Yukon Montessori School Battles Plastic Pollution

 Luca, Tammo, Elliott, Ben, Asher and Owen of Yukon Montessori School are visualizing solutions to environmental issues through Cosmic Education

 

When discussing the global plastic pollution crisis – and it is a crisis – things can often seem bleak. That’s not the case at Yukon Montessori School, where in Kelly Scott’s Lower Elementary class, the future looks bright. Very bright. Through Cosmic Education, the class is utilizing their creative energy to imagine solutions to global plastic waste.

What is Cosmic Education? It is one of the pillars of the Montessori system. Maria Montessori called it the path through which children develop a global vision. By developing gratitude for the universe and their own lives within it, children can begin to understand their role, purpose, and responsibility in society.

Plastic production has many associated negative externalities (costs) that will only worsen as consumption surges.

 

Since the 1960s, plastic production has increased twenty-fold. Plastic production uses 6% of the world’s oil resources. By 2050, it will account for 20% of global oil use. It is a material that lasts forever, but is mostly used for items that are destined for a single-use. As a result, we waste 95% of the value of our plastics each year. What’s more, vast amounts of these single-use items escape collection and are wreaking havoc on our ecosystems. By 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish (by weight).

After hearing about the growing problem of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, and learning about 4 Ocean, an initiative to clean up marine plastic pollution, Scott’s class decided to create a project that could illustrate the dangers of plastic pollution to others. What they came up with was a plastic artwork show that highlights not only the harmful effects of plastic pollution, but also imagines potential solutions to the crisis.

Kelly Scott’s Lower Elementary class is teaching visitors about plastic pollution through recycled art.

 

I spoke with students Luca, Tammo, Elliott, Ben, Asher and Owen (ages 6-9) about their art pieces and was blown away by their depth of knowledge and creative ideas for solving this global problem.

Using recycled plastic, most of it from their school lunches, they created incredible models of machines and vivid scenes of plastic pollution, complete with explanations and up to date facts.

 A scene that’s becoming more and more common, littered beaches and strangled marine life highlight the crisis of plastic pollution in our oceans.

 

Several students created machines designed to remove plastic debris from the ocean and recycle it. One was even designed to take ocean plastic and convert it into water! Some pieces showed the extent of plastic pollution and its effects on wildlife and ecosystems. Many called for the viewer to take action against garbage. There was even a rocket ship created to remove garbage from space and return it to Earth to be recycled!

 

This scene of ocean pollution was accompanied by pleas to “Save the turtles,” and “Save our Earth!”

 

Accompanying the art pieces were posters providing the facts about plastic pollution. Speaking to the boys it was clear that they knew their stuff. We talked about where plastic comes from, and the backwards logic of creating single-use items out of a material that lasts forever. We discussed how plant-based alternatives to plastic might help decrease plastic waste. Most importantly, we talked about ways we can all use less plastic in our lives.

“We’ve really come a long way with our classroom waste,” says Scott.

“We recycle a lot, and only fill a small garbage bin once every few weeks. Next up is student lunches, I’m hoping to get everyone on board for plastic free lunches in the fall.”

  The plastic art pieces were complemented with posters displaying facts about plastic pollution.

 

The class’ timing is great, as Zero Waste Yukon is kicking off a campaign to promote Plastic Free July. This is an international initiative to raise awareness of plastic pollution.  We’re challenging people to refuse as much single-use plastic as they can for the month of July. Throughout the month we’ll be celebrating people that are refusing single use plastic, and providing tips for living with less.

Kids like the students in Scott’s class at Yukon Montessori are our future Zero Waste champions. They’re out there reminding people that there are so many easy little things we can do, whether it’s bringing a reusable water bottle or coffee cup, or saying no to straws when we dine out. Small behaviour changes have an impact, and when kids are leading the charge, you know that the future is in good hands.

 

Plastic Free July kicks off July 1. Zero Waste Yukon will be at the Fireweed Community Market on June 28th hosting a plastic-free living workshop where attendees can make their own beeswax food wraps and learn ways to live with less plastic.

Visit zerowasteyukon.ca/plasticfreejuly for info on sign up and all the ways you can choose to refuse single use!

