Archive for the ‘Waste and Recycling’ category

The Problem with Incinerating Waste (and it’s not what you think)

November 14th, 2014


By Utilisateur Jyoccoz (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Utilisateur Jyoccoz (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

While in Poland, we attended Poleko 2014, Poland’s largest environmental protection trade fair. I had meetings with many people around the subject of construction waste management. Europe in general and Germany in particular are known for its progressive waste management policies, so I wanted to find out what they do and how they do it.

Anyone involved in the waste sector, especially on a global level, already knows how they do it — the phrase “burn baby burn” comes to mind. Incineration is a big part of European waste management, whether you are in a Scandinavian country, Germany or Holland, all rely on incineration.

I spoke with Peter Meinlschmidt a physicist with the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research about how Germany handles waste. He told me that all organic material (including plastic) is forbidden to go to landfill.

» Read more: The Problem with Incinerating Waste (and it’s not what you think)

PPHU Polblume Recycling Plant — An example of the emerging circular economy

October 31st, 2014
A view inside the sorting department of the recycling center

A view inside the sorting department of the recycling center

While in Poland, our Canadian delegation was invited to tour a new state of the art electronic recycling facility, PPHU – Polblume. It is one of 158 similar recycling and recovery companies within Poland.  It is here that old appliances, computers, TVs, and batteries will be separated into their individual materials, bundled and/or shredded and shipped off to be reused into new products. As part of its mandate in joining the European Union, one Poland’s requirements was improved waste management.

So far, however, this recycling facility is processing about 1000-1500 tons of e-waste per day. It does have a capacity of up to 10,000 tons per day, so there is plenty of room for increased volume.  The company is developing two areas of specialty, recycling batteries and research into rare earth metal extraction from circuit boards, in particular, yttrium and europium.

Metal and circuit boards from old electronics

Metal and circuit boards from old electronics

Polblume has an agreement with Panasonic to provide it with the used black matter (the battery’s juice) from batteries, but because it doesn’t have enough input products right now, there is more demand than supply. I asked the owner if the problem was because there weren’t enough batteries being used in Poland, or because too many were being thrown into landfill. He told us that it was a bit of both. Currently, they take old batteries from countries throughout the EU, but he admitted that more has to be done within Poland to encourage people to recycle their batteries.

In a perfect world, batteries would be 100% recycled and the old, used black matter from dead batteries would be retrieved and reused in new batteries. If material can be extracted, reused and recharged infinitely without having to extract virgin material from the ground, it saves an enormous amount of energy in the retrieval and processing of new material while continuously using materials already extracted. It is an example of what the EU is striving for: the circular economy.

Another area that is still in the research phase at this facility is the extraction of rare earth metals for computer circuit boards. Because the metals are used in such small amounts and need to be extracted from circuit boards using high heat or highly corrosive materials, it hasn’t yet been considered a viable option. However, extraction methods are improving and becoming increasingly cost-effective. This facility is doing research to improve techniques, but is banking on success in this area. Sufficient extraction and sales of rare earth metals would make this recycling business highly profitable.

Used appliances, materials separated.

Used appliances, materials separated.

Plastic casing from electronics.

Plastic casing from electronics.

Finally, leaded glass from TV screens used to find a home in cathode ray tubes — but since the dawn of the flatscreen TV the need for leaded glass has plummeted dramatically. It has found a new home as an aggregate in concrete. Although concrete is pourous, the leaded-glass is stable does not leach into the soil or ground water near where it is used.


The Rogers Cup Montreal Tournament Diverts Mountains of Waste from Landfill

August 15th, 2014

I confess that I’m a bit of a tennis nut. It is my favourite pastime and I play as often as I can when I’m not injured (current injury is an annoying pulled calf muscle that just won’t heal!!). I also attend the Rogers Cup every summer and until this year, always as a spectator. This year, however, I decided to combine my two loves: environmental action and tennis. I volunteered for the green committee.  As I suspected, the Green Committee volunteers’ job was to help spectators choose the right waste receptacle for their used food and drink containers. Right up my alley!!

» Read more: The Rogers Cup Montreal Tournament Diverts Mountains of Waste from Landfill

Mission 2030 Sets An Ambitious Goal: Striving for Zero Waste from Construction and Demolition by 2030

January 16th, 2014

Photo By Ashley Felton (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In December while attending the ConstructCanada show, I went to a few seminars that I really enjoyed. At one in particular, I was so enthusiastic, I got a bit carried away and, er, interrupted the panel with my own stories, questions and conumdrums. The panel was about waste produced by the construction industry, and, if you’ve followed this blog at all, you know waste is one of my biggest pet peeves. In fact, it’s not really a pet peeve, it’s a down right BIG peeve, a major peeve, one I find so frustrating, I just want to fix it all, right now!

Anyway…one of the panelists was Renee Gratton. She is the President and co-founder of the Construction Resources Initiative Council, a group of non-partisan volunteers from the construction industry who have come together to address the growing waste problem in construction and demolition. Here’s something you may be surprised to hear: In Canada, while consumers have been doing an increasingly good job at reducing the amount of material they send to landfill, industrial, commercial and institutional operations have not fared so well. In fact, they have been progressively increasing the amount of material going to landfill. Since industry accounts for two-thirds of all waste, this is a pretty important area to address. On top of that, Canadians may generate the most garbage per capita in the world. Wow, there’s a statistic we should  want to reverse!

