Posts

15 Municipalities Participating in the Canadian Circular Cities and Regions Initiative

, ,

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.

 

Hydrogen from Waste: Challenges, Government Actions, and Technologies

,

Written by Zoltan Kish, Ph.D., Quasar ScienceTech

Many countries have taken an early lead in the hydrogen economy development. Canada can play an important role in sustainable economic development based on hydrogen. The global hydrogen market size was valued at USD 117.49 billion in 2019. Hydrogen has re-emerged as an exciting and potential long-term way to address climate change and air quality while creating opportunities for the industry to grow. According to the Goldman Sachs estimate, the Green Hydrogen market could be worth €10 trillion ($11.7 trillion) by 2050, split between Asia, the U.S. and Europe. The recently proposed Hydrogen Strategy for Canada and Ontario Low-Carbon Hydrogen Strategy lays out an ambitious framework for actions that will cement hydrogen as a tool to achieve a speedy economic recovery from the devastating COVID-19 impact, while also helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions and position Canada as a global, industrial leader of clean renewable fuels. Launching a hydrogen strategy has the potential to inspire other cleantech industries and further develop a sustainable and knowledge-based economy in Canada.

The increasing application of hydrogen is anticipated in the following sectors: industry, transportation, power and chemical production, building and communities. Hydrogen is produced in various ways, such as natural gas steam reformation and pyrolysis, water electrolysis, coal and biomass gasification. Whereas, currently, natural gas is the primary source of hydrogen production via steam methane reformation. Depending on the method of production, hydrogen has the potential to be low-carbon, which can help decarbonize our economy.

In addition to the conventional way of hydrogen production, low-carbon hydrogen can be produced from waste using advanced waste conversion technologies.

The Waste Challenge

Hydrogen from Waste

The increasing amount of waste is one of the most challenging problems facing the World. Around the World, 2.12 billion tons of garbage every year is produced. Contaminated and mixed waste products (e.g., plastics, paper, MSW, industrial and medical waste) are challenging to recycle in the traditional way – mechanical/physical processing. Especially, traditional plastic waste recycling has difficulties and limitations. Mechanical sorting is not effective for mixed plastic waste. Thousands of different types of plastic are manufactured by combinations of different resin types, dyes, and additives. Even carefully selected plastic materials can only be recycled limited times into similar products since it degrades every time after reheating. Therefore, most plastic products are downcycled into items of reduced value, such as textiles, toys or even construction materials, and eventually, end up in landfills and water resources creating tremendous environmental problems. The recent study – Economic Study of the Canadian Plastic Industry, Markets and Waste concludes by Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC) that landfilling 87% of plastic waste represents a CA$7.8 billion lost opportunity. By 2030, it is estimated that Canada’s lost opportunity related to unrecovered plastics could rise to CA$11.1 billion, under a business-as-usual scenario following the same end uses and value recovery performance as the current baseline.

Without effective recycling, most of the waste is sent to landfills and the energy in waste is essentially lost, producing mountains of trash, emitting harmful pollutants into our air, water and soil and creating enormous environmental problems. In landfills, the biodegradable components of waste decompose and emit methane – a greenhouse gas, which is more harmful than CO2. Landfills release many smog and acid rain related components and persistent organic pollutants, from both natural processes and landfill fires. Landfill fires, earth movements, groundwater flows, and development all contribute to landfill leachate of toxic substances (e.g., mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium, organic toxins) to eventually seep and contaminate nearby ecosystems. Besides, we have an additional problem in Ontario. As Mike Chopowick, CEO at Ontario Waste Management Association, recently wrote in his article – Ontario’s garbage crisis is urgent, “Every bag of garbage we throw out brings us one step closer to running out of landfill space. Our landfill capacity deadline of 2032 will arrive even sooner — by 2028, just eight years away — should the U.S. government decide to close the border to Ontario’s garbage.” Currently, 30% of Ontario’s waste has been shipped by 100,000 semi-truck trailer loads travelling each year to Michigan creating a tremendous amount of pollution.

Canada and many other countries in the world are facing a waste management crisis. Waste accumulation problems are growing. In addition to current waste problems, the produced waste will be further increased in the health care, hospitality and food sectors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic could be a wake-up call for waste handling and reduction. Regrettably, Canada and other G7 countries are planning to use waste-to-energy incineration as part of plastic pollution solutions. However, incineration is a very costly and inefficient way for waste conversion into energy and generating highly toxic and carcinogenic pollutants. The flue gas of the waste combustion is significantly diluted and increased in volume by the nitrogen content of the excess air use. The large volume of the flue gas is more difficult to clean and costly.

Fundamental Shifts

We need a fundamental shift in the way of produced waste handling. The circular economy is not only based on simply reusing waste products. The purpose of recycling is to redesign and convert waste into forms retaining as high-value as possible in a circular economy. There is a requirement for a new and innovative approach in the development of a solution for the waste management challenges, waste recycling, plastic waste pollution reduction and a working circular economy.

The environmental impact of waste can be minimized by applying proper waste management using advanced waste conversion technologies. Chemical recycling as waste recycling using effective waste conversion technology is essential for a working circular economy. Whereas, Chemical Recycling of waste can be defined as a chemical process converting waste materials into new usable products with desirable properties and composition for required applications. Garbage can be converted into high-value products using advanced and cost-effective waste conversion technologies. Perspectives of different waste conversion technologies are provided in the article – “Perspectives on Waste-to-Energy Technologies”. In a circular economy, chemical recycling based on effective waste conversion technologies can play a pivotal role in waste conversion into usable materials and clean energy.