 

 

Rethinking Plastics Part 2: Priorities and Innovation in a ‘New Plastics Economy’

This is the second installment of our two part series on the ‘New Plastics Economy.’ Click here to read Part 1.


 

In part one of this series we introduced the current global plastics picture, with a focus on packaging, plastic’s largest application. We ended by introducing the idea of a new circular economy for plastics as the way forward.

The circular economy makes most sense when we compare it to our current economic model. Currently, we exist in a linear economy. We take resources, make products, and dispose of them when they reach their end of life.

The current linear economy relies on extensive inputs of virgin fossil feedstocks, resulting in degradation of natural systems, waste generation, low resource productivity and short product lifespans (Photo credit: Ellen MacArthur Foundation).

 

In contrast, a circular economy seeks to design out waste and pollution, keep materials in use, and regenerate natural systems.

The circular economy utilizes circular flows of technical and biological materials to be restorative and regenerative by design (Photo credit: Ellen MacArthur Foundation).

 

The New Plastics Economy hinges on the creation of an effective after-use plastics economy. This system would increase resource productivity, preserve material value and decrease negative environmental effects of plastic consumption. Instead of degrading ecosystems and consuming finite resources for short term gain, we can change the system to build prosperity long-term.

The shift to a circular economy won’t happen overnight. Our linear systems are too entrenched to be altered at the flip of a switch.

So where do we start?

The New Plastics Economy: Catalysing Action identifies three key strategies to increase circularity of the plastic packaging market. These are priority areas to focus on if we’re to begin the transition to a circular economy for plastics.

 

1. Fundamental redesign and innovation

 

At least 50% of plastic packaging items are not reused or recycled. These items are priorities for redesign and innovation.

Small format packaging such as lids and candy wrappers often escape collection and have small reuse or recycling potential. These items must be avoided or fundamentally redesigned to support their reuse and recycling.

Multi-material packaging (e.g. chip bags, wax tetra-paks) often cannot be economically recycled due to the inseparable layers of different materials. Material innovation will provide recyclable or compostable alternatives for these items.

Uncommon materials such as polystyrene (Styrofoam) and polyvinyl chloride should be replaced with alternatives, eventually leaving only a few key materials in use across the market.

Finally, compostable packaging and related infrastructure to process food-soiled packaging must be scaled up.

 

 

2. Reuse

 

Reusable packaging was the norm 50 years ago. Over the last half century, single-use, disposable packaging has all but replaced reusable options. We’re at a point now where innovation and societal acceptance are once again supporting reuse as an attractive option.

More than 20% of plastic packaging today has a high potential for reuse. This includes personal and home care bottles, carrier bags, beverage bottles, pallet wraps, and large rigid packaging.

Reusable bags could replace over 300 billion single use plastic bags per year, generating almost $1 billion USD in cost savings.

Innovation in new delivery models using reusable packaging could go a long way in utilizing reuse potential. Furthermore, there is significant room to scale up the use of reusable packaging in business-to-business settings.

 

 

3. Recycling with radically improved economics and quality

 

Because plastic packaging is diverse and continuing to diversify, materials have lower value for recycling and increased recycling costs. After-use systems can’t keep up with production, and recycling processors don’t have reliable access to high quality materials. Volatile markets have resulted in fragile economics for recycling.

A Global Plastic Protocol would provide a core set of standards for plastic design, labeling, collection, sorting, infrastructure, and secondary markets. Global convergence would still allow for continued innovation and regional variation, but would provide alignment across the value chain.

Standards for packaging design formats, materials and additives would improve recycling quality and decrease costs. This would reinforce recycling as an economically attractive alternative to landfill, incineration or energy recovery.

Compatibility of collection and sorting systems and scaling up of high-quality recycling processes would create economies of scale in after-use systems.

New technologies and innovations combined with clear standards for packaging will greatly improve the economics and quality of recycling. These are long term goals, but policy measures such as extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs, carbon taxes, incineration bans and deposit systems could help to trigger progress in the short term.

 

Fostering Innovation

 

Advancements in technology, changes in public perception and new legislations are all small parts of a shift to a more circular model. This transition will require widespread partnership between industry, government, and non-governmental organizations. Only collaboration will help overcome the fragmentation of current initiatives.

