Start-up receives $2.75M from SDTC to commercialize the manufacture of bioplastics from agricultural byproducts

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Sustainable Canada Technology Canada (SDTC) recently announced that it had granted $2.75 million to EcoPackers, a Canadian cleantech company that converts agricultural byproducts into 100 percent plant-based and compostable alternatives to traditional plastic inputs.

EcoPackers Leadership Team

Conceived by CEO Nuha Siddiqui during her time as president of the University of Toronto chapter of the social entrepreneurship club Enactus, Ecopackers is on a mission to reduce the world’s reliance on single-use plastics.

The Toronto-based company, developed with support from the Creative Destruction Lab, got its start manufacturing biodegradable packing peanuts made from agricultural byproducts. It has since expanded into producing eco-resins that can be used by manufacturers in place of plastic.

Unlike many existing bioplastics, Ecopackers’ resin is designed to be compatible with existing manufacturing technologies and processes.

“We were one of the only eco-focused companies out there that wasn’t going against the plastic manufacturers – we were actually trying to work with them to develop products that worked with their technology,” Siddiqui, a Rotman Commerce graduate, told U of T News.

The all-woman leadership team behind Ecopackers – which also includes chief technology officer Chang Dong and chief operating officer Kritika Tyagi – is now working on pilot products with manufacturers around the world.

About SDTC

Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) is a foundation created by the Government of Canada to support Canadian companies with the potential to become world leaders in their efforts to develop and demonstrate new environmental technologies that address climate change, clean air, clean water and clean soil.


Sudbury Councillor’s Cash for Trash Plan

A municipal Councillor from the City of Greater Sudbury is offering an incentive of cash to persons that help clean up his ward. Under Michael Vagnini’s plan, he will pay one dollar of his own money for every 10 pieces of trash picked up in his ward.

Sudbury Councillor Michael Vagnini

There are several catches to his plan. First, the cash does not go directly to the individuals who participate in the program. The money will be donated to the local food bank. Second, the upper limit of the donation is $1,000.

The Cash-for-Trash plan isn’t Councillor Vagnini’s only financial compensation plan. In the winter, he was pushing for the City to establish an emergency pot compensation program.

For persons interested in actually receiving cash for trash, the most popular one and perhaps easiest is to trade in an end-of-life vehicle to a scrap car dealer. Depending on the vehicle, one can score anywhere from $100 to $600.

Motor Oil Recycling: Barriers and Breakthroughs

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Written by Zachary Gray, B.Eng.Biosci., Chemical Engineering & Bioengineering

Motor oil changes are a sacrament in our car-obsessed modern life, while the mechanics working in the auto shops are their enforcers and evangelizers.  Every 5,000 to 8,000 kilometres, car owners begrudgingly schedule an oil change between busy work days and weekend errands.  

Primer of Motor Oil

During the 20-minute oil-change procedure, mechanics bleed the blackened, viscous motor oil from the bowels of the engine and replace it with pristine liquids from bright plastic packaging – eye-catching to some, but a far cry from the painted metal containers that furnish collector’s shelves.

Vintage Motor Oil Can, $31 (USD) on ebay

While the myriad of car oil brands available might suggest a wide variance in products, they differ only in the precise mixing of additives.  Motor lubricant is essentially 70-80% base oil with the remaining 20-30% consisting of supplements such as antioxidants, detergents, and viscosity enhancers, as well as rust inhibitors.

The quality of the motor oil degrades over time in a motor vehicle.  The build-up of debris blackens the oil, while the additive properties deteriorate over the driving cycle, dissipating heat and lubricating contact points between metal parts with less efficiency as time marches onward.  Water entrainment and oxidation of the base oil are also contributing factors.  

Changing one’s motor oil frequently, as the chorus drones on, ensures the longevity of the engine. One question remains as the mechanics dispense with the last of the used oil: what happens to it afterward?   Nothing much is often the answer. 

Motor Oil Re-refining

There are over 300 million registered vehicles in Canada and the United States alone, contributing to the nearly 2.5 billion gallons of motor oil disposed of annually throughout North America.  Of the almost 60% recovered, a mere 8% is recycled. The remainder feeds the 12 billion of gallons of lubricant reduced to toxic waste yearly.

Catastrophizing about the volumes quoted and their impact is not productive in and of itself.  Exploring ways to improve oil recycling figures is a better use of time.