The Government has recognized (e.g., Zero Plastic Waste: Canada’s actionsWaste-Free Ontario ActStrategy for a Waste-Free Ontario Building the Circular Economy and many other documents) that waste diversion from landfills, recovering valuable resources and greenhouse gas emission reduction can be achieved by incorporating chemical recycling and emerging technologies into waste management practices. However, without the Government’s support and endorsement for chemical recycling as part of the circular economy, municipalities and private sectors are not in a position to move forward with implementing waste conversion technologies based on chemical recycling. On the other hand, in 2019 Illinois and Ohio, like many other US states, had passed new laws making it easier to build chemical recycling facilities, regulating them as recycling operations rather than waste processing plants. The Canadian Government could also consider this new approach using Chemical Recycling in waste management as recycling operations.

Technology Solutions

In response to the waste accumulation problems, an innovative and cost-effective waste convection technology has been further developed after many years of testing at the pre-commercial waste conversion facility. The developed advanced clean technology is based on a steam gasification process in combination with a reliable scrubbing/cleaning system. The proposed waste steam gasification, as a chemical recycling process, satisfies the purpose of recycling to convert waste into forms retaining as high value as possible in a circular economy. The steam gasification technology represents a potential alternative to the traditional treatments of waste feedstocks.

During traditional gasification and incineration, the required heat is produced directly in the reaction chamber. As a result of the oxidation component of the traditional gasification systems, noxious oxides (e.g., nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides), furans and dioxins are generated during these processes. Furans and dioxins are highly toxic and carcinogenic pollutants even at a very low concentration. Additionally, the produced synthesis gas (syngas) will be significantly diluted by the oxidation process which includes the nitrogen content of the air and produced carbon dioxide and water vapour. Therefore, the heating value of syngas produced from the traditional gasification process is significantly reduced. The lower quality syngas fuel generated from partial oxidation gasification can be run in reciprocating engines, but generally cannot be used as a fuel for cleaner burning and more efficient gas turbines, due to its relatively low heating value. The hydrogen content of the produced syngas is significantly reduced as a result of the reaction with introduced oxygen to the gasification reactor. Additionally, traditional gasification of waste produces more carbon dioxide due to the carbon content of waste reaction with oxygen, and typically requires extensive and expensive waste feedstock pre-treatment and cleaning/scrubbing system.

On the other hand, the application of the steam gasification process for waste processing eliminates pollution created by incineration and traditional gasification processes. The waste steam gasification is a thermo-chemical process and is based on the waste materials reaction with steam without the participation of oxygen or air at elevated temperature. The main product of the reactions is syngas. The steam gasification technology represents a potential alternative for the traditional waste treatments to produce higher heating content syngas, which has a higher hydrogen concentration and lower carbon dioxide content than products produced by traditional gasification. The steam gasification process does not generate noxious oxides (nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides), furans and dioxins. The chemistry is different due to the high concentration of steam as a reactant and the total exclusion of air and, therefore, oxygen from the steam gasification process. Contaminates are easier to remove from the produced syngas because it is not diluted by excess air or nitrogen and products of combustion. Utilizing an indirectly heated kiln with an effective scrubbing/cleaning system, the waste steam gasification technology is a novel and unconventional waste conversion technology, which allows for robust operation of various heterogeneous waste feedstocks, such as plastics, MSW, biomass, used tires, sewage sludge, industrial and medical waste. The developed technology significantly reduces the requirements for pre-processing feedstock. The high quality of the produced syngas and residual waste heat can be used to power combined cycle gas turbines, reciprocating gas engines or potentially fuel cells for the generation of electricity and produce hydrogen from waste. Besides, because of the high hydrogen to carbon monoxide ratio of the produced syngas, the technology can be coupled with a Gas-to-Liquids technology (e.g., based on the Fischer – Tropsch process) to produce higher-value liquid synthetic fuels and chemicals.

The steam gasification technology, as an innovative and cost-effective chemical recycling process of waste, is the most suitable for contaminated & mixed waste conversion into clean energy and sustainable products, such as hydrogen, electricity, liquid synthetic fuels, and chemicals. At the current stage of the market demand, the application of steam gasification for waste processing into hydrogen can provide a cost-effective solution for waste accumulation problems and diversion from landfills. The waste diversion from landfills and recycling into hydrogen can protect the environment from pollutions and save natural resources by incorporating chemical recycling based on the waste steam reformation technology into waste management practices. Furthermore, if the processing waste is renewable feedstocks (e.g., agricultural or forest waste), the produced hydrogen can be considered green and the process can be considered carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative if the produced CO2 is captured and utilized (e.g., in greenhouses). Hydrogen production from waste is a cost-effective solution for waste diversion from landfills and recycling into a high-value product. The green hydrogen can be a base feedstock for green chemical production, such as green ammonia.

The developed cost-effective waste steam gasification technology as a chemical recycling process can provide a comprehensive and innovative solution to the complex problems of waste management, hydrogen production, environment protection, depletion of natural resources, and moving towards a circular economy. The application of the cost-effective waste steam gasification technology has competitive advantages over currently used hydrogen production and waste management technologies. The low-carbon hydrogen produced from waste holds the potential to decarbonize many sectors of our economy, including resource extraction, freight, transportation, power generation, manufacturing, oil refinery, and the production of steel, chemicals and cement. The use of the advanced steam gasification technology as a cost-effective chemical recycling process provides an innovative waste management strategy to divert waste from landfills and water resources and produce clean energy and sustainable products. Chemical recycling based on the cost-effective steam gasification technology can provide a fundamental shift in the way of waste handling in a circular economy. Waste conversion into hydrogen could become a base of the hydrogen and circular economy.