Around the world, the circular economy is hitting the mainstream. Businesses, governments, and academics are coming up with new technologies and initiatives, paving the way towards a circular economy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation highlights numerous case studies showcasing the circular economy in action. These range from new bio-based packaging and vehicle plastic recycling to product repair and redistribution programs.

A large part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative is the launch of the $2 million Innovation Prize. This prize awards material innovation and circular business models. The foundation recently awarded $2 million, split between 11 different projects. Among these were several bio-based packaging alternatives, a plastic-free grocery delivery model, a returnable cup system, and others.

 

The Circular Economy and Big Business

 

The circular economy is also gaining traction among big-name plastic producers. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation recently announced that 11 major companies are aiming to use 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025. This list includes Amcor, Ecover, Evian, L’Oréal, Mars, M&S, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Walmart, and Werner & Mertz. Together these companies represent more than 6 million tonnes of plastic packaging annually.

Is this merely green-washing? Will these companies lead the way in preventing plastic pollution?  Time will tell; however, this signals a big step forward in the shift towards a circular economy for plastics. Hopefully this leads many more companies to follow suit. The circular economy won’t work when only a few stakeholders are on board. All the interconnecting companies that form our infrastructure and economy must work together to embrace this new way of thinking.

A simplified sketch highlighting the biological and technical material flows that make up a circular system.

 

Now is the time to act

 

The public perception of plastics is changing. Growth of movements such as #breakfreefromplastic, Plastic Free July and the Plastic Pollution Coalition show that there is increasing negative perception of plastics in relation to health and environmental issues. More and more people are beginning to refuse single-use, disposable plastics.

Technologies are also advancing at remarkable rates, in areas such as material design, separation, reprocessing and biodegradable/renewably sourced plastics. These all provide new opportunities to replace our current systems.

Developing countries are in the process of building after-use infrastructure that will serve them in the coming decades, so they are prime targets for development of effective recycling systems.

More and more governments are implementing or exploring legislation for plastic packaging. Several provinces in Canada have Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs in place for packaging, and expansion of these will help cover the costs of effective recycling. The Government of Canada recently announced they are exploring a “zero plastics waste charter” to combat plastic waste and ocean pollution. We are in the midst of a great transformation, one that will define how we leave this world to future generations.

Envisioning a world without plastic indeed sounds impossible. A world without plastic is probably not the answer. The answer instead is to change the system entirely. The answer is an economy in which material flows are circular. One that prevents leakage, regenerates natural systems, retains material value, and provides global economic and social benefit for all.

 

 

Registration Open! Recycling and Zero Waste Working Forum: April 11-13, 2018

Join Zero Waste Yukon, Eric Lombardi and expert panelists as we explore ways to become a Zero Waste territory. We’ll learn about how to eliminate waste, make local recycling systems more effective, and find new ways of doing business within the Circular Economy!

Free Public Film Screening: Divide in Concord

Join us as we kick off our Recycling & Zero Waste Working Forum with a free public screening of the film DIVIDE IN CONCORD!

Divide in Concord is an award-winning feature-length documentary that follows the entertaining tale of the battle of banning bottled water in small town America.

In 1775, Concord patriots fired the infamous ‘shot heard round the world’ that began a Revolution and defined a nation. Now a local eighty-four year-old woman has waged another seemingly unwinnable battle. For three years Jean Hill has been trying to rid the town of single-serve plastic bottles of water. Complete with strong opposition from local merchants and the bottled water industry, Jean is once again leading the controversial crusade.

In the same town that incited the American Revolution and inspired Thoreau’s environmental movement, can one senior citizen make history? A tense nail-biter of a vote will decide.

Doors and reception open at 6:30 pm, light snacks will be provided.

This free public event is the kick-off to the Recycling & Zero Waste Working Forum, April 12 and 13 at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre.

For more information and to register, click here.

 

Who is Eric Lombardi?

You may have heard that our keynote speaker for the Recycling & Zero Waste Working Forum is none other than Eric Lombardi, Senior Advisor to Eco-Cycle Solutions and CEO of Zero Waste Strategies Inc., but just who is this guy?