In 2009, when the revered Scientific American explored whether motor oil could be recycled, the editors profiled Universal Lubricants (“UL”).  The Wichita-based company uses conventional refining techniques from upgrading crude oil when recovering the spent lubricant.  They essentially re-refine the used motor oil

UL processes over 45.4 million litres of used motor oil, or 28,600 barrels, per day.  In the re-refining process, used oil passes through a vacuum distillation unit which removes water from the base oil, accounting for 5-7% of the incoming volume. Next, contaminants are removed using an evaporation press.  In the final step, UL hydrotreats the decontaminated oil. 

Hydrotreating consists of applying high temperature and pressure (700 deg-F and 1,100 PSI) and enriching the carbon-backbone of the oil with hydrogen molecules in the presence of catalysts that aid in the chemical reactions. 

The final product resembles base oil, ready for lubricant merchants to add their additive concoctions and branding power.

Photo Credit: UL

Re-refining efforts, much like those by UL, accounts for only 10 percent of used oil management market.  The majority of used motor oil is either burned or dumped, depending on the jurisdiction and level of enforcement.  The emergence of re-refining technologies has done little in altering the outcome for spent motor oil — but why?

Barriers to Recycling

There are two main barriers to a broader adaptation of re-refining used motor oil.  The first is the capital expense in building and operating a facility on UL’s scale.  Investors should expect a final bill of tens of millions of dollars in replicating UL’s plant in Canada.  Recovering their investment is another issue: refineries derive their profits either from large volumes, amplifying small gains per unit of measurement, or upgrading cheaper base stocks.  With respect to the latter point, one could argue that the used motor oil would be a commodity instead of merely a waste product with broader market adaptation.  Such a classification diminishes the facility’s economic viability.

The second barrier to re-refining is the plant’s environmental impact.  A re-refiner has a similar environmental impact as an oil refinery.  To understand how difficult it is to get environmental approval for an oil refinery, one need to realize that the newest oil refinery in Canada is over 30 years old.

Canadian Innovation

Besides re-refining, there are innovative and arguably more feasible solutions for recycling motor oil in development.  The Ottawa-based MemPore Environmental Technologies Inc. (“MemPore”) is one such example, scaling their locally-minded, membrane-based process.

MemPore’s solution is this: the used motor oil is kept in 5,000-gallon settling tanks and periodically shipped to their regionally-based operation.  The central locations reduce the amount of pollution from transporting oil over longer distances and eases logistical challenges.  After removing contaminants during the pretreatment process, consisting of a filter, centrifuge, and flash evaporators, the oil is sent to the membrane unit.  Once polished to a quality consistent with a regular base oil, lubricant mixers take the final product and infuse it with their additives.

Cement kilns take the waste sludge separated by the membrane. The 15 metric tonnes, or 148 barrels, per day system operates at low temperatures and pressures, thus reducing its running costs and environmental impact.

Mempore Used Oil Recycling System

Alastair Samson, MemPore’s CEO, eloquently summarizes the company’s position and value proposition:

“The MemPore System can, for the first time, recover and recycle this base oil with 71% reduction in pollution, from localized systems, using low energy, and at low capital and operating cost. This is an important contribution to the clean technology movement and the preservation of earth’s natural resources.”

MemPore’s community-centric and scalable solution, with the potential for handsome profit margins, offers a tangible solution to the endemic squandering of used motor oil.  They also provide the mechanics a new hymn during drivers’ reluctant excursion to the auto body shop.

Ecolomondo secures $32 million loan to finance Thermal Decomposition Facility


Ecolomondo Environmental (Hawkesbury) Inc., a subsidiary of Ecolomondo Corporation (TSXV: ECM)  recently announced that it entered into a loan agreement for $32.1 million in project financing with Export Development Canada (EDC), the proceeds of which are to be used to build the Company’s new, first of its kind turnkey Thermal Decomposition (TDP) facility that will be located in the Town of Hawkesbury, Ontario.

The Town of Hawkebury, where the TDP facility will be built is located on the Ottawa River, half way between the Cities of Ottawa and Montreal.

Once built and fully operational, this turnkey TDP facility is expected to process a minimum of 14,000 tons of tire waste per year and to produce 5,300 tons of recycled carbon black, 42,700 barrels of oil, 1,800 tons of steel and 1,600 tons of process gas.

Management now expects to break ground by June 2019 and to begin commissioning of the TDP facility in the first quarter of 2020, as originally scheduled.

