One Thing We Can Do: Fix Recycling

Recycling in the United States [and Canada] is broken.

For years, we relied heavily on recycling operations in China to take our waste. But that came to an end in 2018, when Beijing barred the import of recycling materials. The result is a waste crisis that has caused at least dozens of municipalities to cancel curbside recycling programs, with many more implementing partial cuts. Huge amounts of recyclables are now going to landfills.

“When the biggest export market is no longer willing to accept your material, there’s an imbalance between supply and demand,” said David Biderman, the executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America. “That’s just Economics 101.”

So, how can we fix the system?

Experts say that we would need to implement changes across the board. Legislators may need to pass laws requiring manufacturers to use more recyclable materials, companies would need to build much-needed recycling infrastructure and people would need to recycle properly.

Cities can’t do all that. But they can play an important role.

For a possible model, consider San Francisco, which runs one of the most successful waste-management programs in the United States. Through recycling and composting, the city manages to keep around 80 percent of its waste out of landfills.

That’s much higher than the American average. In 2017, the year before the Chinese ban, American cities were recycling and composting about 35 percent of their waste. Europeans do a bit better, keeping almost half of their municipal trash out of landfills on average.

San Francisco’s program has been years in the making. In 2000, it introduced the “fantastic three” citywide curbside collection program with separate, color-coded bins for recyclables, compost and trash. In 2009, it passed a law requiring residents and businesses to separate their waste.

City inspectors monitor bins to ensure that residents sort their waste correctly and leave tags if materials are found in the wrong bin. They can impose fines if they find repeat offenders.

Other policies include bans on hard-to-recycle items including single-use plastic bags and polystyrene packaging and an ordinance requiring food vendors to use compostable or recyclable food containers.
San Francisco’s system is built on a highly unusual partnership with a single waste company. That company, Recology, has had a monopoly on handling San Francisco’s waste for almost 90 years. That no-bid, no-franchise-fee concession has come under harsh criticism over the years.

Critics say that the city could save tens of millions of dollars if it were to break up Recology’s monopoly and award waste collection and processing contracts separately.

Supporters say, why mess with a system that gets results? Having a monopoly avoids a “race to the bottom,” said Robert Haley, zero-waste manager at the San Francisco Department of the Environment, as companies cut corners to win short-term contracts instead of focusing on broader waste reduction goals.

No matter where you stand on issues like regulation and market competition, the Chinese ban means that the United States recycling system needs an overhaul.

But that might not be as bad as it sounds, Mr. Biderman said.

“The ban is a challenge for recycling programs in the United States,” he said. “But it also creates huge opportunities to invest in domestic infrastructure to receive recovered material.” SOURCE

Norway recycles 97% of its plastic bottles: a blueprint for the rest of the world?

The Infinitum bottle deposit hub recycles 97 per cent of Norway’s plastic drinks bottles, almost all to such a high standard that they can be turned back into bottles. Should the world follow suit to help tackle the menace of plastic pollution?

Image result for positive news: Norway recycles 97% of its plastic bottles: a blueprint for the rest of the world?

A six-metre-long whale washed up on the shores of the Norwegian island of Sotra in 2017. Emaciated and in terrible health, zoologists decided it had to be put down. They found 30 plastic objects in the stomach of this Cuvier’s beaked whale, including sweet wrappers and plastic bread bags, with labels written in Danish and English.

Plastic waste kills more than 100,000 sea mammals and a million birds each year globally. It is little surprise because, according to the UN Environment Programme, the world currently produces 480bn new plastic bottles annually. It all has to go somewhere, and the equivalent of a lorry load is dumped into the sea every minute.

To explore a potential solution, I’m in a warehouse on the outskirts of Oslo. It’s home to an organisation called Infinitum, which runs Norway’s collection scheme for plastic bottles and cans. The topic might not carry the pizzazz of rocket science or the wonder of deep sea exploration, but Infinitum means that a startling 97 per cent of all plastic drinks bottles in Norway are recycled – and 92 per cent of these to such a high standard that they are used to make more bottles. Some bottles have been recycled more than 50 times already.

