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Straws, stir sticks and bags among first targets of countrywide plastics ban

shutterstock_700694767Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says six single-use plastic items that aren’t easily recycled and already have more environmentally friendly alternatives will be the first to go under Canada’s new restrictions on plastics.

That means the end of next year will be the end of the road for plastic straws, stir sticks, carry-out bags, cutlery, dishes and takeout containers and six-pack rings for cans and bottles.

Wilkinson says many of the items that aren’t on that list, such as plastic bottles, will be getting new standards to require them to contain a minimum amount of recycled material.

He says there is also a push to standardize how plastic items are made, from the types and amounts of plastic used to the dyes and adhesives, so recycling them is easier.

The Alberta government announced Tuesday it wants to become a hub for Canada’s expanding recycling industry.

Canada currently recycles less than 10% of the three million tonnes of plastic it produces each year, and along with the provinces has set a goal of have zero plastic waste ending up in landfills by 2030.

“There is an enormous amount of opportunity for improvement,” said Wilkinson, in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Canada intends to add plastics to a list of toxic items under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and is issuing a discussion paper on the banned items and recycled content standards and other plans.

Wilkinson said the aim is to have everything in place by the end of next year.

A 2019 report commissioned by Environment Canada found Canada’s recycling industry was hampered by cost and access. It is cheaper and easier to produce new plastic than it is to recycle it, reuse it or repair it, and without minimum standards requiring the use of recycled content, the market for recycled plastic was small.

The report said in 2016, Canadians threw 3.3 million tonnes of plastic away, 12 times what was recycled.

It said there were fewer than a dozen recycling companies in Canada, employing about 500 people with about $350 million in revenue between them.

Until recently, Canada and most other wealthy nations shipped much of the recyclable plastic tossed in their blue bins across the ocean to Asia. China in particular was the biggest buyer of the items, which were recycled into plastic pellets used in its massive manufacturing sector.

But China slammed the door shut to that option at the beginning of 2018, tired of being the world’s garbage dump. So much of the material arriving by the shipload could not be recycled and ended up in landfills in China instead.

Canada will join dozens of nations that have enacted various bans on single-use plastics. The United Kingdom just began enforcing a ban on straws, stir sticks and plastic-stemmed cotton buds just last week.

France began phasing in a ban in January, starting with plastic plates, cups and cotton buds. Straws and cutlery will be added in 2021, and tea bags, fast-food toys and takeout containers in 2022.

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Car wash waste demands a professional touch

Screen Shot 2020-08-16 at 1.13.32 PMThe waste at your car wash site is your responsibility. This is the message from provincial regulators as well as key players in Canada’s waste industry. Good waste management is not only good for the environment, it’s just good business.

“Car wash operators have to do their homework when it comes to maintaining the drainage systems of their sites,” says Leanne Whittaker, general manager, liquid/hydrovac division, GFL Environmental, a leading North American provider of diversified environmental solutions. She suggests that operators are sometimes confused about regulations and their responsibilities as business owners. “We often find ourselves in the situation where we have to explain the legalities of waste management to a business owner that sees hauling effluent as being something that can be skirted.”

Her colleague Michael Tersigni, commercial territory sales manager, GFL Environmental adds that often he sees wash companies try to stretch out the length of time between car wash catch basins and interceptor pump-outs. “This can end up with car washes having blocked lines and floods, problems that end up costing more money,” he says, noting that a site that was overdue for service can discover they require more waste sludge to be removed, and more time to ensure a clean and properly flowing system. 

“Blockages caused by sludge and overcapacity interceptors and/or holding tanks can sometimes cause floods or other issues in the system. This means the site has to be shut longer while work is underway and cars are not getting cleaned. When cars are not being cleaned operators don’t make money,” says Whittaker, who notes that a standard-sized operation could see vacuum trucks take about two hours to complete a typical waste removal service. Operators are charged an hourly rate plus the amount of effluent tonnage. She suggests operators look to see the times when car washes are least busy and schedule waste pickups accordingly. When service providers arrive operations need to be shut down. The greater the amount of sludge or blockages to clear, the longer the site is closed to business.

Both Tersigni and Whittaker point out that companies such as GFL Environmental don’t enforce the regulations, rather they advise, seek understanding and help establish best practices.

“Proper maintenance and due diligence are key operational practices,” says Tersigni. “Be proactive and don’t wait for something to happen.”