Some would call Lombardi the “grandfather of Zero Waste” in North America (no offense meant, of course). Grandfather or no, for over 30 years, he has been at the forefront of the Zero Waste movement, and is a recognized authority on developing comprehensive community resource recovery programs.

Lombardi holds a Masters Degree in Technology and Human Affairs from Washington University in St. Louis. In 1989 he joined the non-profit recycler Eco-Cycle in Boulder, Colorado. Lombardi was Executive Director of Eco-Cycle for 24 years, and under his tenure it grew to become one of the largest Zero Waste social enterprises in the world.

Eco-Cycle is a non-profit social enterprise (just like Raven Recycling here in Whitehorse). This means that they use business strategies and principles to meet a social or environmental mission, putting all profits back into community recycling initiatives, education and building Zero Waste communities. They now have 80 employees and recycle 50,000 tons/year of diverse resources.

On top of his on-the-ground experience in the recycling industry, Lombardi is also an experienced public speaker, policy advocate and strategic community planner.

 

 

Since 2014, Lombardi has been a Strategic Advisor to Eco-Cycle Solutions, a web portal that is a one-stop shop for all things Zero Waste. It is primarily a networking and technical support platform for anyone working towards a Zero Waste future in their community. One of their more important tools is a Community Zero Waste Road Map. This high level overview outlines the steps to take when seriously pursuing a Zero Waste goal. It highlights key infrastructure, policies, and programs that have been proven to work in other communities.

As CEO of the consulting company Zero Waste Strategies Inc., Lombardi is “bringing together the local resources covering all aspects of strategic visioning and planning for government, business and community advocates to move beyond recycling and into the Zero Waste economy.”

His list of other accolades is extensive. In 1998 he was invited to the Clinton White House as one of the Top 100 USA recyclers. He helped co-found the Zero Waste International Alliance, the GrassRoots Recycling Network and the US Non-Profit Recyclers Council. He also served on the board of the National Recycling Coalition.

Praise for Eric Lombardi

 

Lombardi’s body of work is exemplified in Boulder, Colorado. With the support of Eco-Cycle, city government and community partners, they have taken great steps to achieve Zero Waste goals. In 2015 they passed a Universal Zero Waste Ordinance to expand recycling and composting for all residents.  Lombardi hopes to “continue supporting a global community-of-practice that is working to bring an end to the age of landfilling and incineration.” He wants to keep transforming the “waste management” industry into the “resource management” industry.

Those who have worked with or hosted Eric Lombardi as a speaker have not been disappointed.

“My team came away from the meeting with Mr. Lombardi energized about the many good ideas and information that he provided. He is thinking two steps ahead of us,” said Shaun McGrath of the US EPA.

“Eric’s in-depth knowledge, and ability to effectively frame a conversation on Zero Waste, as well as the broader topic of sustainability, are truly remarkable. Every semester my students talk about Eric being their favorite speaker,” said Jeff York, Assistant Professor at the Leeds School of Business.

Lombardi’s real-world experience and continued involvement in Zero Waste systems provides a broad understanding of all the challenges and issues associated with creating Zero Waste communities.

“Eco-Cycle’s credibility as Zero Waste experts is based on the fact that they have actually developed and continue to manage the various infrastructure and facilities necessary for a Zero Waste system. Because of this they understand the full spectrum of related and interconnected issues from public policy to community buy-in to service and facility management. We feel very confident in Eco-Cycle’s expertise and are most fortunate to have them as advisors on our project,” said Christine Funk, Director of Zero Waste Programs for WasteCap Nebraska.

Zero Waste Yukon is thrilled to experience first-hand this expertise and in-depth understanding of bringing communities to Zero Waste.

 

A special opportunity for Yukon

 

Yukon does not have a territory-wide waste management system, and this causes problems. For example, the mayor of Mayo recently spoke out about the growing costs of managing their landfill taking away from other things in the community. The mayor of Whitehorse also spoke out at a recent council meeting saying the territory needs to do its part and implement a territorial waste management plan. In a bit of good news, the city council voted Monday to expand the city’s compost program to food service businesses and multi-unit residential buildings.