With the Government’s support, the waste steam gasification technology can be brought to the market as an industrial waste processing plant recycling waste into high-value sustainable products, such as hydrogen, chemicals and clean energy. The hydrogen production from waste can create many highly skilled jobs in the CleanTech and the waste management sectors and opportunities to export Canadian technologies around the Globe. With the right approach, Canada can be a front-runner in leading sustainable waste management and circular and hydrogen economy developments.

About the Author

Dr. Zoltan Kish has a Ph.D. in Chemistry with over 25 years of diverse industrial and academic experience and contributed to more than 70 scientific publications. He has developed and managed complex research and development programs related to alternative/renewable energy, clean technologies, effective waste conversion into usable products, sustainability, and advanced materials applications, such as solar energy technology, ceramic engine & cutting tool components, materials processing, and electronics. Dr. Kish was the Director of Research & Development at two Canadian alternative energy companies where he focused on R&D and commercialization of advanced waste conversion technologies and reliable scrubbing/cleaning systems to produce clean energy and sustainable products. In response to global environmental challenges and market requirements for viable economic growth, he has established a consulting company – Quasar ScienceTech (www.quasarsciencetech.com) to develop advanced technologies and provide multidisciplinary science and technology consulting in the areas of Natural & Applied Sciences, Clean Technologies & Energy, Waste Conversion, Scrubbing Systems, Advanced Materials, Innovation, Technical Due Diligence, Environmental Protection, Climate Change Mitigation, Circular Economy and Sustainability.

 

Reduce, Reuse and Rethink: Re-defining our goals for a waste management system

, , ,

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

For the first time in my career, issues surrounding waste management have now become part of mainstream discussion. Whether it be my neighbors asking me “Can this really be recycled?” to growing concerns surrounding single use plastics, people (both the public and policy makers alike), care now more than ever regarding what is happening to our waste. We as Canadians recognize that issues surrounding waste require our immediate attention, and that our waste disposal behavior (both good and bad) can have significant impacts on the sustainability of our environment.

So with this in mind, I thought it would be prudent to revisit the topic of “What is the goal of our waste management system?” While this is a topic I have written about several times in the past, proposed legislative changes – not only to Ontario’s Blue Box program, but waste management legislation across North America, makes it a timely topic for discussion. Now, more than ever, we need to clearly define what our goals are, and whether our existing approaches are helping move us towards achieving those goals.

So, what is the goal of a waste management system? This seemingly simple question is actually surprisingly difficult to answer, as it depends on who you ask and what is being prioritized. While we may here terms like “Circular Economy” and “Zero waste” banded about, what do they actually mean? Are they intended to be aspirational or achievable goals? What is the time frame and the boundaries we use to define a circular system, and what do we choose to prioritize when different stakeholders have competing objectives? I am reluctant to answer these questions, as I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer other than – “it depends”: On who you ask, what you ask and why you ask. With that in mind, before proceeding with our discussion, I want to remind everyone about the three pillars of sustainability: A sustainable system must consider economic, environmental and social dimensions. By definition, we cannot consider a system sustainable if it does not address these three components. This is a critical consideration when deciding what a goal of a waste management system could (or should) be.

Ontario (and Canada) has a recycling problem

Historically, the emphasis of waste management has been on residential recycling. The Blue Box, a ubiquitous symbol of recycling that has been a fixture in our homes for the better part of four decades in Ontario. In fact, my very first memory as a budding environmentalist was washing out peanut butter jars before putting it in the recycling (less to do with concerns surrounding contamination, and more to do with a fear of attracting insects). For many Ontarians, the Blue Box is symbolic of recycling and sustainability, and it is something that we have been extraordinarily good at – which as it turns out, is actually a really bad thing.

During the summer of 2019, York University conducted a study to gauge what the public thought about various waste management initiatives. Participants were asked to rank, from best to worse, which end of life scenario resulted in the greatest environmental impact (shown in figure 1)

No alt text provided for this image

From the above graph, recycling was seen as the most environmentally preferred option, with reuse second and waste reduction a very distant fourth place. Why does this matter? Because reduce, reuse, recycle isn’t just a catchy phrase – it is the order in which we are supposed to things. Recycling is our third most preferred option.

No alt text provided for this image

Canada has become a victim of its own success – both households and policy makers now conflate recycling with sustainability. If it can’t be recycled, it is characterized as being “bad”. The “waste” problem is often framed as “We aren’t recycling enough”. Just last year, Deloitte made international headlines when they published a report indicating that Canada was only recycling 9% of its plastics. The response from the public was almost visceral – Households and government demanded change, with consumers even going so far as to say that they would be less likely to buy a product if it could not be recycled at the end of its life. Canadians are voting with their dollars and the message is loud and clear “We want recyclable products”.

While the sentiment and intent is in the right place, the approach is not. Not only is recycling not the most preferred outcome, it can actually have adverse economic, environmental and social impacts. Contrary to intuition – not everything that can be recycled, should be recycled. The decision to recycle everything, everywhere, is actually what is compromising the long term sustainability of the system.