This is because the system is strictly controlled: glue, cap and even label materials are checked and a small amount of virgin material is added. As its name suggests, the team at Infinitum wants to create a never-ending loop of plastic reuse.

“We are the world’s most efficient system,” says Sten Nerland, director of logistics and operations. “As an environmental company you might think we should try to avoid plastic, but if you treat it efficiently and recycle it, plastic is one of the best products to use: light, malleable and it’s cheap.”

The main warehouse is a tempestuous ocean of noise. Machines crunch, rattle, squeak and grind 24 hours a day, processing some 1,500 containers – or 160 tonnes of material each day. “It smells like Sunday morning in a student’s bedroom,” Nerland grins, as forklift trucks swarm around carrying cubes of plastic. The chunks are pleasingly arranged into greens, blues and whites.

The Norwegian system – simple yet impressive – relies on two key incentives. First, the more companies recycle, the less tax they have to pay. If they reach a collective nationwide target of more than 95 per cent, then they don’t pay any tax at all – that’s been the case every year since 2011. Second, customers must pay a deposit for each bottle, usually the equivalent of between 10p and 25p. This encourages a fundamental change of thinking in citizens: that, while the product inside is to be consumed, the bottles are on loan and so need to be returned.

Add to the picture the great ease with which bottles can be returned at hundreds of thousands of ‘reverse vending machines’ and you begin to understand Norway’s success on this front.

Compare the country’s plastic bottle recycling rate of more than 97 per cent with 43 per cent in the UK and 28 per cent in the US, and it’s clear how much there is to be learned. International politicians and businesses alike have taken note of what’s happening at Infinitum.



The greatest trick corporations ever played was making us think we could recycle their products.


Single Use Plastic Bans: What You Need to Know


Image result for single-use plastic bans

The discussion on single-use plastics is heating up across Canada. The federal government announced in June 2019 its intention to institute a nationwide ban by 2021 if re-elected this fall. Meanwhile, a growing number of provinces, cities, and towns have already banned certain single-use plastic products and the British Columbia Court of Appeal has now weighed in on a B.C. municipality’s authority to do such a thing. So what are some considerations that single-use plastic bans raise for businesses, consumers, and governments alike?

Background: Plastic Bans Becoming Increasingly Common

On June 10, 2019, the federal government announced its plan to ban a list of single-use plastics by as early as 2021 if re-elected. This comes in the wake of the European Union’s Parliament voting in March 2019 to ban several single-use plastic products on the same timeline. In addition, the federal government recently listed plastic microbeads on the Schedule 1 List of Toxic Substances in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, SC 1999, c 33.

Governments at the provincial and municipal level across the country have already imposed bans on items such as single-use plastic bags.

At the provincial level, Newfoundland and Labrador announced in April 2019 that it will become the second province behind Prince Edward Island to ban plastic shopping bags. At the municipal level, the list of communities that have banned plastic bags include dozens in Quebec, four in Manitoba, three in New Brunswick, and a quickly growing number in B.C. In July 2019, Jasper and Wetaskiwin became the second and third communities in Alberta, after the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, to ban plastic bags. This much is clear: whether or not single-use plastic bans can effectively reduce the pollution associated with plastic products, they are becoming increasingly widespread.

Can Governments Ban Single-use Plastics?

An important question for governments proposing a ban, as well as for the businesses and consumers who will be affected, is whether such a ban is legal. In other words: can the government do that?

What does our Constitution say?

Our Constitution says that the federal government can enact laws in some topic areas, while the provincial government can enact laws in others. However, in the case of environmental protection, no level of government has exclusive jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court of Canada has made clear that both the federal and provincial governments can make laws on a specific environmental issue as long as they can connect that issue to a power granted to them in the Constitution. The appellate courts in Ontario and Saskatchewan confirmed this in their recent majority decisions that determined that the federal government could impose a national price on carbon (subject of course to further appeals to the Supreme Court).

What this means is that the federal government may often be able to connect an environmental issue to its power to legislate with respect to criminal law or matters of “national concern” under the “Peace, Order, and good Government” clause in section 91 of the Constitution. Provincial governments, on the other hand, can often legislate on environmental issues due to their authority over property and civil rights and matters of a local and private nature.