“Ecolomondo is proud to conclude this loan agreement for this innovative project and proud to do so with an extremely professional organization such as Export Development Canada. EDC will be a key player in the commercialization of our cleantech proprietary technology and in doing so EDC is supporting the development of Ecolomondo’s future expansion both in Canada and overseas”, said Elio Sorella, President and CEO, Ecolomondo.

About EDC

Export Development Canada (EDC) is a financial Crown corporation dedicated to helping Canadian companies of all sizes succeed on the world stage. As international risk experts, EDC equips Canadian companies with the tools they need – the trade knowledge, financing solutions, investments, insurance, and connections – to take on the world with confidence. Underlying all EDC support is a commitment to sustainable and responsible business.

About Ecolomondo Corporation

Ecolomondo is a cleantech Canadian company that is commercializing its waste-to-products technology. The Thermal Decomposition Process (TDP) converts hydrocarbon waste into marketable commodity end-products, namely carbon black substitute, oil, gas and steel. Technologies such as Ecolomondo’s are expected to play an important role in resource recovery needed in today’s circular economy.

The Company’s main revenues will come from the sale of TDP turnkey facilities and royalties from their operations. TDP facilities will generate revenues from the sale of end-products, tipping fees and carbon credits. Ecolomondo’s first focus is to market TDP turnkey facilities that use scrap tires as a feedstock, because scrap tires yield end-products with a higher commercial value, especially the recycled carbon black.

Pyrowave, Polystyvert and GreenMantra receive National Attention for Polystyrene Recycling

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Emily Chung, Science and Technology Journalist at the CBC, recently wrote a profile article on three Canadian cleantech companies – Pyrowave, Polystyvert, and Green Mantra – that recycle polystyrene.

What is Polystyrene?

Polystyrene is a versatile plastic used to make a wide variety of consumer products. As a hard, solid plastic, it is often used in products that require clarity, such as food packaging and laboratory ware. When combined with various colorants, additives or other plastics, polystyrene is used to make appliances, electronics, automobile parts, toys, gardening pots and equipment and more.

Polystyrene also is made into a foam material, called expanded polystyrene (EPS) or extruded polystyrene (XPS), which is valued for its insulating and cushioning properties. Foam polystyrene can be more than 95 percent air and is widely used to make home and appliance insulation, lightweight protective packaging, surfboards, foodservice and food packaging, automobile parts, roadway and roadbank stabilization systems and more.

Only 35 per cent of Canadian communities accept styrofoam in their recycling programs, according to the Canadian Plastics Industry Association.

The word Styrofoam™ is often used to describe expanded polystyrene (EPS)foam; however, ‘Styrofoam’ is actually a trademarked term for closed-cell extrudedpolystyrene foam made for thermal insulation and craft applications.

The main problem with polystyrene is it’s not cost-effective to collect a material that’s so bulky and light, and breaks apart so easily, contaminating other recyclables. And there aren’t a lot of buyers once it’s collected. Many jurisdictions across Canada have to effectively pay companies to take it.

A recent report from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce found that, in 2012, 80 per cent of styrofoam waste in Canada, more than 6,500 tonnes, ended up in landfills or waterways.

That’s because most communities don’t recycle it — just 35 per cent accept polystyrene in their recycling programs, according to the Canadian Plastics Industry Association.

It’s even worse in the United States, which recycled less than four per cent of its polystyrene containers and packaging in 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency reports.


Pyrowave has its Ontario headquarters in Oakville and its R&D facility in Montreal. The Pyrowave technology is a cost effective Waste-to-Feedstock technology that recycles mixed plastic waste. The company’s unique approach uses a local conversion that unzips plastics back to their initial constituents that can later be re-used to make virgin polymers and packaging.

Pyrowave’s patented technology is Catalytic Microwave Depolymerization (CMD) which uses microwaves to perform fast de-polymerization of mixed plastics with small-scale modular units capable of treating 400-1,200 tons/year on-site. The equipment converts mixed plastics with or without food contamination into predominantly oil containing valuable waxes and monomers. The products are sold to chemical companies that re-use the monomers and waxes for FDA compliant applications and therefore cost effectively closes the loop of polymers life cycle

At Pyrowave’s plant, microwaves are used to break polystyrene molecules down into styrene. (Pyrowave)

The machine can process between 50 and 100 kg per cycle and each cycle lasts 30 minutes. The modular approach allows the operator to operate many units.

