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Waste not, wontons: innovator recycled 32m restaurant chopsticks

The idea was born over trays of sushi. Felix Böck, then a PhD student at Canada’s University of British Columbia, was venting his frustration over the scant interest in his proposal to use waste wood from demolition and construction sites. How, he wondered, could he convince people that there’s no such thing as waste, but rather just wasted resources? Chopsticks in hand, Thalia Otamendi, the woman who is now his fiancée, looked at him. “She said: ‘Felix, maybe you just have to start with something small,’” said Böck. “And maybe it’s the chopstick.” He started working on the idea the next day, sketching out plans for ChopValue, a startup aimed at creating a second life for used chopsticks. The plans soon coalesced into actions; recycling bins were dropped off at restaurants across Vancouver, methods were perfected to clean the utensils and a process was developed to transform the chopsticks – most of which are made from bamboo – into sleek household items that range from tablet stands to tabletops. Four years on, ChopValue has recycled more than 32m chopsticks – diverting them from landfills and creating employment for 40 people. “These chopsticks travel 6,000 miles to arrive on your dining table for 20 to 30 minutes,” said Böck, 31. “You can’t possibly feel good about throwing them out afterwards.” The startup has expanded its footprint across North America, with its process – which uses heat, steam and pressure to transform the chopsticks into wooden tiles – now also being used in Calgary, Montreal and Los Angeles. Chopsticks are sourced from hundreds of restaurants as well as locations such as shopping centres, airports and universities; in Vancouver alone ChopValue said it collects around 350,000 used chopsticks a week. “When you walk into a restaurant and you ask them to place a recycling bin for chopsticks, they still give you the exact same look as they gave me on day one,” said Böck. “I think it’s because it’s one of these little things that we neglect. But the moment someone reminds us of that problem that’s right in front of us, it creates that immediate Aha! moment.” Among the first companies to collaborate with ChopValue was Pacific Poke, a chain of restaurants based in western Canada. “We thought it was a great idea. We were like, why didn’t anyone else think of this?” said co-founder Dong Lam. “We’re selling a couple of hundred bowls a day so you can imagine how many chopsticks that adds up to over time.” The restaurant chain has become a fine example of the circular economy that ChopValue is seeking to foster, with most of its locations featuring artwork and tabletops made from chopsticks once used at the restaurant. At ChopValue, the focus is now on exporting their model. “We do want to mass produce, just on a local scale,” said Böck. His aim is a network of franchises where chopsticks could be sourced from local restaurants and transformed in nearby microfactories with the finished products sold locally. Currently the company’s products are sold on its website and through partnerships with retailers such as Nordstrom in the US. With each item comes a hint of its previous life, detailing the 886 chopsticks that went into making a butcher’s block or the 9,600 chopsticks used for a work-from-home desk. “We’ve made money since day one,” said Böck. “We obviously reinvested every dollar we made into growth because we feel that the responsibility right now is to expand the concept globally.” His hope is that ChopValue – and the “crazy idea” behind it – will prompt people to reconsider what they see as waste. “There’s this cheesy saying that every small action matters,” he said. “But I think we’re proving that in a fairly practical and exciting way.” Orginal Source

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Amsterdam Green Coins Initiative.

Amsterdam is a bicycle-loving metropolis. Around 60% of trips around the inner city are done on a bike, making its claim to be an environmentally-friendly capital substantial. Their Green Coin Initiative further bolsters that assertion. Starting off as a pilot project in Amsterdam’s Noord District, residents are rewarded for recycling their plastic items with green coins. These green coins can then be used as currency in a variety of local businesses. Wasted, the company responsible for managing the scheme, see it as a way for residents to turn their “trash into treasure.” Businesses, communities and individuals can avail of the scheme. A person or household signs up to the scheme and receives specially-designed refuse bags. The bags are filled with plastic and returned to Wasted. Customers receive a number of green coins depending on the amount of bags they fill. Businesses and community groups have their plastic picked up by Wasted. In exchange, they accept green coins from participating customers as currency for their goods or services. Green Coin customers can avail of a number of goods and services varying from bike repair and yoga lessons with a flexible discount to free coffee and cheap grocery shopping. There are plans to make the currency digital this year. The plastic collected by the company is used as their laboratory’s main input. It is then used for a number of purposes from reusable building blocks and furniture to stands at local markets and playground equipment. Orginal Source

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Recycling robot for your home

We all want to recycle more but doing it can be an annoying chore sometimes. Now, there’s this Lasso robot that can help save you time, while helping to save the planet as well! Lasso, a new start-up, introduced a nifty robot capable of accepting, identifying and preparing recycling materials. Just drop something in the robot and it will be analyzed. If it’s recyclable material like glass or soda cans, the robot will grind it and prepare it for proper disposal. The lasso was built by Aldous Hicks, a mechanical engineer and programmer, saw that when “you mix up different items all together at the beginning – whether it is data or used-materials – they are difficult to separate later” and, of course, as you know by now “everything then ends up being wasted”. Enter Lasso, an appliance that could be installed by a regular plumber, which will wash, grind and store the recyclables for you. Basically, you have a recycling center at home! Orginal Source