Why the next diverted tonne will not (and should not) come from the Blue Box

As noted earlier, the residential recycling system (for printed paper and packaging) has been enormously successful, so much so that policy makers continue to put all of their eggs in one basket, and attempt to drive future diversion from this waste stream. The proposed Blue Box transition in Ontario, which shifts 100% of the physical/financial responsibility of managing the system on to producers, continues to emphasize and prioritize recycling based outcomes. Why this is problematic is threefold:

1)     We are already doing a great job of capturing the “low hanging fruit”. Recycling rates for core Blue Box materials (newsprint/OBB/OCC etc.) are already well in excess of 80%, and future increases in diversion are not likely to come from these materials

2)     The overall packaging mix is increasingly being made up of composite and light-weight materials that are extremely difficult to recycle given existing technology, infrastructure and end markets. If future increases in diversion come from these materials, the cost of recycling is potentially prohibitive.

3)     The environmental benefits associated with recycling many light weight and composite materials are negligible given existing processing technology.

In short, not all recycling is created equal. Figure 3 below summarizes the amount of money you would have to spend on recycling a given material, to abate one tonne of carbon ($/TCO2e).

Figure 3: 

No alt text provided for this image

Using the above example, you would have to spend almost $1500 on recycling to abate one tonne of carbon from plastic film, and only $65 on recycling newsprint to achieve the same result. Let that sink in for a moment – Film is 23 times more expensive than newsprint from a carbon to recycling expenditure ratio.

To further drive home this point, please refer to Figure 4 below:

Figure 4

No alt text provided for this image

Figure 4 shows the change in net system costs that results in a 1% change in the recycling rate, on a material by material basis.

If we wanted to increase the overall recycling rate of the Blue Box program by 1%, and we had to achieve it by increasing recycling of plastic laminates, overall system costs would increase by more than 14%.

Why this matters is that (as noted earlier), future increases in recycling rates are not going to come from core Blue Box materials. As a result of the changing nature of packaging over time (also referred to as the evolving tonne), increasing the Blue Box recycling rate will involve trying to collect and recycle materials such as composite and light weight plastics. To increase Ontario’s Blue Box recycling rate to 70% by recycling composite/light weight plastics (which is about 6% higher than our current recycling rate), we would have to spend in excess of $70 million dollars – and that is assuming that we have capacity within the existing system and end markets to accommodate increased recovery.

This is both prohibitively expensive, and has questionable environmental benefits. Once again, we are forced to ask ourselves, what is the goal of our waste management system? Increasingly, that answer is not going to be about increasing recycling rates, particularly for printed paper and packaging.

This begs two questions: 1) If the next diverted tonne shouldn’t come from the Blue Box, where should it come from? And 2)  If light weight and composite packaging is so terrible, why do we continue to use it?

As for where our next diverted tonne will come from, please refer to: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/where-our-next-diverted-tonne-come-from-diversion-calvin-lakhan-ph-d/

The second question is a bit trickier, as there is a subjective element to how you choose to evaluate the merits of a particular packaging type. Why a producer makes the packaging decisions they do is largely a function of economics and safety – some factors include: Does the packaging I use make it safe to transport materials, protect the product, avoid spoilage or contamination, increase shelf life, increase the number of units I can place on the shelf/in the store, allow for easy brand recognition etc.

The increased adoption of light weight packaging can be attributed to the benefits of durability, transport and ease of consumption, while also allowing for a reduction in overall packaging used. Interestingly, when taking a life cycle approach, the environmental impact of light weight and composite packaging can actually result in superior environmental outcomes when compared to conventional packaging. This may seem counter intuitive, given the relatively low recyclability of these materials, but upstream benefits (packaging reduction, logistical efficiencies when transporting materials, avoided food waste/spoilage, discretionary consumption etc.), actually outweigh whatever you lose from not recycling that material.

All things being equal, the recyclability of a package his historically ranked as a relatively low priority for producers.

In a 2017 study conducted by the university examining the relationship between packaging fee rates, and packaging recycling performance, there was no statistically significant correlation between the two. Even for products such as paper laminates and plastic film, where the corresponding fee was significantly higher than all other materials, recycling rates remained largely unchanged, or did so in response to broader macro market conditions. The price signal sent by the fee, was insufficient to change packaging choices.

With that being said, the optics surrounding whether a package can be recycled (and more broadly, diverted) has now become a key issue for producers, and increasingly, you are seeing brand owners talk about solutions for how to recycle their products. The rise in prominence of organizations such as Terracycle speak to just how important “recyclability” has become for consumers. We have spent the better part of 40 years inundating the public with the message “recycling is good for the environment” and attempting to change that narrative is extraordinarily difficult. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that the government is continuing to develop policy that prioritizes recycling as a preferred end of life option. Between consumer demand and government legislation, producers face the daunting task of trying to recycle the unrecyclable, and in doing so, incurring a bill that is experiencing double digit percentage increases in recycling system costs year over year.

The importance of a socially sustainable waste management system

Historically, waste management (at least in a Canadian context), has not been seen through the lens of social sustainability – somewhat of a surprise, given how socio-economic inequality manifests itself in the form of impeded access, awareness and exposure to waste. Much of the existing academic research on environmental justice has been on the unequal distribution of environmental hazards and benefits along racialized lines, where there are consistent indications that waste facilities and waste related hazards are disproportionally located in lower income areas (or those predominated by minorities).

In all fairness, the connection between waste management and socio-economic inequality is not something that is top of mind for most policy makers. Generally speaking, there is an idea that a municipality will provide waste management services to a particular area, support that initiative through a combination of promotion and education efforts, and hope for sustained public participation. However, the costs of service delivery, the means and mediums of engagement, service accessibility and affordability vary widely, even within the same city.