Pyrowave estimates its recycling process can produce polystyrene with a tenth of the energy and half the greenhouse gas emissions of polystyrene made directly from oil, and says it can sell its styrene at a price that’s competitive with “virgin” styrene produced from crude oil.


Polystyvert is a Montreal-based company that has developed a breakthrough technology for recycling polystyrene, using a dissolution process that works on all types of polystyrene: expanded, extruded and injection-moulded. The resulting recycled product is of very high quality and can easily be re-extruded or re-injected, allowing many applications to incorporate 100% recycled materials.

Polystyvert’s recycled polystyrene retains the same properties as virgin polystyrene, since the solvent does not modify the polymer in any way. Moreover, the processes are carried out at a low temperature, which keeps the molecular chain of polystyrene intact. This enables Polystyvert to attain a high-quality recycled product.

The company supplies solvent-containing concentrators to companies that can be placed on-site. By dissolving styrofoam before transportation, it says it can put 10 times more styrofoam in the same truck.

Once dissolved, it can be resolidified with another solvent, and washed and filtered multiple times to remove contaminants before being reformed into polystyrene pellets. Those can be turned back into styrofoam.

The solvents can be recycled and reused repeatedly, and so can the styrofoam itself.

Polystyvert opened a Montreal demonstration plant in June 2018 that can process 125 kilograms of polystyrene per hour or 800 tonnes a year. It gets its polystyrene from both municipalities and companies such as fridge distributors.

The polystyrene it produces is currently being sold to a company that makes insulation.


GreenMantra is located in Brantford, Ontario. The company produces value-added synthetic waxes, polymer additives, and other chemicals from recycled plastics. The company uses its proprietary and patented catalytic depolymerization technology to convert polystyrene and other plastics into materials that are more valuable than the original plastic.

The company claims to be the first in the world to upcycle post-consumer and post-industrial recycled plastics into synthetic polymers and additives that meet specific performance requirements for industrial applications.

GreenMantra manufacturing facility in Brantford, Ontario

Unlike Pyrowave and Polystyvert, which are getting their raw materials for free, GreenMantra says it is choosing to actually pay money for some of the waste polystyrene it will be getting from companies and municipalities.

Next Steps

At the moment, Pyrowave, Polystyvert and GreenMantra are operating on a relatively small scale as they take measurements and tweak their technology. Polystyvert, for one, says it’s getting more offers of free styrofoam waste than it can handle.

Pennsylvania recycling facility part of pilot program to accept flexible plastic packaging

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J.P. Mascaro and Sons, a Pennsylvania-based recycling company, recently declared itself ready to be the first recycling plant in the United States operating a pilot program that accepts plastic shopping bags as part of the usual recycling stream.

The experiment, which Mascaro hopes will start in the late spring at its TotalRecycle Inc. plant near Birdsboro PA, “could revolutionize the recycling industry,” the company claimed.

Shopping bags and other forms of container products known to the recycling trade as “flexible plastic packaging” are generally banned from curbside recycling collections, such as those Mascaro now conducts weekly across many municipalities. Some packaging contains quantities of recyclable paper that contaminate the plastic, and some recycling sorters now in use cannot accommodate flexible material.

J.P. Mascaro & Sons is part of a two-year pilot program to recycle plastic packaging (i.e., grocery store bags)

There are several advantages flexible plastic packaging has over other packaging materials. It is durable, less costly to manufacture, and lighter and easier to transport. That makes it an ideal choice for all kinds of businesses. So far though, according to Mascaro, the bulk of such plastic has ended up in landfills.

It hopes the pilot program will change that. New machinery at the heart of the project can detect and separate flexibles from other recyclables. Company spokesman Frank Sau proclaimed the additional equipment “is to recycling machinery what the Ferarri is to automobiles.” It’s already been installed at the two-year-old facility in Exeter Township (above), and is being tested “to work out the bugs.”

The plant processes 20,000 tons of recyclables each month. Adding flexibles would grow its volume. Estimates indicate TotalRecycle will produce 3,100 tons annually of high-quality post-consumer flexibles’ feedstock for new end-market uses.

Mascaro is working in a joint effort with “Materials Recovery for the Future,” a research group of leading retail brands, manufacturers, and packaging companies that have a vested interest in flexibles’ recovery and recycling. The pilot is being supervised by Resource Recycling Systems, an Ann Arbor MI recycling consulting firm.