Importantly, municipal governments can also legislate on issues relating to the environment, as long as their respective provincial governments have authorized them to do so. A municipality can pass bylaws for any purpose that a province has the power over and has properly delegated to the municipality.

In the past, the Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed the ability of the town of Hudson, Ontario to restrict the use of pesticides within the town, while the Ontario Superior Court has struck down Toronto’s ban on the possession and sale of shark fin products.

Victoria’s Ban on Single-use Plastic Bags

Most recently, and specific to single-use plastics, the British Columbia Court of Appeal in the case of Canadian Plastic Bag Association v Victoria (City), 2019 BCCA 254 struck down Victoria’s ban on single-use plastic bags for being outside Victoria’s jurisdiction.

While Victoria argued that it could impose such a ban because of its authority to create bylaws relating to “business” under the provincial legislation that governs B.C.’s cities, the Court of Appeal found that the bylaw was in fact related to environmental protection. Bylaws relating to environmental protection require provincial approval in B.C. and because Victoria did not receive such approval, its ban on plastic bags was invalid.

This decision highlights the importance of knowing the limits of a government’s authority to impose laws and regulations, such as those that ban single-use plastics. This is important not only for the government seeking to enact laws that will achieve their intended results, but also for the businesses and consumers who stand to be impacted by new laws.

What Comes Next at the Federal Level?

A federal ban on single-use plastics remains speculative at this time. However, if a ban does become reality in the future, it will likely mirror current prohibitions seen elsewhere on plastic bags, straws, and cutlery.

The ban would likely impact the retail and restaurant industry, which uses items such as plastic bags, containers, and cutlery in its day-to-day operations, the oil industry, which provides the building blocks for resins used to produce plastic products, and the plastic producers themselves.

On the other hand, a ban could also be part of a larger plan that reduces waste management costs, lowers greenhouse gas emissions, and provides further financial benefits by redirecting a greater proportion of plastic waste away from landfills and into recycled materials.

Of course, whether a federal ban will be implemented as early as 2021 will likely depend on the outcome of this fall’s federal election. SOURCE

Ontario government may ditch blue box program after report finds 30% goes in trash

Up to 30 percent of what is put into blue boxes is sent to landfill, according to a report.

Up to 30 percent of what is put into blue boxes is sent to landfill, according to a report. The Canadian Press Images-Mario Beauregard

The Ontario government is considering the value of the province’s blue box recycling program after a report was delivered to the government with some significant findings.

David Lindsay, appointed in June as a special advisor on the management of recycling and plastics, gave his report to Environment Minister Jeff Yurek on Tuesday after six weeks of research and meetings on the issue.

“It’s clear that Ontario’s current Blue Box Program is unsustainable,” Yurek said in a statement.

WATCH: (April 29) Is Canada’s recycling industry broken?

Play the video

Lindsay’s report notes that recycling rates have stalled for 15 years and up to 30 percent of what is put into blue boxes is sent to landfill.

No uniform standards currently exist for blue box contents, and Yurek says that is a problem.

“Over 240 municipalities have their own separate lists of accepted recyclable materials, which affects cost savings and contamination,” Yurek said. “Program costs are expected to increase by approximately $10 million per year after 2019.”

Overhauling the program could take years but Yurek believes there will be cost savings for municipalities.

“Hopefully by the end of the day we create a new economy of recycled products here in Ontario because of the program that’s going to be put in place.”

The recycling costs currently incurred by cities and towns will eventually be borne by producers, says Yurek.

“The cost of the program will be transferred over to the producers of the waste, the businesses and industries creating the waste they will be the ones who will be paying for the recycling program when this change occurs.”