According to the CRI Council website, Stats Can noted that in 2008, of all the waste sent to landfill, 75% of it still had value — as in it could have been reused, recycled, repurposed or repaired. When you read a number like that, the goal of zero waste by 2030 doesn’t seem quite as unrealistic as you might have originally thought.

Achieving zero waste in the construction industry isn’t going to be an easy task. However, as Renee recounted at the seminar, a lot of waste reduction has to do with changing our mindset and perspectives. It’s about designing buildings better, increasing resource efficiency and using materials that can be reused or recycled at end of life.  The council’s short-term goal is to get three things going:

  1. Defining the goal — aiming for zero construction renovation and demolition waste to landfill by 2030,
  2. Overcoming inertia — engaging, educating and enabling people and their businesses as to why change is important, and
  3. Taking the first few steps. In this case, the council is calling to action all stakeholders to take the Mission 2030 Pledge and play their part in how building waste is viewed and dealt with, through a fundamental and strategic change management framework.

As the organization is newly established and completely volunteer-run, the website is continually being updated. It provides information on why reducing waste is critical to our planet’s future, along with support on how and where to begin. As the council becomes more established it will also begin to offer its members workshops and educational material on how to implement change. The latest support tool is an app called Waste Saver for your mobile phone (iphone or android), to help you locate companies in your neighbourhood who will   recover it, who is supporting this initiative as well as provide references and address frequently asked questions. While the app still being populated, the more people use it, the more valuable a tool it becomes for everyone.

If you are a contractor, building owner or manager, I encourage you to take a look at the website and start thinking about how you can reduce the amount of waste you send to landfill. It might be as simple as stopping by the ReStore on your way to the dump and dropping off usable construction materials, or using Craigslist or Kijiji to find someone who wants what you don’t. There are plenty of ways to prevent materials from ending up in landfill, but until you’re used to it, it takes some planning, effort and a little research. If you don’t have a resolution yet for 2014, why not make it waste reduction?

Waste Not…Kitchen Renovation

September 27th, 2013
Pantry wall gone. Note you can see a pair of eyes on the lower left of the doorway. Meet Rebecca, our cat!

Pantry wall gone. Note you can see a pair of eyes on the lower left of the doorway. Meet Rebecca, our cat!

I hate waste. It makes me cringe, so putting garbage bags out for pick up is not something I do lightly. My mind travels with the garbage and goes to the landfill site, and it stays there, as does the garbage, well, forever. So, I try to put as little into garbage as possible.

With respect to the kitchen renovation, I’ve gotten lucky. The old cupboard doors and melamine cabinet boxes found new homes through my cabinetmaker. All the cupboard handles are being reused on our cabinets, I’ve saved the kitchen sink and faucet, as well as the countertop and box to reuse in our laundry room. Currently there is a very pretty — and very useless — vanity in there..but at least it looks good! Anyway, it will go (I see Craigslist in its future). As for the rest, as the walls came down, we separated the plaster, drywall and wood out and hauled it over to the Eco-Centre for recycling. In the end we couldn’t save the floor. There were too many years of wear and tear and too much patchwork needed, so it also went to the Eco-Centre. We pulled out a pristine piece of drywall which can be reused, while the mismatched potlights will go to the ReStore.

In the end we filled five heavy duty garbage bags for landfill. Not great, but not bad, considering what it could have been.

Looking towards outside entry

Looking towards outside entry

But here’s the thing: separating out the garbage and the recycling materials was time-consuming. I was fortunate in that there were three of us (my two sons and I) separating and loading the van with the materials while my husband and sister in-law took down the walls. It went at a good clip, but I can see the desire of being able to throw it all in a bin and have someone else take it away. It’s faster — but as I just found out, probably not cheaper. My contractor was telling me it costs about $800 to rent a dumpster or about $250 for him to take the debris to the dump in the back of his truck. But let’s face it: most people don’t have time or energy to haul the waste to the eco-centre and the kicker is, your contractor can’t do it on your behalf. That’s right, you, the homeowner, are the only one allowed to take your waste to the Eco-Centre. You must show proof that you live within the city limits. Further, you have a maximum of 12 cubic meters of recycling waste you are permitted to send to the recycling centre annually. Now, 12 cubic meters is a lot of stuff, but the point is, they obviously don’t  want enterprising people to make a business out of recycling. My question is: why?

Montreal clearly doesn’t have the same waste pressures that Toronto had. They don’t have a Michigan telling them that their time for dumping garbage into their landfill is drawing to a close. Recycling is minimal, organic waste collection is non-existent, and there is no public campaign telling people to reduce, reuse and recycle. I know there is a NIMBY problem with finding a spot for a city composting plant, but it should be a no-brainer to solve: Montreal offers any nearby municipality the money to build one and tax-relief on its waste bill for the next, say, 10 years. In fact, I saw the perfect spot in Lachine for one….

Anyway, here are links to construction waste recycling depots in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa in case you have a project to tackle.

Toronto Recycling Depots (for construction waste)

Montreal Eco Centres (construction waste, e-waste, old clothes, etc.)

Ottawa (gently used construction items go to the ReStore, the rest needs to be taken to landfill sites around the city).




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