“A well-maintained car wash will provide efficiencies because the system is better able to do the job it was designed to do,” says Whittaker mentioning that smaller more frequent pickups are better. “If there are build-ups of heavy sludge and oil, and the system is not flowing, our crews have to spend more time on-site and this costs operators more in the long run. Having tanks that are higher than 50% often means overflow pipes are already full.”

Here, Tersigni notes that having a professional company undertake the work has its advantages. “Only licensed and regulated operators can legally transport and dispose of waste from car washes. We have every tool in the shed and can handle whatever challenge the service demands, from flushing and snaking blockages to camera scoping collapsed lines. We also have to deal with a wide range of provincial and municipal regulations. Ultimately the waste being removed is the responsibility of the car wash operator and any issues with the disposal of the waste could potentially subject the operator to scrutiny.”

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Plastics bans, environmental monitoring get short shrift during pandemic

shutterstock_1250226013e-360x240In mid January the British Columbia government announced it was looking at a wide ban on single-use plastic grocery bags to put an end to a piecemeal, city-by-city approach to the problem of plastic pollution.

Ten weeks later, the province’s chief public health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, issued guidance saying the exact opposite. Stores were to provide clean carry-out bags, she told retailers on March 30, as the province was closing in on 1,000 positive cases of COVID-19.

“Customers should not use their own containers, reusable bags or boxes,” reads the written instruction.

It was but one sign that environmental policies were to be among the first things cast aside or suspended as the COVID-19 pandemic descended on Canada.

Fear of contamination from reused packaging and the need to operate with reduced staff and with fewer interactions between people, prompted retailers to bar reusable packaging, from bags to coffee cups. Restaurants were forced to go to a take-out only model, pushing the need for plastic and Styrofoam containers through the roof.

And as the use of plastic containers went up, some cities were forced to cut back, or even cancel outright, municipal recycling programs.

Last week Calgary suspended blue-bin operations entirely because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the city’s recycling plant. Edmonton has said about one-quarter of what it collects from blue bins is going to the landfill now because it don’t have the staff to handle all the material. In eastern Ontario, Quinte Waste Solutions, which provides recycling to nine municipalities, suspended collection of most hazardous and electronic waste for proper disposal. In Nova Scotia, several recycling depots were closed.

Alberta’s Energy Regulator has suspended almost all environmental monitoring requirements for the energy sector, including soil, water and air pollution. Initially just applicable to some oilsands operations, on Wednesday the regulator expanded the exemption for the entire energy sector, saying it was no longer safe to do so with the threat of COVID-19.

In early April, Ontario passed a regulation under its Environment Bill of Rights that suspends the requirement for a 30-day consultation with the public on any policy that affects water, air, land or wildlife. The government cited the need to be able to respond quickly to COVID-19 as the reason, although the requirement was not lifted only for any COVID-19 policies, but for anything.

Environmental Defence executive director Tim Gray said governments that were already less inclined to care much about the environment are abandoning policies the fastest, but there are also delays to promised protections because of COVID-19 that could become a longer-term problem.

Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said last week the government remains committed to its climate-change and plastics ban plans, but that some policies are being delayed a bit because of the virus.

“My concern is that this will go on for so long it will push it so far down the road it can’t get done before another election,” said Gray.

He said decisions to suspend plastic-bag bans are a “panicked response” that may cool as more information and science is understood about the virus. Just this week, the Centers for Disease Control in the United States changed its wording about how the virus is transmitted to say it does not spread easily from touching contaminated surfaces.

Canada’s deputy public health chief Dr. Howard Njoo said Friday rigorous and frequent hand washing and not touching your face without washing your hands will prevent any virus you may have picked up on your hands from making you sick.

The plastics industry has seen an uptick in demand in the midst of the virus, said Bob Masterson, the president of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada.

“What I would say has changed is people, as a result of COVID, have a much better appreciation of the benefit of plastic as a sanitary material for the food industry,” he said.

Stores across the country rushed to wrap their checkout counters with plastic shields and equip their employees with plastic gloves and face shields. Demand for hand sanitizer _ mostly bottled in plastic _ soared.

John Thayer, a senior vice-president at petrochemical manufacturer Nova Chemicals, said while some orders were cancelled because of COVID-19, demand has increased for plastics used to make food packaging, e-commerce packaging and shipping requirements and medical packaging and protective equipment. Everything from face masks to surgical gowns to ventilators, test tubes and COVID-19 testing kits, use plastic.

“Polyethylene and other polymers are helping prevent COVID-19 transmission and treat those impacted by the virus,” said Thayer.

Sarah King, head of the oceans and plastics program at Greenpeace Canada, disputes that plastics are safer as a means to protect consumers. She said plastics have a place in the medical world but studies have shown the virus actually lives longer on plastic than any other material.