The company hasn’t formally decided which municipality in Berks or Montgomery County, that is under contract with Mascaro and uses “covered recycling trash cans,” will be selected as ground zero for single-stream curbside recycling of flexibles. The need for covered recycling would seem to rule out Lower Pottsgrove as a test location; its recycling bins are open and uncovered.

Mascaro is thinking beyond the test, too. “We plan to roll (out) this program to all our residential customers in two years from inception,” Sau said. Company officials believe its results will prove the economic feasibility of including flexibles with other recyclables, and keep them out of landfills.

PureCycle Technologies finds Partners to Accelerate its Revolutionary Plastics Recycling Process

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PureCycle Technologies, headquartered in Chicago, recently announcing it has partnered with global industrial manufacturer, Milliken & Company, and the world’s largest food and beverage company, Nestlé S.A., as it moves forward with plans to open its first plant to restore used polypropylene (PP) plastic to ‘virgin-like’ quality with a revolutionary recycling method.

PureCycle’s patented recycling process, developed and licensed by Procter & Gamble (P&G), separates color, odor and other contaminants from plastic waste feedstock to transform it into virgin-like resin. Milliken, whose additives will play a critical role in reinvigorating recycled polypropylene, has formed an exclusive supply relationship with PureCycle to help solve the plastics end-of-life challenge. Nestlé is working with PureCycle to develop new packaging materials that help avoid plastic waste, in line with the company’s commitment to make 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025.

“These partners are helping us accelerate as we bring this solution to the market,” said Mike Otworth, CEO of PureCycle Technologies. “This is a validation of our method, and it will help us continue to move even more quickly as we make plastics recycling a reality.”

Bringing both consumer market knowledge and technical expertise, Milliken and Nestlé help PureCycle work towards delivering the world’s first virgin-like recycled polypropylene. “The use of Milliken’s additives will help to ensure that PureCycle’s Ultra Pure Recycled Polypropylene (UPRP) is of the highest quality and adds the maximum value to brand owners and consumers. We believe that this partnership will further differentiate PureCycle as both a leading reclaimer and producer of polypropylene,” continues Otworth.

“Milliken understands that creating a sustainable future requires meaningful collaboration with other industry pioneers,” said Halsey Cook, president and CEO of Milliken & Company. “We believe PureCycle’s technology combined with Milliken’s leading plastic additives provide a transformative opportunity to elevate the viability of recycled polypropylene and help solve the plastics end-of-life challenge.”

With technology licensed from P&G, PureCycle is in the midst of building the first plant in Lawrence County, Ohio, that will recycle 119 million pounds of polypropylene, producing over 105 million pounds per year starting in 2021. The momentum created by these new relationships is enabling PureCycle to open the plant’s feedstock evaluation unit, which processes multiple variations of feedstock (waste polypropylene) to optimize plant 1 and subsequent plants.

Today, about 20 percent of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is commonly used to make plastic bottles and other consumer goods, is recycled. By contrast, less than 1 percent of polypropylene plastic is currently recycled. PureCycle is the first company to solely focus on recycling and reintegrating polypropylene upstream to highly sensitive consumer product applications, which are used in food and beverage packaging, consumer good packaging, automobile interiors, electronics, home furnishings, and many other products.

PureCycle Technologies will make high-quality, recycled PP widely available for purchase across industries. This technology demonstrates P&G’s commitment to sustainability and helps in achieving P&G’s recycling goals – doubling the use of recycled resin in plastic packaging and ensuring 90 percent of product packaging is either recyclable or programs are in place to create the ability to recycle it. PureCycle’s technology supports P&G’s vision of using 100 percent recycled or renewable materials and having zero consumer waste go to landfills.

Post-consumer plastic recycled using traditional methods (left) and using PureCycle’s process (right)

“Our approach to innovation not only includes products and packaging, but technologies that allow us and others to have a positive impact on our environment. This technology has the capacity to revolutionize the plastics recycling industry by enabling P&G and companies around the world to tap into sources of recycled plastics that deliver nearly identical performance and properties as virgin materials in a broad range of applications,” said Kathy Fish, Chief Research, Development and Innovation Officer, Procter & Gamble.

