Solid Waste & Recycling

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Ontario Blue Box Eco-Efficiency

In January, the Environment & Plastics Industry Council (EPIC) released an interesting and potentially important study entitled "Blue Box Diversion in Ontario: A Cost/Benefit Analysis of Recycling...


In January, the Environment & Plastics Industry Council (EPIC) released an interesting and potentially important study entitled “Blue Box Diversion in Ontario: A Cost/Benefit Analysis of Recycling Targets.” EPIC is a council of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) and has a keen interest in this issue, since plastics are ubiquitous in the waste stream.

EPIC’s study examines the costs and environmental impacts of different scenarios for achieving 60 per cent diversion from landfill of household packaging and printed materials handled via the blue box — a goal that municipalities must meet by 2008. The purpose of the study is to provide information on the “eco-efficiency” of various options (i.e., ecological and economic gains, without one sacrificing the other).

The study is interesting not only for its results, but in its use of new data collection methods and analytical tools that allow for the objective measurement and evaluation of the overall system in eco-efficiency terms — something that was not possible before the development of the methods and tools such as the IWM computer model, supported by EPIC/CSR and Environment Canada and NRCan, that was used to objectively measure the environmental impacts of different scenarios. EPIC also used estimates and projections from Dan Lantz of MacViro Consultants and Stewardship Ontario with 2003 baseline data.

The crux of the exercise was to examine a 60 per cent overall recycling rate for the materials, then compare this to a strategy in which 60 per cent recycling is achieved for each material category. The distinction is important, as the eco-efficiency of achieving 60 per cent overall diversion proved to be much higher than a material by material approach.

The study also examined options for what to do with the 40 per cent of materials not captured by the blue box. These included landfill, energy-from-waste (EFW) and “high-efficiency EFW.”

By using the IWM computer model to analyse the data and projected volumes, EPIC was able to obtain a clear picture of the cost and environmental benefits of different recycling strategies, and this should be of great interest to municipal waste managers, recycling coordinators and provincial policymakers.

Scenarios

EPIC organized the options into six scenarios, starting with the “ground truth” of the most recent year for which hard data is available (2003), followed by different projections and options. The scenarios are as follows:

* Scenario One: 2003 Baseline — This is the actual 2003 data supplied by Stewardship Ontario and represents the measurement of Blue Box printed materials and packaging that was recycled (and the residues managed) that year.

* Scenario Two: 60 per cent Overall plus Landfill — EPIC projected out to year 2008 and assumed an overall recycling rate of 60 per cent for printed materials and packaging using the least cost per tonne approach (See Cover Story, last edition) with residues also landfilled.

* Scenario Three: 60 per cent Each Material plus Landfill — EPIC projected out to year 2008 and assumed a 60 per cent recycling rate, but this time for each category of printed materials and packaging (with residues landfilled).

* Scenario Four: 60 per cent Overall plus EFW — This is the same as Scenario Two, except instead of landfilling the residues, EPIC utilized them in a thermal process to generate electricity (at an efficiency of 20 per cent). It assumed the electricity displaces energy from the Ontario grid (which is currently supplied by a mix of nuclear, hydroelectric and thermal firing).

* Scenario Five: 60 per cent Each Material plus EFW — This is the same as Scenario Three, with the residues used to generate electricity at an efficiency of 20 per cent rather than landfilled.

* Scenario Six: 60 per cent Overall plus High Efficiency EFW — This is the same as Scenario Two, but now the residues are used in an energy-recovery system that’s 50 per cent efficient (not just 20 per cent). The higher efficiency is achieved by cogeneration (i.e., electricity is generated and residual heat is captured from turbines to produce low-pressure steam or hot water for further applications.).

Results

One of EPIC’s key findings is that if all packaging materials generated in Ontario’s households were recycled at 60 per cent, “this would drive Blue Box costs significantly upwards with marginal environmental benefits.” EPIC estimates the costs at $383 million compared to just $227 million for 60 per cent overall recycling (with residues landfilled in both cases) — an additional $156 million.