Economic Exclusion

Taking a step back for a moment, I want to share with you three brief anecdotes that capture how seemingly oblivious our waste management system is with respect to social sustainability. These are actual conversations I have had with people in my day to day life

1)     “Consumers should purchase fewer packaged goods and opt for things like fresh produce instead of getting something shipped to us from half way across the world”.

2)     “We don’t need to use plastic film anymore, consumers can go out and buy reusable beeswax clingwrap”

3)     “Packaging programs focused on reuse (Loop) are going to be revolutionary and cut back on the amount of packaging waste we generate”

All of these are valid observations… but not necessarily ones that are realistic for many households. What people can and choose to purchase is largely a function of economics –those of us that have the luxury of being conscientious consumers, can shop locally and avoid pre-packaged goods. However, it is important to recognize that the ability to do so is a luxury – in a focus group conducted of more than 1800 consumers in the Greater Toronto earlier this year, more than 80% of respondents indicated that price was the primary determinant for making a purchase. If possible, respondents indicated that they would like to make more sustainable purchases, but budgetary restraints largely impeded them from doing so.

More than 60% of respondents also indicated that they did not have the ability to travel outside of a 5km range to make daily purchases, and often shopped at specific retailers because of a mix of multiple factors such as: convenience, price, familiarity and purchasing agglomeration (one stop shopping). In a 2019 analysis of consumer purchasing preferences in the Greater Toronto Area, households characterized as “low income” (household income less than $40,000 per year) consumed 18.4% more pre-packaged goods (namely grains, produce and frozen meats), when compared to families whose household income exceeded $100,000 a year. There is an inverse, statistically significant correlation between household income and % of prepackaged foodstuff of overall weekly purchases.

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

A perhaps more insidious impact on consumers is the potential impacts to their cost of living attributable to increases in recycling system costs. As noted above, the costs of operating our recycling system are rapidly increasing, and these costs are ultimately born by consumers. In both late 2019 and early 2020, York University conducted research to better understand the link between an increase in basket of goods costs and increases in the steward obligation. While I have received many critiques and questions pertaining to how prices for packaged goods change in response to changes in the steward obligation (see post script for explanation), our research showed that consumer basket of goods prices increased by 6-12% (depending on locality). The economic and social impacts of this are potentially enormous, as lower income families are disproportionately affected by increases in packaging costs. As stated earlier, they purchase more prepackaged goods as a proportion of their overall purchases when compared to high income families.

While the ultimate intent of producer responsibility is to have the generator bare the financial costs of end of life management, the magnitude of those impacts is relative to the consumer’s ability to absorb them. As such, when we ask ourselves “What should the goal of a waste management system be?”, it is imperative that we also give thought to “How do we account of social sustainability?”. A focus on recycling/diversion based outcomes paints an incomplete picture of a much more complex and nuanced problem. What good is a circular economy if not everyone can participate or benefit from it?

Reduce, Reuse and Rethink

I will go on record and say that I think if we pursue an approach premised on prioritizing recycling above all else, it will be destined for failure. Shifting financial responsibility onto producers will not magically fix what is broken, and I think it naive to assume the financial incentive will result in fundamental shifts in producer behavior.

To echo a position I have shared in the past, the province needs to embrace a “macro approach” when it comes to sustainable materials management – Viewing end of life waste management as separate from other stages of a products life cycle is too myopic in scope.

Past emphasis on recycling rates and the recyclability of materials is no longer compatible with the changing nature of packaging. Recycling should not be the main objective, but rather, emphasis should be placed on promoting sustainable outcomes.

If a particular packaging type cannot be readily recycled, but abates more carbon at a lower cost (i.e. avoided food waste), should that be discouraged? Will forcing producers to pay 100% of the cost of recycling light weight plastics result in technological innovation and new end use applications? Or will it result in a bill in the hundreds of millions for Ontarians?

At present, the way waste management systems and legislation are designed is “siloed” – Blue Box is a distinct entity from the Green Bin, which is a distinct entity from waste electronics etc. While this may be a necessity from an operational perspective, it is imperative to take a step back and look at the entire waste management system. There is an opportunity cost to whatever decision we make – a dollar spent on one end of life management option is a dollar not spent on another. As such, our priorities should be designed to reflect what we want to achieve in waste management as a whole. Policies and legislation need to enable the province to work towards that goal in an economic, environmental and socially sustainable way. Measuring success in terms of diversion or recycling rates is no longer good enough.

APPENDIX (Calculating increases in consumer basket of goods)

As an example, the proposed increase in the steward obligation in Ontario resulting from the transition to full producer responsibility is $135 million dollars (this is a known number). The university’s methodology uses a six step process:

1) Quantify the potential reduction in the municipal tax base resulting from the transfer of recycling and landfilling costs onto producers (if any)

2) Determine how producers respond to the increased obligation. We operate under the assumption that stewards are not going to internalize any of this $135 million dollars, and that it it will either manifest itself in one of two ways a) costs are transferred to consumers (both directly via the fee allocation model and indirectly via increased pricing, b) contraction of the company resulting in job losses etc. (a less likely scenario, but one that does have a precedent – most of our modeling assuming consumers absorb this cost).