WATCH: (April 29) Canadian cities are coming to terms with a bleak new reality for the recycling industry


WASTE ONLY: How the Plastics Industry Is Fighting to Keep Polluting the World

Image result for the intercept: How the Plastics Industry Is Fighting to Keep Polluting the World
A portion of plastic bottle found on Mothecombe Beach at the mouth of the Erme Estuary in South Devon, England, on May 30, 2019.Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

THE STUDENTS AT Westmeade Elementary School worked hard on their dragon. And it paid off. The plastic bag receptacle that the kids painted green and outfitted with triangular white teeth and a “feed me” sign won the students from the Nashville suburb first place in a recycling box decorating contest. The idea, as Westmeade’s proud principal told a local TV news show, was to help the environment. But the real story behind the dragon — as with much of the escalating war over plastic waste — is more complicated.

A week after Westmeade’s dragon won the contest, the APBA got its own reward: The plastic preemption bill passed the Tennessee state legislature. Weeks later, the governor signed it into law, throwing a wrench into an effort underway in Memphis to charge a fee for plastic bags. Meanwhile, A Bag’s Life gave the Westmeade kids who worked on the bag monster a $100 gift card to use “as they please.” And with that, a minuscule fraction of its vast wealth, the plastics industry applied a green veneer to its increasingly bitter and desperate fight to keep profiting from a product that is polluting the world.

In this Nov. 2, 2014 photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a black footed albatross chick with plastics in its stomach lies dead on Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The remote atoll where thousands died is now a delicate sanctuary for millions of seabirds. Midway sits amid a collection of man-made debris called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Along the paths of Midway, there are piles of feathers with rings of plastic in the middle - remnants of birds that died with the plastic in their guts. Each year the agency removes about 20 tons of plastic and debris that washes ashore from surrounding waters. (Dan Clark/USFWS via AP)In this photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a black footed albatross chick with plastics in its stomach lies dead on Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands on Nov. 2, 2014. Photo: Dan Clark/USFWS via AP

At stake for them [the plastics industry] is not just the current plastics market now worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually, but its likely expansion. Falling oil and gas prices mean that the cost of making new plastic, already very low, will be even cheaper. The price drop has led to more than 700 plastics industry projects now in the works, including expansions of old plants and the construction of new ones by Chevron, Shell, Dow, Exxon, Formosa Plastics, Nova Chemicals, and Bayport Polymers, among other companies, according to a presentation from the regulatory affairs director of the BASF Corporation at the plastics industry conference.

The growing output of new cheap plastic further undermines the industry’s own argument that recycling can resolve the waste crisis. It’s already impossible for most recycled plastic to compete with “virgin” plastic in the marketplace. With the exception of bottles made of PET (No. 1) and HDPE (No. 2), the rest of the waste is essentially worthless. Around 30 percent of both types of plastic bottles were sold for recycling in 2017, though some of those may have wound up being landfilled or incinerated. The recent fossil fuel boom makes it even cheaper to make new plastic and thus, even more difficult to sell the recycled product. This, in turn, makes the plastics companies’ push for recycling that much more implausible — and their battle to kill efforts to limit plastics production even more desperate. MORE


Tofino and Ucluelet mayors react to court’s decision on Victoria’s plastic bag ban

So much plastic is being made that “recycling has no impact”

overflowing trash
Public Domain MaxPixel

A Canadian scientist wants us to rethink our approach to plastic and challenge the colonial system that produces it.

Recycling has been called a Band-Aid solution, but Dr. Max Liboiron, director of the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR) in St. John’s, Newfoundland, had a far more poetic description when she said, “Recycling is like a Band-Aid on gangrene.”

Liboiron, who studies microplastics in waterways and food webs, is the subject of a 13-minute film called ‘Guts,’ created by Taylor Hess and Noah Hutton and published by the Atlantic (embedded below). She runs a laboratory that identifies itself as feminist and anti-colonial, which may sound odd in a scientific setting. Liboiron explains in the film:

“Every time you decide what question to ask or not ask others, which counting style you use, which statistics you use, how you frame things, where you publish them, who you work with, where you get funding from… all of that is political. Reproducing the status quo is deeply political because the status quo is crappy.”

The lab is concerned with preserving certain Indigenous traditions, such as smudging and praying over the disposal of dissected fish intestines following research. It implements protocols such as not wearing earbuds while working on a carcass, as this shows disrespect and lack of connection to the animal.