The current linear economy is a one-way street, from the earth to the dump (Image from Eco-Cycle Solutions).

 

We’re thrilled to have Eric Lombardi here to join the conversation about the challenges facing Yukon. He will provide knowledgeable insight into how we can work together to take the needed steps to reach Zero Waste. This means creating effective and harmonized systems for resource management, but  also tackling the upstream problem of product design.

“Waste is actually the product of bad design, and bad design can be changed,” says Lombardi.

“Producer responsibility is the real revolution of the 21st century – it’s the other half of the story. When we start making products with the environment in mind, then we can start recovering them for reuse – then we have the cycle, and that whole cycle represents Zero Waste,” says Lombardi.

 

Zero Waste systems are circular, just like in nature, where nothing is wasted. The result is a thriving Zero Waste community (Image from Eco-Cycle Solutions).

 

Eric Lombardi will be the keynote speaker at the Recycling & Zero Waste Forum, providing a keynote address and speaking at our business lunch about how Zero Waste can work for businesses.

Lombardi will also be giving a free public presentation at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, speaking to the public on how Yukon can reach Zero Waste.

We hope you’ll join us for the forum or public speaking event to get inspired and learn from one of the world’s foremost experts as we break down the future of Yukon resource management and get on track to reach Zero Waste – or darn near!

 

Free Public Presentation: Eric Lombardi, Eco-Cycle Solutions

We’re excited to announce as part of our Recycling and Zero Waste Working Forum, a free public evening presentation by Eric Lombardi, Senior Advisor to Eco-Cycle Solutions and CEO of Zero Waste Strategies Inc.

On Thursday April 12 at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, Eric Lombardi will give an inspiring and educational talk on what Zero Waste is, the global picture, local challenges, and the steps we need to take to get Yukon to Zero Waste (or darn near!).

Doors and reception open at 6:30 pm. The presentation will be followed by a short Q&A period.

Light snacks will be provided and there will be a cash bar with beer and wine.

 

About the speaker

 

Eric Lombardi is a recognized authority with over 30 years experience creating comprehensive community-based resource recovery programs. For 24 years he was Executive Director of Eco-Cycle, the largest Zero Waste social enterprise in North America, and since the mid ’90s has been at the forefront of the Zero Waste Movement.

In his work as an international consultant, keynote speaker and strategic community planner he has addressed numerous topics including Zero Waste, the waste-climate connection, recycling facility design, recycling of hard-to-recycle materials (CHaRM), building social enterprises, and the politics of growing community programs.

Lombardi holds a Masters Degree in Technology and Human Affairs from Washington University (St. Louis), and other notable achievements include:

– helped create the GrassRoots Recycling Network
– co-founded the Zero Waste International Alliance
– co-founded the US Non-Profit Recyclers Council
– invited to the Clinton White House as one of the Top 100 USA Recyclers

Eric’s work brings together governments, businesses and communities to “experience success within their mutual enlightened self interests.” He aims to support a global community-of-practice that is working to bring an end to the age of landfilling and incineration, and keep transforming the “waste management” industry into the “resource management” industry.

 

An unique opportunity

 

Lombardi will also be speaking several times during our Recycling and Zero Waste Working Forum. This forum will provide knowledge and tools to business owners, policy makers, community depots, elected leaders and landfill operators. He will be joined by other expert panelists including Giselle Beaudry, Waste Reduction Specialist with the Government of the Northwest Territories, who helped implement their Electronics Recycling Program, and Allen Langdon, Managing Director of RecycleBC, North America’s first 100% extended producer responsibility (EPR) program.

“Producer responsibility is the real revolution of the 21st century – it’s the other half of the story. When we start making products with the environment in mind, then we can start recovering them for reuse – then we have the cycle, and that whole cycle represents Zero Waste,” says Lombardi.

Given the Yukon Government’s work on expanding the Designated Material Regulation, and ongoing changes in the global industry, the timing is great for sharing information and planning for the future. Unified action and knowledge are essential for reducing waste and creating better ways to manage resources that currently end up in the landfill.

For more information on the forum visit our forum website.

 

Eric Lombardi’s free public presentation takes place at 6:30 pm on April 12, 2018 at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre.

