Solid Waste & Recycling


Group hugs and glass ceilings

On June 22 I moderated the final panel discussion (on blue box funding) at the annual conference of the Municipal Waste Integration Network (MWIN) in my home town of Collingwood, Ontario. I think I need to go out and buy a lion tamer’s costume for next year, because — with remarkable consistency — this year’s end-of-conference panel discussion was very heated and I thought might even erupt into fisticuffs. (I’m only slightly exaggerating.) Somehow we always manage to end the conference on a raucous note and it’s sort of “expected” now that the session I always moderate will be lively and entertaining in this way, and I dread the day it’s ever dull. (As an aside, I forgot to get the group to pose for a photo in a “group hug” afterward like we did last year. Pity.)
The presentations included a very informative and worthwhile explanation of Ontario’s complicated blue box funding formula from Guy Perry (of Stewardship Ontario). Somehow I felt I actually understood the formula after Guy’s PowerPoint presentation (a thought that scares me a little!).
But the sparks really flew when the presentations moved on to two things: glass markets in Ontario and the LCBO’s sponsorship of wine in Tetra Pak containers. Lyle Clark had presented on the LCBO’s new marketing and branding strategies in the morning. Usman Valiante, in my panel, sat beside Lyle and the two had a lively exchange over what Usman claimed was a commercial agenda on the part of the LCBO to develop its own house brands of imported cheap wine that it will sell as “premium” wine with a huge markup, in Tetra Paks. I won’t get into that debate here, but instead direct you to read Usman’s blog entry (see Contributor’s Blog) on this and the associated downloadable files (look under Posted Documents on the home page). It makes for interesting reading, whatever your position is on Tetra Paks and related packaging issues.
The other topic that the panelists scrapped over was the market for recycled glass in Ontario. As luck would have it, this is a timely issue for Lyle Clark and the LCBO which (along with Stewardship Ontario) is sponsoring the establishment of a large glass recycling plant in Ontario. John Mullinder of PPEC was also on the panel, but this time in his capacity as a CERB member (which represents packaging stewards who are concerned about the status quo of the blue box and also see the funding formula as somewhat perverse, in that the brand owners whose materials are recycled at the highest rates [i.e., who are the best environmental performers] pay the steepest bills). Guy Perry weighed in on the glass recycling issue since he’s with Stewardship Ontario, and Usman declared his interests up front, since his clients include the Brewers of Canada and OI Canada (the largest glass recycler and bottle maker in the province).
In short, this was a knowledgable group, but with very different ideas about what should happen with glass, whether or not there should be a deposit-refund system for LCBO glass, and related issues.
I’d like to mention here that I pointed out to the group that Ontario still collects a 10 cent “recycling levy” on all alcohol beverage containers sold in the province. This levy collects a staggering $60 million annually for the government which, alas, puts it into general revenues and doesn’t “recycle” it into recycling (as it were). Another tax grab. I failed to point out at the time that this amount is, ironically, roughly equal to what the public pays province-wide for its half of the net cost of the blue box (industry pays the other 50 per cent). I think an interesting discussion should take place about the proper use of these funds. In my opinion, either we should scrap the levy or direct it to support the recycling infrastructure in Ontario. Lyle Clark kept stating that he didn’t think people would like to see, say, $250,000 used to sponsor a lifecycle assessment of Tetra Paks used for wine. Methinks that’s chump change with $60 million collected every year from the recycling levy. (By the way, partly because of my annoying questions, Tetra Pak is actually funding just such a study via Franklin Associates, so eventually we’ll get some useful data on all this.)
The detailed arguments back and forth about glass markets are too complicated for me to recap here, but I thought I’d follow up by drawing everyone’s attention to a news item about a new study that has implications for one of the main bones of contention. What is that bone? That rather than being “recycled” in the true sense, Usman alleged that too much of the glass collected via the blue box is being “downcycled” into aggregate products whereas much of the “embodied energy” of a bottle, for instance, could be better preserved in true bottle-to-bottle glass recycling.
Anyway, an article appeared in the RCO’s Highlights and Headlines email newsletter about a glass recycling study from the UK — and I’ve ordered a copy of the study referenced in the article.
Actually it was Usman Valiante who told me about this study, still a bit agitated about the debate at the MWIN conference. He suggests we all consider the article below in the context of the fact that the two OI Canada glass manufacturing plants in Brampton and South Etobicoke have agreed to buy all (including green) of the glass recovered from any LCBO deposit-refund system. In this context, Usman asks: Does it make any sense to crush and color mix glass in single-stream collection systems, invest more energy and effort to “beneficiate it” (all at municipal cost) and then use it as aggregate replacement?
He says we need a definition of recycling that is tied to net environmental benefit. Anyway, here’s an article about the study, which gives you the gist of what the study is about. There’s an interesting dimension here in which the evaluation of recycling programs is tied to greenhouse gas emissions — something we’re likely to hear a lot more about in future.
Click below to scroll down and read the article:

Recycling glass can harm environment, says report
Financial Times. Jun 24, 2006. pg. 6
Recycling some materials can do more harm than good to the environment, a report has found.
Recycling materials such as glass can consume more energy than disposing of them in landfill sites, thereby increasing the production of greenhouse gases, according to a report on the waste management business published this week by Grant Thornton, the accountancy firm.
The report is strongly critical of the government’s recycling targets, which focus on increasing the amount of rubbish that is recycled by weight, rather than by any other measure.
This ignores the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, which are widely regarded as the most important environmental concern because of their contribution to climate change, and because of the government’s obligation to reduce such emissions under the Kyoto protocol.
Nigel Mattravers, senior manager at Grant Thornton, said: “The UK’s waste policy has not addressed the impact on carbon dioxide levels and climate change.”
Grant Thornton found the government’s target of recycling 60 per cent of glass would be achieved by encouraging the grinding of the product, in order to manufacture a substitute for the sand used for architectural and filtration purposes.
But it said: “This energy-intensive recycling process generates more carbon dioxide than if the glass was sent to landfill.”
The glass could be turned into bottles instead but is not because the supply of new green glass outweighs demand. The report found that if more alcoholic beverages were bottled in the UK rather than abroad this would change the balance, and the remainder of the excess bottles could be shipped abroad for re-melting.
It concluded: “(The current adverse) outcomes occur because financial instruments and policy interventions have been designed to encourage tonnage diversion from landfill, regardless of the carbon dioxide implications.”
The government’s policy of tonnage-based recycling targets delivered at the lowest possible cost means that no distinction is being made between recycling processes that reduce CO2 emissions and recycling processes that increase CO2 emissions, according to research carried out by Grant Thornton Project Finance in association with Oakdene Hollins. This means that the preferred method of recycling for materials such as glass, is having a negative impact on the environment.
The current 60 per cent recycling target for glass is expected to save around 300,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per year by 2008. However, Grant Thornton and Oakdene Hollins believe that if policies were better directed, the same projected recycling target could save a further 100,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions from 2008 onwards. This could be done at no additional financial cost.
The report’s key findings include:
Closed loop recycling
The most carbon reduction friendly method of recycling is closed-loop recycling, where a material such as glass is re-melted as new glass. However, current carbon-blind policies mean that local authorities often collect green, clear and brown colored glass together. Since the glass is not color separated by the consumer or the local authority prior to recycling, it is difficult to use it for re-melting as new glass due to the man hours and expense that would be involved in the color separation process.
Open loop recycling
In order to meet tonnage-based recycling targets at the lowest cost, the grinding of glass to make sand and other materials is encouraged even though this form of recycling offers little or no CO2 reduction benefits. This energy-intensive form of recycling, or open loop recycling, generates more CO2 than if the glass was sent straight to a land fill site.
Nigel Mattravers, waste specialist within Grant Thornton’s Project Finance team commented: “The Government has done a good job in promoting recycling awareness and raising recycling levels. However the current focus on how many tonnes we recycle and the fixation with meeting weight-based targets rather than on energy efficient recycling methods is actually having an adverse effect on the environment.”
“Energy intensive recycling methods such as glass grinding for use in the construction industry may be helping us to meet tonnage-based recycling targets. However, they are failing to reduce harmful CO2 emissions, which would be lower if all the glass was sent directly to landfill sites,” he continued.
“The current basis for establishing landfill diversion targets, and the balance within the resource recovery agenda is incorrect and should be supplanted by a better driver of sustainability based on the carbon impact or green house gases,” said Mattravers.
Grant Thornton and Oakdene Hollins’ recommendations
Grant Thornton and Oakdene Hollins believe that one of the ways in which the government could achieve higher recycling targets as well as much higher carbon dioxide reductions (without spending any additional money) is to increase the international trade of glass cullet.
Mattravers cited an example: “The UK currently imports approximately 500,000 tonnes of green glass as packaging for wine consumption. No more than 45 per cent of this can be used for re-melt in the UK because the supply of new green glass outweighs demand. However, the remaining 55 per cent could be exported for re-melt in bottle manufacturing sites in other countries — particularly those which are large producers of wine.”
Grant Thornton and Oakdene Hollins also suggest that government policy could be directed at encouraging the bulk import of alcoholic beverages, especially wine and beer which are traditionally drunk from green bottles, for bottling inside the UK, rather than in their country of origin.
Mattravers points out that the renewables sector has seen a substantial increase in investment activity over the past ten years. He asserts that clear signals in the policy landscape and regulatory framework, coupled with outcome-orientated economic incentives, such as ROCs (renewable obligation certificates) has led to a commensurate demand for finance.
“There is a real danger that unless the relative carbon effect of different recycling strategies is properly understood and acted on, the hard-won gains in the renewables sector may be eroded. We think that the government is starting to recognize the carbon effects of current recycling policies. However, this means that the waste management business needs to be cautious about adopting recycling technologies which are not working in partnership with the carbon agenda and be aware of the fact that the government may change its recycling policies in the near future,” Mattravers concluded.

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