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Trending: Finally, End-of-Life Solutions for Two of Our Least Recyclable Products

Image credit: City of Sydney/Eco Business

As the ongoing effort to mitigate climate change leads many businesses and governments to create a circular economy, we still face a number of roadblocks – namely in the end of life of certain products that weren’t designed for reuse, recycling or safe disposal. But two initiatives announced this week could represent progress.

First, as part of Québec’s 2013-2020 Action Plan on Climate Change, the Green Fund granted $5 million to assist PureSphera for a project in refrigeration appliance recycling. Recycling refrigerators poses certain challenges due to the presence of halocarbons - strong greenhouse gases - and foam insulation that need to be properly disposed and destroyed.

PureSphera commits to making carbon-pricing part of its business strategy as well, intending to obtain offset credits with its work to exchange on the carbon market.

“Our government’s support for energy efficiency and innovation measures like the PureSphera project will have benefits for everyone,” said Pierre Arcand, Québec's Minister of Energy and Natural Resources. “Besides improving our energy balance, it stimulates the economy in every region of Québec.”

By December 31, 2014, nearly 460,000 appliances had been withdrawn from the market and recycled in accordance with applicable environmental standards, and this funding will accelerate these efforts further. Québec is also leading in the area of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), by obliging companies that market electronic products, batteries, fluorescent lamps, oils and paints to recover and reclaim them at the end of their useful life.

"By adding large appliances to the list of products subject to EPR, we will stimulate the search for innovative solutions in manufacturing that are less harmful to the environment,” said David Heurtel, Québec’s Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against Climate Change. “In this way, not only will we reduce our environmental footprint, we will contribute to modernizing Québec's economy. We need to continue working together along those lines to build a better, greener, more responsible world for our children."

Meanwhile, Australia has developed a new coffee cup-specific recycling facility as the country’s caffeine addiction quickly fills up landfills. Disposable coffee cups are not suitable for recycling since the liquid-proof liner found in most cups causes them to be treated as contaminants in the paper recycling stream. As a result, cups go to landfills and take about 50 years to decompose.

Melbourne-headquartered Closed Loop Environmental Solutions aims to tackle this issue, announcing a collaboration with researchers in the United Kingdom to develop Simply Cups, a technology that can recycle the cups, turning used paper cups into new plastic compounds, without having to separate the paper and plastic component. The UK has already recycled more than 7 million cups through the initiative and now Australia is putting it to the test.

Completing a four-week pilot to provide bins where office workers in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane could toss their used coffee cups, Closed Loop has already seen success in this recycling initiative. 12,000 coffee cups were collected over the four-week period, used as an exhibit in the Sydney city center. The cups collected from the pilot will be stored temporarily for further public displays, and will then be sent offshore for recycling. The new compounds, known as polymers, can be used to make trays, place mats, coaster and other items.

“The trial has shown that coffee drinkers will use an alternative bin for takeaway cups,” said Robert Pascoe, managing director of Closed Loop. “Coffee cups can be collected separately, using a clean, simple and efficient system.”

An estimated 25 million coffee cups would be diverted from the landfill every year if bins were placed at offices across just the 26.5 km2 of the area that the City of Sydney governs, and likely even higher if bins were installed in public places as well.

Following the conclusion of the pilot program, Closed Loop will conduct further research into logistical and economic factors to make a business case for a recycling facility.

Talia Rudee lives in Seattle with a passion for sustainability, triathlon, and desserts. She has a BA in Environmental Sociology from Whitman College and is currently working toward an MBA in Sustainable Systems at Presidio Graduate School, Seattle campus. As… [Read more about Talia Rudee]

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