If the government mandates 60 per cent recycling on all packaging materials, the system achieves similar reductions in NOx, PM and VOCs and only slightly more energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, than what is achieved through the overall approach.

The authors note: “In fact, a 60 per cent recycling rate on all packaging materials would result in 23 per cent more energy savings and only reduce GHGs by a further 266,000 tonnes, about 0.1 per cent of the 240 million GHG reductions required for Canada to meet its Kyoto requirements, but the estimated additional cost for the Blue Box program would be 69 per cent higher…”

EPIC states that, by contrast, a 10 per cent improvement in automotive fuel efficiency in the province’s 6.95 million vehicles would result in a reduction of around 5.3 million tonnes of GHGs (or 20 times more GHG reductions).

EPIC’s analysis suggests that if all residues were used to produce energy instead of being landfilled, this would be more eco-efficient. The 60 per cent overall approach with residues sent to EFW provides the same energy savings benefit as the material by material approach for almost half the price. But things get even better when the overall approach is combined with high-efficiency energy recovery for residues as practiced in Scandinavia. Directing the residues to an EFW facility with 50 per cent efficiency saves 117 per cent of the energy compared to the material by material approach with residues sent to landfill. And it does so at just one quarter the cost.

Scenario Six, then, is the clear winner in the EPIC analysis.

Integrated waste management

EPIC’s empirical analysis strongly supports the integrated approach that many engineers and consultants have hinted at for years. If all residues were used to produce energy instead of being landfilled, this would be more eco-efficient, especially using a high-efficiency EFW process.

Again, a 60 per cent overall recycling rate for printed materials and packaging compares favorably to an approach that requires each material to be recycled at 60 per cent. If the residues from an overall 60 per cent recycling system are sent to an ordinary EFW plant (operating at 20 per cent efficiency) the cost is just $207 million compared to $383 million for the other recycling approach with residues sent to landfill, or $176 million less.

In times of fiscal pressure on municipalities, this is a significant difference. The energy savings benefit is about the same, but almost half the price. Yet it is the latter course that Ontario is on at present, not the more eco-efficient one evoked by the EPIC study. The cost can be further reduced using high-efficiency energy recovery (50 per cent efficiency) that saves more energy.

In terms of greenhouse gases, 60 per cent recycling for each packaging material reduces GHGs by only a further 142,000 tonnes compared to the overall approach rate (with residues to high efficiency EFW). This difference is a paltry 0.6 per cent of the 240 million GHG reductions required for Canada to meet its Kyo

to requirements, but the estimated cost for the blue box program would be an additional $277 million more (or 72 per cent higher per year). This is a significantly high incremental cost of $1,950/tonne compared to a sale price for GHG credits of $5.14/tonne.

We can only hope that waste and recycling professionals will help government policymakers at all levels understand the implications of the EPIC study, as it suggests the path on which Ontario currently finds itself (and many other jurisdictions) is not the best mix for either the economy or the environment, and better options exist.

The EPIC study is available as a downloadable pdf file on our website. Look under the “Posted Documents” button atwww.solidwastemag.com

Full Cost to Manage Printed Material and Packaging

Scenario Full Cost to Manage Cost per tonne to Manage
ONE: Actual 2003 recovery. $187,023,422 $127.23
TWO: 2008, 60% overall, residue to landfill. $227,069,518 $145.17
THREE: 2008, 60% each material, residue to landfill. $383,478,526 $245.16
FOUR: Same as Scenario 2 with residue to EFW and energy efficiency of 20%. $207,477,801 $132.64
FIVE: Same as Scenario 3 with residue to EFW and energy efficiency of 20%. $375,295,007 $239.93
SIX: Same as Scenario 2 with residue to EFW and energy efficiency of 50%. $106,197,801 $67.89

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