 

 

Zero Waste Yukon would like to thank our event sponsor Yukon Brewing!

 

 

 

 

Rethinking Plastics: an introduction to the ‘New Plastics Economy’

This is part 1 of a two-part series examining the New Plastics Economy, published in 2017 by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation with support from the World Economic Forum. The report can be viewed in its entirety here.


 

Have you ever imagined a world without plastic?

 

It’s nearly impossible. Plastics are a ubiquitous material in our modern economy, and it’s no surprise why.

They are versatile, durable, inexpensive, lightweight, high performing, and have brought incredible economic benefit across all sectors of industry.

Plastics also have environmental benefits. Their low weight cuts down on transportation emissions. Their physical properties allow us to keep food fresh longer, decreasing food waste.

Plastic production has increased twenty-fold since 1964, and plastic use is expected to double again in the next twenty years. It’s estimated that 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastics have been produced to date.

Production of virgin petroleum based plastic, 1950-2014 (Photo credit: Ellen Macarthur Foundation).

 

Plastic’s largest application is in packaging, making up 26% of the total volume. By 2050 it’s estimated that packaging alone will account for 318 million tonnes of plastic each year. This is more than the entire industry today.

Currently, plastic production accounts for 6% of global oil consumption. On top of that, large amounts of other resources such as gas, energy, water, and labour are needed.

Plastic does not break down, but it is easily recycled. Unfortunately, plastic packaging has an inherent flaw – it is almost exclusively designed to be single use or disposable. Its typical useful life is less than a year, but it persists in the environment for centuries (or more).

Instead of recycling all the plastic we produce, we’re simply throwing it away, and with it, the value of materials used to make it.

 

Only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling worldwide.

 

95% of plastic packaging material value, worth approximately $80-120 billion US, is lost worldwide each year. Value losses along the recycling chain mean that only 5% of material value is retained for future use.

How many forests would be razed if only 5% of paper (recycling rate of 58%) was recycled? What amount of virgin resources would be required if we didn’t recycle 70-90% of iron and steel?

The losses are staggering, and if only 14% is picked up in our recycling, where’s the rest? If we’re not retaining the value of most of the plastic we create, where’s that value ending up?

An additional 14% of plastic packaging is sent through an incineration or energy recovery process. These processes don’t recover the full value of plastics and are not a sustainable answer to the growing issue of plastic waste. For starters, they do little to promote waste reduction, as a constant supply of waste is required. Incineration still results in value losses, negating the energy and labour used in creating the plastic. It’s also problematic due to the pollutants generated, particularly if proper controls are not in place.

The materials burned in waste-to-energy systems are the same materials that have high recycling value. There are also concerns that low operating costs and large investments in incineration infrastructure can push higher value recycling mechanisms out of the market. In principle, burning trash is not the way to a cleaner future for our environment. To take a product that uses significant natural resources to create and simply burn it when we’re finished with it just doesn’t make sense.

 

The vast majority (72%) of plastic packaging is simply not recovered.

 

40% ends up in landfills, where it occupies valuable space and can contribute to groundwater contamination. The remaining 32% escapes the collection system. Yes, almost one third of plastic packaging slips through the cracks and we are now seeing the economic and environmental costs of these negative externalities.

In 2012, CO2 emissions from plastic production were 390 million tonnes. It’s estimated that by 2050, the plastics sector will account for 20% of global oil consumption and 15% of the carbon budget (if we’re to limit the global average temperature increase to 2 degrees).

The external costs associated with plastic production and consumption are mounting. These include degradation of natural systems to acquire virgin resources, ocean pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and health and environmental impacts from plastic chemicals.

Simply put, we cannot continue to rely so heavily on finite stocks of natural resources while also bearing the environmental burdens.

 

Each year, 8 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean.

 

This is equivalent to a garbage truck’s worth dumped in the sea every minute. It’s no surprise that plastic packaging accounts for 62% of all items found in international coastal clean-up operations.

By 2025 the ratio of plastic to fish in the ocean (by weight) is forecast to be 1:3. By 2050, there may be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

These little fragments of plastic do more than just float around and accumulate in oceanic garbage patches. They entangle marine animals and break down into smaller pieces which coat the seabed, float on the ocean surface, and enter the marine food web.

