Box material. Once again, when we take a step back and look at the life cycle of the products that we use, in addition to the economic costs of our various end of life options, the decision to recycle or landfill becomes less clear.

No such thing as a universal truth (in waste)

While I would like to think that there is at least one issue that we can all agree on, the complexity and nuances of a topic such as landfilling makes it all but impossible to achieve consensus. At first glance, landfilling does indeed seem like a very bad thing that should be avoided. When evaluating that statement in isolation, that is probably true. However, the moment we begin to think outside of the narrow scope of recycling/diversion rates and begin to include variables such as cost, capacity, available technology, perceived environmental harm, measured environmental harm, life cycle impacts, economic and environmental risks by disposal method etc., our answer may change. In fact, depending on who is asking the question and how they choose to weight certain factors, two people may have very different “truths” – neither one being right, or wrong.

From a personal perspective, when I think about the landfilling problem, my mind keeps on returning to the concept of opportunity cost. For every dollar I spend to keep something out of a landfill, that is one less dollar that I have to spend on something else. The flip side of that is that for every one tonne of material that I send to a landfill, means one tonne less tonne to store future waste. Does it make sense to spend thousands of dollars a tonne to ensure that materials such as composite and light-weight plastics are recycled instead of landfilled? From my perspective, no. The decision to spend millions of dollars on keeping a material out of landfill can only be rationalized if: a) the environmental benefit from recycling/diverting is significant b) the material poses an acute risk to the environment, and must be managed in a controlled way, and c) there is no remaining landfill/disposal capacity, necessitating that the material be diverted.

With that being said, I still think that we tend to lose sight of what we should be trying to achieve in the pursuit of aspirational goals such as zero waste and circularity. Our interpretation of those goals can be quite literal at times, with people ardently saying that landfilling has no place in a circular economy or zero waste future. But circularity and zero waste are subset of broader sustainability objectives – prohibiting disposal of materials in a landfill only makes sense if it is satisfying environmental, economic and social goals.

Can landfilling be bad? Absolutely. Can landfilling make sense given certain conditions? Of course. The most important thing is that we don’t treat all materials and circumstances the same way, incorporating life cycle thinking that can better inform whether we should landfill or divert a material. What to do with a material at end of life doesn’t start when you throw it in the garbage – it starts from the moment that a product is made.

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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.

 

GFL Environmental Announces US$835 million Acquisition of Assets and Expansion of U.S. Footprint

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GFL Environmental Inc. (NYSE andTSX: GFL) (“GFL” or the “Company”), a Canadian-headquartered environmental services company, recently announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to purchase a portfolio of vertically integrated solid waste collection, transfer, recycling and disposal assets (the “Acquisition”) for an aggregate purchase price of US$835 million.

The assets to be acquired by the Company, which include 32 collection operations, 36 transfer stations and 18 landfills supported by 380 collection vehicles across 10 U.S. states, represent substantially all of the divestiture assets expected to result from the previously announced acquisition of Advanced Disposal Services, Inc. (“ADS”) by a wholly owned subsidiary of Waste Management, Inc. (“WM” and such transaction, the “WM-ADS Transaction”). The acquired assets are expected to generate annualized revenue of approximately US$345 million.

Strategic Benefits of the Acquisition

The acquired assets are expected to support GFL’s continued organic growth extending its reach into new and adjacent markets and forming a base to pursue synergistic tuck-in acquisitions. GFL expects that the Acquisition will significantly expand its U.S. footprint while creating an opportunity to realize meaningful synergies and earnings accretion. The Acquisition is expected to:

  • Expand GFL’s Geographical Reach. The Acquisition provides GFL with an attractive opportunity to extend its geographical reach into the U.S. Midwest, through a network of vertically integrated assets with a strong regional market presence in the State of Wisconsin.
  • Provide a Complementary Asset Network. The Acquisition brings a high-quality, complementary asset network and customer base to GFL’s existing operations in the States of MichiganGeorgiaAlabama and Pennsylvania.
  • Improve Operating Margins. WM and GFL will enter into a reciprocal 5-year disposal arrangement that will provide the Company with competitive, stable and predictable pricing and disposal terms.
  • Create Long Term Shareholder Value. The Acquisition reinforces the Company’s goal of creating long term equity value for shareholders. The high-quality portfolio of acquired assets coupled with the experienced management team joining GFL are expected to be immediately accretive to free cash flow and provide opportunities for the Company to continue to pursue its growth strategy.

“Even during these unprecedented times, we continue to successfully execute on our growth strategy of pursuing strategic and accretive acquisitions.  This transaction presents GFL with a unique opportunity to significantly expand our U.S. footprint through the acquisition of a high quality, vertically integrated set of assets in both our existing and adjacent fast growing U.S. markets,” said Patrick Dovigi, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of GFL. “We are excited to welcome over 900 employees of WM and ADS to the GFL family and are confident that we will continue to offer excellent customer service to our expanded customer base.”

Timing and Approvals

The Acquisition is subject to certain customary closing conditions, including approval by the U.S. Department of Justice and the closing of the WM-ADS Transaction. The Acquisition is not subject to any financing conditions. Closing is expected to occur in the third quarter of 2020, following the WM-ADS Transaction.

Financing of the Acquisition

GFL is well positioned to fund the Acquisition with its strong balance sheet and proven access to capital markets. The Company currently anticipates funding the Acquisition using a combination of capacity under its revolving credit facility and cash on hand but will evaluate other longer-term strategic and opportunistic financing opportunities as they present themselves.  Following completion of the Acquisition, GFL expects to maintain its current credit rating profile and leverage within previously stated ranges.