Liboiron is also committed to promoting citizen science. She has built two devices that trawl for microplastics, constructed from everyday materials. One costs $12, the other $500. These stand in contrast to the standard collection device, which costs $3,500. This makes it impossibly expensive for the average person to sample their own water, which Liboiron believes everyone has the right to do.

She doesn’t mince her words when it comes to recycling and its lack of efficacy:

“The only real mode of attack is to deal with the heavy decrease in the production of plastics, as opposed to dealing with them after they’ve already been created. Your consumer behaviours do not matter, not on the scale of the problem. On the scale of personal ethics, yes. Recycling has skyrocketed [with] no impact on the scale of plastic production whatsoever. Really it’s the cessation of production that will make the big-scale changes.”

As someone who advocates for personal plastic reduction, there’s a lot to take away from this statement. To the naysayers who argue there’s no point trying, the personal ethics response is powerful: We have to do these things so that we feel we are making a difference and to position ourselves to be able to challenge authority and the status quo without being a hypocrite. Does it actually help? Probably not much, if we’re being honest, but it can galvanize the broader societal change required to spur political decisions that can turn off the plastic tap eventually.

Liboiron views single-use plastic as a function of colonialism, the product of a system of domination that assumes access to land, both in terms of resource extraction and a product’s eventual disposal. She wrote in an article for Teen Vogue‘s Plastic Planet series,

“[The plastics industry] assumes that household waste will be picked up and taken to landfills or recycling plants that allow plastic disposables to go ‘away.’ Without this infrastructure and access to land, Indigenous land, there is no disposability.”

Usually this land belongs to developing nations or remote communities, which are then criticized by wealthier ones for mismanaging their waste, despite much of it being shipped there from those wealthier countries. Suggestions such as building more incinerators are made, despite the harmful environmental impact these solutions would have.

It’s clear that recycling isn’t going to solve this plastic crisis, and rethinking the system that produces it is really our only choice. Scientists like Liboiron force us to think outside the box, and it’s refreshing.



Plastic has created a crisis of waste. We must act
“No evidence” that fracking can be done without threatening human health: Report

Climate change making for sour grapes

“The reality is, one person can do a lot and if we get more and more people to start thinking about this, it will make a huge difference to the planet.”
—Caroline Granger, Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Estate Winery

BRUCE BELL Caroline Granger, of the Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Estate Winery in Hillier, inspects some of the vines at the Closson Road vineyard. Granger said climate change is making grapes difficult to grow. JPG, BI

HILLIER — The owner of a winery here is hoping Prince Edward County council is taking pleas to help the environment seriously.

Caroline Granger has operated the Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Estate Winery for almost two decades, but it wasn’t until her daughter Maggie got involved with the operation in 2012 did things begin to change.

“Maggie was the driving force behind it because when she joined me here, she simply said we have to stop producing garbage — no ifs, ands or buts about it — we need to stop,” Granger said with a laugh. “Immediately we reduced our garbage by 85 per cent and we only have one bag of garbage every two weeks. That was Maggie’s initiative and I’m proud of it because we’ve been able to stick to it and, in fact, most of that one bag of garbage is from trash people leave when they are visiting here.”

Granger said the weather in four of the last five years has more than convinced her it is time for immediate action.

“On May 23, 2015 the vines had four little leaves on them and were doing extremely well, but that all changed in a matter of 70 minutes overnight,” she said. “Then by 4:15  in the morning the temperature had dropped to -5.5 C and by 5:30 (a.m.) the damage was done — we lost 90 cent of the plants. It wasn’t as bad for some people, but for others it was a complete loss.”

…Granger said the municipality’s council needs to consider carefully what steps can be taken to reduce the County’s carbon footprint going forward.

“I’ll be the first to admit that this concept is extremely intimidating because this is a huge world we live in and it’s really easy to feel like… what can I as one person do?” she said. “The reality is, one person can do a lot and if we get more and more people to start thinking about this, it will make a huge difference to the planet. We’re hearing from the United Nations that we have very little time to change before the damage being done to the planet becomes irreversible and I really do think people are becoming frightened, but the idea that you need to change the climate of the planet is too big of an idea for many.”