Plastic distribution in the world’s oceans. Plastics can float up to several meters below the surface making accurate measurements of ocean plastic very difficult (Photo credit: Nature).

 

According to the UNEP document Valuing Plastic, damage of plastics to marine ecosystems is valued at over $13 billion per year. This includes financial losses to fisheries, aquaculture and tourism, as well as clean-up efforts.

Roughly one million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine animals are killed each year, either by plastic entanglement or ingestion. What’s more, we still don’t know how plastics are interacting with terrestrial organisms.

 

What’s the answer to our plastic problem?

 

Innovation and improvement efforts show potential, but so far these actions are too divided and uncoordinated to have large scale impact. New packaging materials and formats are being developed faster than the after-use systems required to manage them.

Bio-plastics are hailed by some as a solution to the plastic problem. While these will surely play a part in the future of plastics, they also come with their own challenges. They can take decades to degrade, and can contribute to methane production in landfills.

Plastic product bans have been enacted in some countries, but there are compelling arguments for and against this. For example, plastic bag bans have greatly reduced usage in some jurisdictions; however, plastic bag bans generally lead to increased use of paper bags which have been shown to have a higher carbon footprint.

        Logos supporting and opposing plastic bag bans show the lack of agreement on the value of plastic bans (Photo credit: bagtheban.com, hsbsurfrider.org).

 

Legislative measures such as implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs can have positive effects on plastic recycling. For example, in British Columbia, packaging is covered under an EPR system which funds container recycling programs province-wide. These programs are slowly becoming more widespread as jurisdictions move to shift responsibility to producers rather than consumers.

Innovation, initiatives and legislation are important and can bring about visible changes. But, in order to have significant impact in the face of unconstrained growth of plastic production and consumption, there needs to be a fundamental shift in how we view and handle packaging and other plastics.

 

The most compelling large scale solution to the plastic problem is transition to a new circular economy for plastics.

 

A circular economy is one that preserves material value and increases resource productivity. Transition to this model will reduce the escape of plastics into natural systems and other negative environmental costs. Furthermore, it will facilitate decoupling of plastic production from virgin fossil feedstocks.

An effective after-use economy for plastic would create incentive to build collection and recovery infrastructure. Better designed products would have higher after-use value and would be less likely to escape collection. New innovation will produce plastics that are “bio-benign,” and won’t harm the environment if leaked into natural systems.

Under this circular system, plastics never become waste, but instead re-enter the economy as resources. 

Could we change our systems to operate so that nothing is wasted? So resources are recycled and reused in a circular fashion, just like in nature?

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with their New Plastics Economy initiative, are setting out to prove this is possible. The foundation works with global partners including business, government and academia. Through education, insight, analysis, publications, communications and systemic initiatives they are building a framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design.

In Part 2 of our look at the New Plastics Economy we’ll examine the circular economy for plastics, priority actions for plastic packaging and the ways in which innovators around the globe are accelerating the transition to a circular economy.

 

 

 

 

Northwestel

Northwestel serves the largest operating area in the Western hemisphere and provides service to over 120,000 Canadians in Northern communities. So what motivates the largest communications company in the Yukon, and service provider for almost one third of Canada’s land mass to make their offices Zero Waste and create a comprehensive plan for reducing waste?

According to Northwestel, it’s all about their long-term commitment to Northern people and communities. This is the driving principle behind their focus on safety, respect for their customers and employees, and the minimization of their environmental footprint. This includes encouraging reduction, reuse, and recycling in all their activities.

Cables are collected for recycling in Northwestel’s compound (Photo Credit: Kevin Rumsey)

 

Northwestel’s parent company is Bell, Canada’s largest communications company. For years now, Bell has been a leader in corporate responsibility, including maintaining ISO 14001 Certification.

What’s that you ask?

ISO or, International Organization for Standardization, is an independent, non-governmental organization that publishes international standards for almost every industry. ISO 14001 is an internationally recognized standard that lays out requirements for an environmental management system (EMS).

