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Australian City Looking at Smarter Approach to Waste Management

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The City of Canterbury Bankston in Australia recently received $2 million in funding under Australia’s Smart Cities and Suburbs Program to work on a project called Closing the Loop on Waste.  Under the project, the city will investigate how it can deliver superior waste management customer service to residents using technology.

These City’s waste management team face several challenges in their quest to manage city waste effectively and efficiently. Other city officials may also relate to the following challenges:

Manual Process: The process of picking up and inspecting waste bins is very manual with little automation, which makes it quite time-consuming.

Real-Time Issues: The process is not well equipped to deal with real-time operations. For example, if an urgent job comes in, it requires phone calls to find someone who can handle it. There is also not a very good view of where all the trucks are in real-time throughout the day.

Data Accuracy: The city knows how many properties they service, but not exactly how many bins are picked up. Bins are also inspected manually, which can result in data errors.

Communication with the Community: The system currently doesn’t allow for proactive communication with citizens to let them know what is happening; instead, they react to citizen requests after they come in, which have to come in by phone call because online/mobile reporting is not set up.

The overall focus of the project is to improve waste management by using things like GPS for trucks, cameras, sensors, and artificial intelligence. Thinking big picture, the Waste Management Team for the City is also looking into how the data they gather in this project can improve other aspects of the City. Although the project is about waste management and sustainability, the main goal is always to improve the overall operations and quality of life in the city. Specific results that Closing the Loop on Waste will hope to achieve include the following:

  • Use advanced analytics to detect bin contamination, identify when waste bins have been missed, and investigate illegal dumping

  • Upgrade residents’ access to information regarding bin collections days and other programmed services

  • Use GPS data and live traffic information, to minimize potential delays on collection routes

  • Enable residents to request services or report incidents, via a real-time and customized format, that takes into account the diversity of the local community

  • Provide residents with notifications, when jobs they’ve requested are completed

  • Enable residents and organisations to upload images of dumped rubbish, which can be assessed before removal

Smart Cities group

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.

Global Companies form an Alliance to End Plastic Waste

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Nearly 30 major global companies have joined together to form an Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) and have committed over $1.0 billion to develop, deploy and bring to scale solutions to reduce and manage such waste, and to promote post-use solutions. The companies, which span the entire plastics value chain, expect to invest $1.5 billion over the next five years.

The alliance is being chaired by David Taylor, president and CEO of Procter & Gamble (multi-national consumer goods corporation). The Vice President of the AEPW is Bob Patel, CEO of LyondellBasell (one of the largest plastics, chemicals and refining companies in the world).

In addition to Procter & Gamble, AEPW has drawn other big guns from across the value chain. Other founding companies – from throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East – include BASF, Berry Global, Braskem, Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LLC, Clariant, Covestro, Dow, DSM, ExxonMobil, Formosa Plastics Corporation USA, Henkel, Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, Mitsui Chemicals, NOVA Chemicals, OxyChem, PolyOne, Reliance Industries, SABIC, Sasol, SUEZ, Shell, SCG Chemicals, Sumitomo Chemical, Total, Veolia, and Versalis (Eni).

The Alliance is a not-for-profit organization that includes companies that make, use, sell, process, collect, and recycle plastics. This includes chemical and plastic manufacturers, consumer goods companies, retailers, converters, and waste management companies, also known as the plastics value chain. The Alliance has been working with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development as a founding strategic partner. The Alliance today also announced an initial set of projects and collaborations that reflect a range of solutions to help end plastic waste:

With participation from chemical and plastic manufacturers, consumer goods companies, retailers, converters, and waste management companies, the alliance membership has representation across the entire plastics value chain. The alliance has also been working with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development as a founding strategic partner

In the months ahead, the Alliance will make additional investments and drive progress in four key areas:

  • Infrastructure development to collect and manage waste and increase recycling;
  • Innovation to advance and scale new technologies that make recycling and recovering plastics easier and create value from all post-use plastics;
  • Education and engagement of governments, businesses, and communities to mobilize action; and,
  • Clean up of concentrated areas of plastic waste already in the environment, particularly the major conduits of waste, like rivers, that carry land-based plastic waste to the sea.

The Alliance also announced an initial set of projects and collaborations that reflect a range of solutions to help end plastic waste. Initial projects and collaborations include:

  • Partnering with cities to design integrated waste management systems in large urban areas where infrastructure is lacking, especially those along the rivers that transport large amounts of plastic waste from land to the ocean.
  • Funding The Incubator Network by Circulate Capital to develop and promote technologies, business models and entrepreneurs that prevent ocean plastic waste and improve waste management and recycling, with the intention of creating a pipeline of projects for investment; the initial focus area will be Southeast Asia.
  • Developing an open source, science-based global information project to support waste management projects globally with reliable data collection, metrics, standards, and methodologies to help governments, companies, and investors accelerate actions to stop plastic waste from entering the environment.
  • Creating a capacity building collaboration with intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations to conduct joint workshops and trainings for government officials and community leaders to help identify and pursue the most effective solutions.
  • Supporting Renew Oceansto aid localized investment and engagement. The program is designed to capture plastic waste before it reaches the ocean from the ten major rivers shown to carry the vast majority of land-based waste to the ocean. The initial work will support the Renew Ganga project, which has also received support from the National Geographic Society.

The alliance will focus on collaboration and coordinated efforts across the value chain, working on projects focused on near-term progress as well as those that require major investments with longer timelines. “Addressing plastic waste in the environment and developing a circular economy of plastics requires the participation of everyone across the entire value chain and the long term commitment of businesses, governments, and communities. No one country, company or community can solve this on their own,” says Veolia CEO Antoine Frérot, a vice chairman of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste.

Research from the Ocean Conservancy shows that nearly 80 percent of plastic waste in the ocean begins as litter on land, the vast majority of which travels to the sea by rivers. In fact one study estimates that over 90 percent of river borne plastic in the ocean comes from 10 major rivers around the world – eight in Asia, and two in Africa. Sixty percent of plastic waste in the ocean can be sourced to five countries in Southeast Asia.

For more information, please visit www.endplasticwaste.org