4 Ways to Cut Plastic’s Growing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

 “Unless waste management practices improve, the amount of plastic entering oceans could be 10 times greater in 2025 than they were in 2015 according to a 2015 study in the journal Science.”

Every stage of plastic’s life cycle, from fossil fuel extraction to disposal, produces greenhouse gases. A new study looked at ways to lower the toll.

Plastic waste. Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
The greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastics are projected to be nearly four times greater by mid-century. Increasing the use of renewable energy, plant-based feedstocks and aggressive recycling and reducing demand can help lower the impact. Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

As concern over plastic waste grows, researchers are raising red flags about another problem: plastic’s rapidly growing carbon footprint. Left unchecked, greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastics will be nearly four times greater by mid-century, when they are projected to account for nearly one-sixth of global emissions.

Not all plastics have the same carbon footprint, though. What they are made from, the source of the energy that powers their production, and how they are disposed of at the end of their life cycle all make a difference.

In a study published Monday in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, researchers calculated the life cycle emissions of different types of plastics, made from fossil fuels and from plants, and looked for ways to lower their total greenhouse gas emissions.

They found that there is no silver bullet. Every combination of plastics production and end-of-life disposal generates greenhouse gas emissions. But by combining four different approaches, they found they could lower emissions up to 93 percent compared to business as usual by 2050 if each measure was taken to the extreme.

Chart: Plastic's Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The most effective combination the researchers found was to use a plant-based feedstock (sugarcane in this case), with 100 percent renewable energy for production, recycling of all plastics rather than incinerating or dumping them in landfills, and reducing the annual growth in demand for plastics by half.

That combination could theoretically reach a 93 percent reduction compared to business as usual in 2050, or about a 74 percent reduction from 2015 levels, the researchers found. MORE

One Thing You Can Do: Keep Your Old Gadgets Out of the Trash

Credit: Tyler Varsell

Technology moves fast. The coolest gadgets today will be obsolete in a few years and we’ll discard them to make room for new ones. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t see flat screens, printers and speakers languishing on the sidewalks of New York City.

About half of American states, including New York, have e-waste recycling laws, and around 20 states ban certain types of electronics from landfills. These laws were adopted because many gadgets contain toxic metals — like lead, mercury, cadmium and chromium — that can leak into groundwater and soil, poisoning the ecosystem.

The good news is that there are many environmentally friendly options for parting ways with your electronic devices.

First, you could consider trying to give those devices a second life. That applies especially to laptops, tablets and cellphones, which we often discard simply because we want to upgrade. MORE


Quinte Waste Solutions: Hazardous and Electronic Waste Recycling

Copenhagen Wants to Show How Cities Can Fight Climate Change

The beginning of a ski run on the roof of Copenhagen’s new trash incinerator, which will help heat buildings in the city. Photograph by Charlotte de la Fuente

COPENHAGEN — Can a city cancel out its greenhouse gas emissions?

Copenhagen intends to, and fast. By 2025, this once-grimy industrial city aims to be net carbon neutral, meaning it plans to generate more renewable energy than the dirty energy it consumes.

Here’s why it matters to the rest of the world: Half of humanity now lives in cities, and the vast share of planet-warming gases come from cities. The big fixes for climate change need to come from cities too. They are both a problem and a potential source of solutions.

The experience of Copenhagen, home to 624,000 people, can show what’s possible, and what’s tough, for other urban governments on a warming planet.

The mayor, Frank Jensen, said cities “can change the way we behave, the way we are living, and go more green.” His city has some advantages. It is small, it is rich and its people care a lot about climate change.

Mr. Jensen said mayors, more than national politicians, felt the pressure to take action. “We are directly responsible for our cities and our citizens, and they expect us to act,” he said.

In the case of Copenhagen, that means changing how people get around, how they heat their homes, and what they do with their trash. The city has already cut its emissions by 42 percent from 2005 levels, mainly by moving away from fossil fuels to generate heat and electricity. MORE