“It’s about transparency, accountability, relevancy,” says Kevin Rumsey, Northwestel’s Manager of Environmental Stewardship. “It sets a standard for other businesses.”

The standard is also far reaching, encouraging better environmental performance of suppliers and accounting for all aspects of product management from supply chain through to end of life.

 

Northwestel’s Environmental Management System

 

As part of the Bell family, Northwestel is held to the same rigorous standards for environmental management. As a result, they have developed a meticulous environmental management system, one that Rumsey says is driven by comprehensive data management.

“There’s a quote, that what gets measured, gets managed. At Northwestel, everything is tracked and inventoried,” says Rumsey.

“Our EMS consists of over 70 annual reporting tasks, of which recycling is just one. This management plan tracks data for all aspects of the company’s environmental footprint, from the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) we emit, to what type of paper we use, which is FSC certified,” he explained.

What does this look like?

Environmental training is mandatory for many employees, and was completed by 392 employees in 2016.

In 2016, Northwestel diverted 670 kg of used oil, 237 kg of paints, 1640 kg of alkaline batteries, 274 kg of fluorescents, and 808 kg of absorbents, just to name a few.

They operate 8 solar-diesel hybrid power stations in remote northern sites, reducing GHG emissions, energy costs, and their dependence on fossil fuel as an energy source.

They collect and recover mobile phones and chargers, and in 2017 they diverted 19 tonnes of e-waste for recycling.

E-waste is put on pallets at Northwestel to be shipped south for recycling  (Photo Credit: Kevin Rumsey)

 

Zero Waste Offices

 

Northwestel’s environmental policy extends into their office spaces as well. Offices in Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Fort Nelson have rolled out Zero Waste programs, and feedback from employees is positive. These programs include increased waste separation at the source and contracting for pickup of all recyclables including glass, paper, plastic, tin, aluminum, cardboard and organics.

Their compounds also separate out waste, wire, cardboard and plastic, resulting in their only having a small garbage bin they empty maybe once every three weeks. As much as they can, they are committed to keeping materials out of the landfill.

On top of that, all waste is weighed and tracked so their actions can be evaluated and improved upon.

Zero Waste recycling stations in Northwestel’s Whitehorse offices (Photo Credit: Kevin Rumsey)

 

Social Conscience

 

On top of their industry leading environmental policy, the company is also committed to social responsibility. With more than 500 employees across the North, they want to make Northern communities better places to live and work. As a result, there are many ways they are enhancing the quality of life for Northerners.

They have been operating a directory recycling program for 15 years. This program awards cash contributions to schools in Yukon, BC, NWT and Nunavut for collecting and recycling telephone directories. Over the course of the program, they have rewarded close to $250,000 to Northern schools and recycled over 190,000 phone books.

For information on the 2018 Directory Recycling program, visit nwtel.leafsolutions.ca.

Students from Takhini elementary recycling old phone books at Raven Recycling as part of Northwestel’s directory recycling program (Photo Credit: Raven Recycling)

 

They also support numerous community programs, youth initiatives, aboriginal community and culture programs, and are strong supporters of local mental health initiatives. Northwestel gives over half a million dollars annually to non-profit organizations across the North.

This social conscience, meticulous data management and implementation of a comprehensive environmental management system, has placed Northwestel at the forefront of corporate responsibility, and is setting an example for other businesses to learn from and hopefully, follow.

Learn more at www.nwtel.ca.

 

Success! The 5th Annual Indoor Garage Sale + Reuse Fair

Thank you to everyone who came to the Indoor Community Garage Sale this past weekend! We saw over 1000 people attend and had almost 30 vendors selling gently used items.

A big thank you to North Star Mini Storage for helping to register vendors and for generously donating storage space for the Perfectly Good Program. We received some quality donations for the program!

Thanks to YuKonstruct for hosting their electronics repair cafe. Check out their website for more great events!

This event was made possible support and volunteers from the Raven Recycling Society. Thanks Raven!

Finally, thank you to the City of Whitehorse for providing the space, tables, & chairs for the event  & the super organized Canada Games Centre staff for making setup a breeze!

Interested in helping out at the next event? Email info@zerowasteyukon.ca to get involved.

See you next year!