3) Examine the existing basket of good costs across localities (basket of goods costs vary significantly depending on whether it is rural/northern community, urban areas etc.) – part of this analysis is to also to determine the relative price elasticity of the consumer good basket within those communities. We calculate relative price elasticities for a range of consumer goods and household services using measured data in dozens of cities across Canada. Elasticity is very much a function of locality – price elasticity in Northern Ontario is sometimes 200% greater than in Southern Ontario, i.e. you increase the transportation costs for 4 litres of milk by 50 cents, the corresponding price increase in Red Lake is more than $2.00. This also explains why our modeling shows that the increase in the price of consumer goods resulting from producer responsibility is more acute in certain communities.

4) Using a logit-loglinear regression model, we adapt an input-output table that has been regionalized for the Ontario market (or whatever province we are examining). A log-linear analysis is necessary to specifically isolate what percentage of the $135m increase in the steward obligation specifically manifests itself with respect to price changes in the consumer basket of goods.

5) As noted in step 3, we know that certain communities are much more sensitive to changes in the prices of goods based on their relative elasticity measure. Using the output of Step 4, we then apply how price changes manifest in specific communities across Ontario (or a given province). This is how we develop a range of estimates for potential increases in the consumption basket.

6) Once we have determined the potential change in the consumer goods basket, we then backout potential savings resulting from a potential decrease in the municipal taxbase (if any) to arrive at our final estimates.

_________________________

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.

The Benefits of Regulatory Convergence on Sustainable Plastics Management within the Pacific Alliance

, ,

Written by Maria Vizeu-Pinheiro, German Sturzenegger, Denisa Mertiri, and Jonathan D.Cocker

Plastic pollution, including through single-use plastics (SUPs), continues to plague natural environments around the world, including in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The region produces around 28 million tons of plastic waste every year (12% of total municipal waste), of which around 36% is SUP. It is estimated that about 4 million tons of plastic waste could enter the ocean in 2020 due to inadequate solid waste management in coastal cities, where a significant portion of the population lives.

In LAC, there is growing interest in combating the shared problem of marine plastics. The countries of the Pacific Alliance (PA) -Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru- have launched an Environmental and Climate Change action plan, including a Presidential Declaration on Sustainable Use of Plastics[1] focused upon:

  • an analysis of plastic bag regulation and recommendations for the reduction of their use;
  • a targeted single-use plastic ban;
  • research and support for new productive models for plastic alternatives;
  • action on the reduction of plastic contamination in water, including marine environments;
  • strengthening the culture of responsible use of plastics and recycling;
  • circular economy model advancement;
  • promotion of re-use of plastic; and
  • the setting of a Road Map implementing these commitments.

In addition, individual PA countries, have each been active in promoting domestic strategies on plastic products and packaging, setting targets and developing regulations such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), innovative recycling mechanisms such as “e-Coins”, and Circular Economy programs.

These initiatives, however, may not be enough in light of the proliferation of plastic pollution and the limited domestic waste management infrastructure. This shared understanding within the PA must now give rise to a coordinated regional action on plastics for which greater regulatory convergence is pivotal to its success.

10 Reasons for Adoption of a Regional Plastics Strategy

While the work on regulatory convergence around plastics, including SUPs, will not be easy, there are compelling reasons to do so:

1. Facilitation of Materials Flows

  • the wide variety of plastics material has left local governments and industry to unnecessarily dispose materials as “scrap” domestically. These materials could be valorized in other PA countries if barriers to transfer were lifted, an issue particularly pressing in light of the Basel Convention Ban.

2. Regional Scale Needed for Plastics Recycling Markets

  • addressing both the leakage of plastics and their value loss in less productive uses requires sufficient economies of scale that regional, and not domestic-only recycling infrastructure resources.

3. Innovation and Specialization:

  • with economies of scale will also come the conditions for investment in innovative products and resource recovery specialized solutions, potentially serving the entire region. These solutions will be imported into PA countries (based upon the regional needs and goals of others) if its members don’t otherwise develop their own;

4. Commercialization Through EPR Favours Regional Consistency

  • as EPR may well be part of the solution for plastics resource recovery, the formation of effective Producer Responsibility Organizations (PROs) is enhanced through regional PRO models, servicing discrete industry segments and able to administer programs consistency, with lower transactions costs across multiple countries;

5. Product Standards Development Suitable for PA

  • outside of the PA countries, there is current growth of plastics content standards (such as bioplastics) with corresponding resource recovery process requirements and specifications. These standards will be implemented in PA countries absent a regional alternative – even though these standards are based upon socio-economic and environmental conditions dissimilar to those of LAC;

6. Material Bans Feasible Regionally

  • critical issues remain as to which types of plastics, for which uses and of what plastic material (and its potentially hazardous content) should be permitted by PA countries. Only through a regional strategy will the PA be able to ensure their domestic choices are implementable;

7. Regional Market Data Will Attract Investment

  • the early adoption of regional terminology and methodologies will generate PA-wide data necessary to better attract investment;

8. Ensuring Safety

  • food and other safety and quality measures must be imposed upon any plastics packaging or SUPs introduced within the PA. A regional strategy allows for commonly adoptable tracking and tracing technology, as well as labelling, to ensure the providence of the plastics introduced in the region’s markets;

9. Near-term Financial Recovery Opportunity

  • plastics represent a resource for which there are clear near-term recovery solutions, such as energy production and valuable products made with recovered plastics, which will result in tangible economic gains for local communities across the PA; and

10. International Stakeholder Funding Available

  • along with the push for plastics pollution solutions has come significant funding from international stakeholders, which will be acutely needed during the challenging post-COVID-19 economic fallout;

In summary, there are both immediate and long-term benefits to a PA-focused plastics strategy.  Plastics offers PA countries a relatively easy entry point for the types of economic and environmental joint efforts envisioned in the region’s action plan.