A cloth bag that is washed regularly is less likely to be contaminated than a plastic one, she said.

“There is a lot of misinformation about plastics as a healthy alternative,” said King.

 


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Car wash chemistry moves to a gentler eco-footprint

Screen Shot 2019-12-10 at 10.36.33 AMToday’s car wash operation is a much ‘greener’ environment than it was in the not too distant past when harsh chemicals were the staple of the industry. Now, manufacturers have softened the touch of detergent chemicals and enhanced their efficacy in a one-two punch of commitment to creating wash operations that are much kinder to the environment than in the past.

 Car wash customers approve of this change. For example market researcher Nielsen discovered groups such as Generation Z (72%+) Millennials (73%+) and Baby Boomers (51%+) will pay extra for products they see as having a reputation for environmental stewardship.

 Tony Heembrock operates Okotoks, Alberta-based Dreams Eco Xpress Car Wash. He reports that over his 35 years in the industry he has seen major changes from the highly corrosive chemicals that used to be the norm. “Workers would get rashes and burns and inside staff would have coughs and lung irritation from the products in use back in the day. Now there is so much more choice and new products are far less toxic as well as much more effective in creating a great clean,” he says mentioning the AHS line from Zep as an example.

Another Alberta operator that is seeing the value of going green is Sylvain Blouin. Sylvain is building a new site in Sherwood Park and mentions that he sees the marketing power of a positive environmental statement. “ We stay away from any chemicals with phosphate and we work closely with our chemical suppliers to ensure all of our chemicals are biodegradable,” he says, adding that they have also turned to a Danish supplier for cleansing UV Light technology in their water recycling treatment system instead of using harsh chemicals.

Paul Romaniuk of Transchem agrees regarding the changing face of wash products. Today, Paul sells products like Turtle Wax Pro and AutoLux, but a few years ago he too was an operator just like Tony and Sylvain. “Caustics such as Ammonium Bifluoride (ABF) or Hydrofluoric acid (HF) would be very aggressive on your brass parts in the pump room. Having to change these parts to stainless steel made the operation much more costly. I have seen how aggressive the chemicals were in the bays first hand with my old wash. The metal structures and galvanized trusses would corrode from the effects of some of these items,” he says, adding that they were also hard on the overall environment with challenges to the soil and water table as well as the air with nasty vapours leaking into the atmosphere.

“The new eco-friendly products that we are manufacturing today are cost-effective, safe all around and work very well. Chemistry and technology have come a long way in today’s car wash world,” he says noting that Transchem is EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) certified and does not use any alkylphenol or nonylphenol ethoxylated surfactants in any formulations.

At Dreams Eco Xpress, everything they do has to be ‘greener’ in scope because they reclaim all their water. According to Heembrock his PurClean system uses 100 gallons of water a minute and he is pleased with less corrosive chemistry that does not contribute to a chemical slush or slurry that clogs applicators.

To further enhance effectiveness in the wash he modified his Lava Arch to accommodate more application to vehicle sides and also uses softer touch products on pre-soak. “One thing that our customers have noticed is how effective these products are at keeping vehicles clean longer. It’s also a benefit when they come back because the chemistry makes it easier to clean them the next time around.”

For this reason, Heembrock suggests operators consider not buying chemicals based on price, but consider how well they get the job done. “Today with tunnels being more compact this means less drip space. Operators need better drying agents. Current eco-sensitive products work to break surface tension and vehicles dry better. This means less blowing at the end, a feature that saves power.

“We also save water. From the onset, our costs were higher until we added check valves in the tunnel. Using less water means you also use less chemicals and this has saved us money.”

At Ontario’s Valet Car Wash chain, operator Mike Black has turned to products like Simoniz to help his staff stay on top of greener detailing solutions. Simoniz offers a full range of EPA approved car wash products. “We purchase wash products based on their safety and effectiveness and use technology to help us make sure mix rates are accurate,” he says pointing to blend centres that proportionate solutions to make it fast, easy and safe for staff.

Black’s view is that when it comes to detailing (a big part of his business) if products are harmful to staff they are likely not good for sensitive interior surfaces either. “We are also very strict on labelling. All products our staff utilize must have full instructions intact on packaging so that crews are fully aware of application and any hazard.

“The days of acids for car washing are finished. The only use for these harsh chemicals might be for cleaning the tunnel itself during a major maintenance cycle,” he says, concluding that with all the greener options currently available, operators should pay attention to this trend.