Image Source: P&G

The global polypropylene market is valued at more than $80 billion, according to Transparency Market research, and is on track to reach $133.3 billion by 2023. The Association of Plastics Recyclers (APR) has identified 1 billion pounds of recycled polypropylene demand in North America alone. The majority of that demand is for ‘high-quality’ recycled polypropylene, APR has said.

Quebec-based Waste Robotics firm receives $1.4 million in government funding

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Waste Robotics, headquartered in Trois-Rivieres QC, recently recieved $1.4 million in Canadian government funding to support the development of its
robotic garbage sorter. The funding is being provided by Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), which works with Canadian companies to bring clean technologies to market.

Waste Robotics is developing a sorting system that uses cutting-edge technology and artificial intelligence to separate commercial waste more efficiently and cost-effectively. The system will consist of a high-capacity, multi-arm robot sorting system. The system will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by diverting tens of thousands of tonnes of organic material from landfills every year.

The government support will further Waste Robotics’ effort to become a world leader in robotic waste and recycling sorting solutions. A government spokesperson said during the news conference to announce the funding that small and medium-sized businesses like Waste Robotics play an important role in the clean technology market, driving the economy and helping us meet our climate change goals.

The Government of Canada is making cleantech a priority in order to secure Canada’s international leadership position in this fast-growing market. Waste Robotics is an example of a clean technology company that is supporting growth and creating jobs, while helping to protect our environment.

During the funding announcement new conference, Eric Camirand, founder and CEO of Waste Robotics, stated: “Waste Robotics develops intelligent sorting systems that are revolutionizing the waste recycling industry and contributing in a significant way to sustainable development. We are very pleased to be able to benefit from the support of SDTC to demonstrate our technologies under real commercial conditions, thus strengthening the growth of Waste Robotics.”

Leah Lawrence, President and CEO of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) attended the funding announcement and stated: “Everyone knows what it’s like to recycle waste in their home. This robot will help cities do it on a massive scale in a really cool, high-tech way, resulting in less garbage in our landfills.”

Sustainable Development Technology Canada helps Canadian entrepreneurs develop and demonstrate new environmental technologies that address climate change, clean air, clean water and clean soil challenges.

Dressing the problem: Textile Waste in Canada

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By Zachary Gray, B.Eng. Biosci., Chemical & Bioengineering

Canadians dispense with their frayed, used clothing by the millions of tons each year.  Good Samaritans flood noble ventures, including the Salvation Army Thrift Stores and Goodwill Services, with their worn textiles, while some consumers exchange their threads for in-store vouchers with fast fashion lines, such as H&M, keeping their closets and racks well stocked.  The hope is that these used clothes will be recycled or given a second lease on life, inspiring joy in another person that only an excellent pair of second-hand jeans can.  The reality, however, is bleaker.  For convenience, many will deposit their clothes in the trash, while only a fraction of the donated items will find their way onto other people’s backs, while another minuscule sum replenishes the country’s supply of polishing cloths and carpet fibres.  Most of the time, the used garments are landfilled.  Therein lays the problem — and the opportunity — for recycling textiles in Canada.

The Current Situation

Textile recycling in Canada is in need of resuscitation: The country’s current trajectory is as environmentally damaging as it poorly understood.  For context, landfilling claims 85% of the wearable textiles and 99% of non-wearable ones, such as shoes and towels. The thoughtful donations and in-store voucher trade-ins, packaged in bulk and either sold in local thrift shops or abroad are usually of poor quality and are promptly thrown out.  African countries, such as Kenya, where an estimated 80% of the population wear second-hand clothing were once popular destinations for Canadian’s used clothing.  They are now imposing steep tariffs to curb the increasing amount of textile waste imported and thrown almost immediately into their landfills.  What is more, recycling used clothing has been a technically challenging and economically ruinous venture, at least up until this point in time.  In sum, either directly or not, the average Canadian tosses away some 37 kilograms of textiles per annum.

Textile Bans and Environmental Impacts

The cities of Markham, ON and Brandon, MB banned textiles from their respective garbage collections in an attempt to curb higher volumes of fabric from further occupying landfill space.  Vancouver, BC is weighing a similar decision.  

However, the problem continues to grow as consumption levels climb, and the consequences are farther reaching than landfill occupancy and degradation by-products.  Clothing production doubled worldwide between the years 2000 and 2014, while consumers purchase 60% more textile products and keep them for half the time.  For context, the average Canadian now buys 72 textiles items annually.  