The opportunities for plastics within the region are, however, time-limited. International pressure for conformity with policies most suitable elsewhere will intensify in the absence of demonstrable success.

Further, delays in moving towards convergence will make harmonization more difficult. With individual PA countries developing disparate programs, for which investments and long-term commitments will be based, a move to harmonize internally will be more difficult over time.

The PA countries should move to engage stakeholders, including regional private sector parties, in developing a critical pathway towards achieving these ambitious goals.


[1] This declaration was signed during the 2019 Pacific Alliance summit in Peru

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

About the Authors

Maria Vizeu Pinheiro is a lawyer specializing in environmental and natural resources issues at the Environment, Rural Development and Disaster Risk Management Division of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Maria works on the analysis of environmental policies, governance and regulatory frameworks for the Bank’s operations.

Germán Sturzenegger is a Senior Water and Sanitation Specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank. He has participated in the design and implementation of water and sanitation projects throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Germán leads the recycling and green infrastructure agenda for the Water and Sanitation Division of the IDB, working on the implementation of river conservation and inclusive recycling projects.

Denisa Mertiri, J.D. (Green Earth Strategy) provides legal and policy advice to clients on waste management, single-use reduction, circular economy and extended producer responsibility laws. Denisa has worked with the City of Toronto and other municipalities in Ontario, Canada, on Ontario’s transition to EPR and on single-use reduction and circular economy policies.

Jonathan D. Cocker heads Baker McKenzie’s Environmental Practice Group in Canada and is an active member of the firm’s Global Consumer Goods & Retail and Energy, Mining and Infrastructure groups. Mr. Cocker provides advice and representation to multinational companies on a variety of environmental and product compliance matters, including extended producer responsibilities, dangerous goods transportation, GHS, regulated wastes, consumer product and food safety, and contaminated lands matters.

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

, , , , ,

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

Fun with Waste: Milk Waste to T-shirts

Mi Terro, a Los Angeles-based cleantech startup recently began manufacturing T-shirts using spoiled using fibers manufactured from spoiled milk.  The company uses biotechnology to re-engineer milk proteins into sustainable fibers.  The fibers can replace plastic in fashion, medical, and packaging industries.  The fibers can also be used to make t-shirts using 60% less water than required for an organic cotton shirt.

The fiber-from-milk method was invented in just three months by co-founders Robert Luo and Daniel Zhuang. After visiting his uncle’s dairy farm in China in 2018, Luo saw just how much milk product gets dumped first-hand, and after some research, he found that the issue was one of a massive global scale.

Mi Terro is make up of a team of Ph.D material scientists and chemists. The company aims to redefine circular economy in which everything begins with food waste and ends as recyclable or biodegradable.

 

 

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

, , , ,

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?

, ,

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.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

 

Free Webinar on True Zero Waste and the Circular Economy

, , ,

This webinar is a complimentary event open to the United States Green Building Coalition – Los Angeles (USGBC-LA) community members and the general public.  It is scheduled for May 13th at 11 am Pacific Daylight Time.

Topics of discussion on the TRUE Zero Waste and Circular Economy Overview – Webinar on May 13th (11 am PDT) include:

  • What is Circular Economy?
  • What’s the difference between Circular Economy and a really good recycling program?
  • Introduction to the basic concepts:
    • Waste = Food
    • Build Resilience Through Diversity
    • Energy from Renewable Resources
    • Think in Systems
    • True Zero Waste Certification overview

Without urgent action, global waste will increase by 70 percent on current levels by 2050, according to the World Bank’s new report. The make-take-waste way of doing things is coming to an end and if we do it right, we’ll create massive new economical and social opportunities!

During the webinar there will be a discussion on how businesses can create value by striving for zero waste, seeing products and materials as cycles, the role of creative solutions, and how you can contribute to make the transition to a Circular Economy.

SPEAKERS

 Denise Braun, CEO All About Waste

Denise has over seventeen years of experience in the sustainability field, starting in Brazil and then moving to the United States. She is the founder and principal of All About Waste – a woman and minority-owned sustainability and zero waste consulting firm based in Los Angeles, CA. Denise and her team provide a diverse range of services including solid waste data collection and analysis, circular strategic frameworks, green building certifications, zero waste programs and certification, training/educational workshops, and community outreach. She has worked in various capacities on over 150 LEED-certified projects, many of which have achieved the highest level of certification with no clarifications. Denise is currently working on several zero-waste and wellness projects. She worked on the first TRUE-certified zero waste high-rise commercial building in the world. Denise has been responsible for over 30 million square feet of waste audits and has developed and analyzed technical waste management solutions for a large variety of building types. Denise has presented at numerous lectures, workshops, and conferences, including the annual Municipal Green Building Conference and Expo, Net Zero Conference, the Living Building Collaborative Zero Waste Forum and the GreenBuild Conference & Expo. She currently has several accreditation and expertise such as: LEED AP,  WELL AP, ENV SP, TRUE Advisor, Fitwel Ambassador and sustainable supply chain. She also is sitting as a Board of Director at USGBC-LA.

 Ryan McMullan, CEO Lean Green Way

Over his career Ryan McMullan has led several Sustainability programs including in Toyota’s Corporate Responsibility department and Rice University’s Facilities & Engineering department.  These have included strategically developing and deploying environmental targets across a wide variety of functional groups, reporting on environmental progress, greenhouse gas inventories, and developing programs for zero waste, zero carbon, and zero water.  He now consults with companies like Lockheed-Martin, Walmart and Mattress Recycling Council (MRC) to help them establish leading sustainability strategies. He is an advisor to TRUE Zero Waste Certification at GBCI and the Environmental Leader Conference. He earned his Masters from the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara and his Bachelor’s from Rice University.  At home he keeps busy improving the sustainability of his home in Long Beach, California, teaching his 10-year-old son to conserve resources and design games, and writing on his experiences.

Battery Industries Prepare For Circular Economy

, , ,

Written by Jonathan D. Cocker, Partner at Baker McKenzie

With some important recent developments, the battery industries and their resource recovery partners have taken significant steps in preparing for the coming individual producer responsibility (IPR) circular economy laws.

More specifically, Ontario’s Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act will impose regulated IPR obligations upon makers, brand owners and first importers of a range of small and large size batteries as of June 30, 2020.   Clearly, the time for needed industry-wide structural adjustments to meet this challenge is now.

Single-Use Batteries, But What Else?

There has been some shuffling between the batteries and electronics industries as to when and how the two sectors will transition to IPR.  Critics of the transitions have argued that some or all of the battery categories must be regulated under IPR at the same time as e-waste, December 31st, 2020.

The Batteries Regulation, likely due for release in the coming weeks, will hopefully make clear as to which categories of batteries will be caught by this resource recovery law beyond single use batteries – which will necessarily be regulated by June 30th, 2020.  The draft regulation proposed the following battery categories:

  1. Small single use batteries weighing 5 kilograms or less
  2. Small rechargeable batteries weighing 5 kilograms or less
  3. Large batteries weighing more than 5 kilograms.

It may be that some of these categories, or industry-specific battery types within these proposed categories, have staggered compliance dates.  Either way, Ontario’s batteries are joining tires as North America’s first circular economy-regulated materials.

The Case for Some Exclusions

Perhaps the most contentious products potentially caught under the coming Batteries Regulation are lead acid batteries, commonly used in vehicles.  The Canadian Battery Association has long run a voluntary stewardship program in Ontario, as well as some regulated programs in certain other provinces, for the successful recycling of lead acid batteries.

Used Car Batteries

The value of imposing regulated IPR for lead acid batteries in Ontario has been openly questioned by the CBA, which boasts very high new battery recovery rates already.  Its recovery rate includes other types of lead-acid battery applications:  energy storage, motive power as well as batteries for other applications such as boats, skidoos etc that are not legally considered vehicles. The CBA takes the position that all lead-acid batteries within a circular economy should be exempt. Exempting vehicle batteries under IPR, when their tires and waste oils (and perhaps other components) will be governed by the resource recovery regime, does appear to be a challenge.

Further, there remains the thorny issue of how responsibility is allocated between battery and electronic producers for embedded batteries.  The Batteries Regulation will hopefully resolve this.

No Institutional Incumbent

Unlike tires and the coming transition for e-waste (tech and A/V), where the government-designated industry-funded organization has been positioned to transition to becoming the IPR producer responsibility organization (PRO), the private sector response to batteries will be different.

Call2Recycle, traditionally a voluntary market collector of recyclable batteries in Ontario, does have experience operating programs to meet regulated battery recycling obligations (rechargeable and single use) in some other provinces of Canada.

Call2Recycle has signaled its intention to be a registered PRO for certain categories of batteries.  It would appear likely that the largest brand owners will obtain their recovery services through this battery PRO, but producer choices remain to be finalized once the market fully privatizes.

The CBA also has a Memorandum of Understanding with Call2Recycle, which will serve both parties under IPR in Ontario and elsewhere.

RMC – Call2Recycle Partnership Agreement

Most recently, a partnership agreement for the management of end-of-life single use and rechargeable batteries has been entered into between Call2Recycle and Ontario-based Raw Materials Company (RMC).

RMC has been the only in-province recycler of waste-regulated batteries under the current government-directed program and will likely gain opportunities to enhance its competitive position with both Call2Recycle and other battery producer groups, as this resource recovery market developments.

____

While there are only slightly more than 6 months for the battery industries to prepare for the circular economy, there are clear signs that anticipatory market adjustments are already happening to meet the coming demands of the Batteries Regulation, just as the legislation had intended.

This article has been republished with the permission of the author. It was first published in the Environmental Law Insights.


About the Author

Jonathan D. Cocker heads Baker McKenzie’s Environmental Practice Group in Canada and is an active member of the firm’s Global Consumer Goods & Retail and Energy, Mining and Infrastructure groups. Mr. Cocker provides advice and representation to multinational companies on a variety of environmental and product compliance matters, including extended producer responsibilities, dangerous goods transportation, GHS, regulated wastes, consumer product and food safety, and contaminated lands matters. He assisted in the founding of one of North America’s first Circular Economy Producer Responsibility Organizations and provides advice and representation to a number of domestic and international industry groups in respect of resource recovery obligations. Mr. Cocker was recently appointed the first Sustainability Officer of the International Bar Association Mr. Cocker is a frequent speaker and writer on environmental issues and has authored numerous publications including recent publications in the Environment and Climate Change Law Review, Detritus – the Official Journal of the International Waste Working Group, Chemical Watch, Circular Economy: Global Perspectives published by Springer, and in the upcoming Yale University Journal of Industrial Ecology’s special issue on Material Efficiency for Climate Change Mitigation. Mr. Cocker maintains a blog focused upon international resource recovery issues at environmentlawinsights.com.