As Canadians’ tastes for textiles increases, so too are the demands on its supply chain, placing further stress on sourcing raw materials as well as water and power consumption.  Textile fibres spun and manufactured from crops, such as cotton and hemp, and synthetics, including acrylics, nylons, and polyesters, each has its own carbon footprint.  For example, polyesters generate 9.52 kg-CO2 for every ton made, while conventionally farmed, non-organic, cotton and hemp produce 5.09 and 4.05, respectively.  

Image courtesy of Waste Reduction Week in Canada.

There are additional environmental costs in manufacturing synthetic fibres. For instance, processes making nylon products emit significant quantities of nitrous oxides, which are approximately 300 times worse in terms of their greenhouse gas potency.  The electricity demands placed on the power grid for processing the textile fibres are immense.  Spinning, knitting, and weaving are all energy-intensive steps, as are driving a facility’s air conditioning systems, pumps, and compressors.  Analysts estimate that the textile business consumes one trillion kilowatt hours annually worldwide.  

The water consumed, and often treated with dyes and other chemicals, in making textiles is commensurately high.  In illustrating the point, a single cotton shirt uses 2,700 litres of water while a pair of jeans uses 6,800.  A World Bank reported estimated that textile manufacturing accounts for 17-20% of the industrial water pollution globally.  

This tallying of textile’s environmental impacts does not include the considerable land requirements both for production, but more importantly, disposal, nor the industry’s complex socioeconomic, possibly exploitive, relationship with labour forces, many of whom are women in developing countries.  Given the high demands placed on energy production and commodities, as well as the vast sums overrunning landfills, Canadians’ relationship with textiles is unsustainable and needs readjustment.

Change is Happening

A paradigm shift leveraging multiple strategies can help Canadian reorient their increasing demands for textiles.  Encouraging changes in consumer habits and possibly embracing new recycling technologies are two options.

Canadians recycle approximately 15% of wearable and 1% of non-wearable textiles each year.  Polishing and cleaning cloths account for 20% of the amount recovered, while fibre insulations claim another 26%.  

Innovative Companies

Canadian Textile Recycling Ltd. based in Burlington, Ontario is an example of a start-up business furthering the cause of textile recycling.  They are perfecting their WOOLTEX sorting system, adeptly refashioning used clothes into cleaning cloths and shipping reusable items abroad.  Theoretically, the majority of textiles are recyclable or reusable, but neither has been economical.  Together blended cotton, composed mostly of bleached cellulose, and polyester fibres are worth little, but invaluable separately.  Thermally separating complex fibre blends have been economically infeasible until recently.

Several new ventures are focusing on textile recycling.  The UK-based Worn Again Technologies secured investment of $8.8 million for scaling their textile decontamination and polyester extraction platform solution.  The start-up’s brain trust from the University of Cambridge believes there are enough textiles and plastic water bottles in circulation to supply various industries’ raw material needs.

Purified cotton waste garments are shredded and then extruded into a fibre for reuse in new clothing

The Seattle-based Evrnu is another ascending textile recycling start-up.  Their technology regenerates fibres at the molecular level suitable for new manufacturing. Evrnu recently secured venture capital financing from the Closed Loop Cycle Fund, a heavyweight in the clean-technology investment space, in recognition — and hope — for their company’s economic viability.
Levi Strauss & Co. sells the world’s blue jeans made from regenerated post-consumer cotton waste fibres from Evrnu.

Outside of clothing, Quebec’s Victor Innovatex’s Eco Intelligent Polyester (“EIP”) is a cradle-to-cradle furniture textile made from recycled plastics.  The company estimates that their EIP textile, generated using their antimony-free catalyst technology, reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 80% in comparison to using virgin polyesters while creating a sustainable product ecosystem.

Adjusting consumer behaviour throughout the cycle of buying, wearing, and disposing can have a significant impact.  Part of the problem is fast fashion brands making inexpensive, easily disposable garments that are difficult to repair and even harder to recycle due to their poor quality.  There is a correlation between the rise of fast fashion and the growth of the middle-class and their incomes, negating the argument that purchasing higher quality items is out of reach for most consumers.  Consumers’ dollars are pushing the market, not the other way around.  The British government recently announced that they are considering a tax on fast fashion items, with the hope of dampening consumer activity in that market segment.

Aside from choosing higher-quality clothing, selecting brands that purposefully reduce waste is additionally beneficial.  Picking designers with zero waste, such as the St. James brand from Queen’s, NY, also helps.  The Toronto-based twins Alex and Lindsay Lorusso have taken the concept of zero waste clothing a step further with Nudnik, their fashion line for children.  Nudnik makes fun and affordable apparel from other clothing manufacturers’ scraps and discarded fragments, essentially making the brand negative-waste. Nudnik and St. James’s concepts are forward-thinking and straightforward, yet they too shall eventually go.

Nudnik t-shirt made entirely from off-cut fabrics and end-of-roll threads 

While vast sums of donated clothing find their way to the landfill, many people throw their old clothes away instead of letting a charitable organization or recycling service evaluate them.  The fact remains that considerable volumes of trash-destined textiles are reusable.  The reasons are many, but one in particular is that donation bins in larger urban centres are sparse.  Vancouver’s Revify is addressing bin scarcity in their city by partnering with high-rise condominiums and eliminating the convenience factor of filing away old clothing in the trash.  Recycling can happen in other ways, too.  Community-wide clothing swaps and drives are also viable strategies in furthering one’s original purchases: someone else can enjoy them; this tactic applies to other textiles as well.

Textile waste is an issue we wear, sleep with, and have little concept of.  Canadians are less able to export the problem as it consumes land, resources, and money.  And while a magic bullet solution for textile recycling is a lovely idea, most technologies are in their infancy; people must rethink their relationship with clothes and fabric during the interim period of unwittingly purgatorial proportions — if only they knew.

About the Author

Zachary Gray graduated from McMaster University with a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering & Bioengineering.  He has worked with several early-stage cleantech and agri-industrial companies since completing his studies, while remaining an active member of his community.  He is enthusiastic about topics that combine innovation, entrepreneurism, and social impact.

Hamilton city council backtracks on plan to hear about alternative recycling options

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The City Council in Hamilton, Ontario recently decided not to pursue a tender for Expression of Interest for (EOI) alternative recycling options. A week earlier, Council had voted in favour of issuing an EOI.

The driver for the original motion was an unsolicited offer from AmaLaTerra Inc. that proposed a plan to transform the city’s plastic waste into green energy through a “steam reformation” processor. The President of AmaLaTerra Inc. is Mike Miscio. He is also a partner at the Bradam Energies, a company formed in 2012 that holds the patent on the steam reformation technology.

Mr. Miscio told city Councillors that any sort of waste can go inside its processor, including plastic and tires. Any emissions are “well below” provincial emissions standards, he said. The emissions are half “very, very green hydrogen,” he said, while the rest is “methane and carbons,” all of which can be used to produce electricity.

Bradam Energies acquired the assets and intellectual capital of technology of Elementa Group in April 2016 and has since been developing commercial project opportunities globally.

Elementa Group built and operated a pilot gasification facility in Sault Ste. Marie. The facility operated a successfully converted up to 3-tonnes per day of municipal solid waste to syngas from 2007 until 2011. The company had an agreement with the City to build a full-scale facility but was unable to raise the $50 million to build it.

The Bradam patented steam reformation process and facility design provide an environmentally responsible way to reform any organic waste into synthesis gas (“Syngas”) for production of electricity using turbines, pipeline grade renewable or synthetic natural gas, hydrogen, or the Syngas can be converted to biofuels (diesel & jet fuel) using Fischer Tropsch technology.

The patented process is a combustion-free chemical reduction process with no oxidation yielding a high quality BTU value Syngas, which is different than incineration and combustion processes.

The reversal on its decision was based partly on Hamilton Councillors re-thinking recycling in the City. Instead of end-of-pipe solutions, City Councillors thought upstream efforts as reduction should be the focus of the City.

The use of steam reformation to manage plastic recyclables would likely be off-side of the Ontario government’s 3Rs policy. In the Province, energy recovery from waste and recyclables is not considered recycling. In late 2016, Ontario proclaimed the Waste Free Ontario Act, comprising the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act and the Waste Diversion Transition Act. At the heart of the legislation is the idea that producers should be responsible for the end-of-life management of their products and packaging.

In the meantime, city staff will go ahead with the standard request for proposals from providers to handle Hamilton’s recyclables after the current contract expires in March 2020.

Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger proposed the city send a letter to the provincial government asking it to follow through with the Waste Free Ontario Act, which was established by the previous Liberal government and would compel manufacturers to use recyclable packaging. The mayor’s motion was passed by City Council.