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Defra publishes Waste Management Plan for England

Defra is currently consulting on measures to increase consistency in the materials collected for recycling. It expects expect the reforms, including the separate weekly collection of food waste, to impact upon necessary collection infrastructure. The call was issued as part of Defra’s revised Waste Management Plan for England, published today (27 January). Local authorities who must make changes to their infrastructure are asked to do so as soon as “contractual obligations allow”. Defra has committed to funding the net costs of new burdens on local authorities arising from new statutory duties. The plan aims to provide an up-to-date overview of waste management in England but does not outline any new regulations. The government is legally obliged to update the plan every six years under the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011. The last plan was published in 2013 (see letsrecycle.com story). Waste Management Plan Environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “Our Waste Management Plan is an important part of transforming how we manage our waste and resources, outlining how waste can be processed, recycled and disposed of in the most efficient and sustainable ways. “The updated plan reflects ambitious new government commitments. These include recycling at least 65% of our municipal waste by 2035 with only 10% being sent to landfill, as well as measures to tackle litter. “We have committed to leave the environment in a better state than that in which we inherited it, and this is an important step forwards.” The Environment Bill, which yesterday halted its passage through parliament (see letsrecycle.com story), requires the secretary of state for Defra to set long-term, legally binding environmental targets in four areas, one of which is resource efficiency and waste reduction. These long-term targets need to be set by 31 October 2022. Targets currently under consideration include increasing resource productivity and reducing the volume of ‘residual’ waste the country generates. Energy from waste In the plan, Defra says it wants to increase the number of energy from waste (EfW) plants which operate in combined heat and power mode. Currently only around a quarter of EfW plants do so. Defra says it is targeting EfW plants to produce heat for heat networks as this substantially reduces their emissions by making use of the otherwise wasted heat to displace gas boiler heating. To support this, it is backing the BEIS £270 million Green Heat Network Fund (GHNF) scheme, which is expected to open in 2022. The department says the government welcomes continued further market investment in residual waste treatment infrastructure, particularly where this links up with local heat users or heat networks. Landfill While Defra says inert waste can and should be recovered or recycled whenever possible, it adds that landfill remains a valid way of restoring quarries and worn-out mineral workings where this is a planning requirement. The plan reads: “There are some wastes for which landfill remains the best, or least worst, option. The Resources and Waste Strategy recognises there is an ongoing role for landfill in managing waste, particularly for inert waste that cannot be prevented, recovered or recycled, but that its use should be minimised as much as possible.” Such materials, Defra says, include some hazardous wastes, certain process residues, and waste for which the alternatives to landfill are not justified on cost or environmental and resource efficiency grounds. Brexit Defra says that for “various reasons”, the benefits of reusing products for example after remanufacture or reconditioning are not fully realised at present. These reasons are said to include uncertainty about quality, lack of information and high costs when collections are inconsistent. Leaving the European Union provides an opportunity to review and streamline the regulatory environment to overcome these barriers, the department says. Collections Despite actions taken by the government to improve the quality of recycling, Defra says it has not improved significantly, with many local authorities following comingled collections and not separating glass from other materials as recommended. Following consultation, Defra has set out requirements for separate collection of recyclable waste streams in the Environment Bill. This will be supported by statutory guidance and further regulations which “will be consulted upon in 2021”. Defra is legislating through the Environment Bill to require weekly separate food waste collection from households in England. It says the government continues to support anaerobic digestion (AD) as the most effective way to treat separately collected food waste to produce energy and bio-fertiliser. In addition, the Environment Bill would also require waste collection authorities to separately collect garden waste from households. It says it is to consider the costs and benefits of free garden waste collections before making a final decision on whether it should be required, or whether charging should remain a matter for local decision making. Defra says it also wants to increase recycling from flats and is proposing that measures that apply to kerbside households should apply equally to flats. Orginal Source

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Premier Inn to install EV chargers at 300 hotels

The company has partnered with energy major ENGIE UK & Ireland and its charging point provider GeniePoint to install and power the chargers. It is targeting 600 charging points within the next three years, with the option to add up to 400 more in the longer-term. ENGIE UK & Ireland, which is installing the chargers and has electricity tariff contracts with Premier Inn, claims that the chargers will enable the average electric car to charge within 30 minutes. They will be available to restaurant guests and members of the general public as well as hotel guests. GeniePoint, meanwhile, operates the charge points and the network to which they are connected. Its pay-as-you-go model lets motorists pay online, via a smartphone app, or by using an RFID card. It costs 30p per kWh of charge to use GeniePoint. Whitbread’s group procurement director Simon Leigh said the chargers will help ease “range anxiety” for guests who either own electric cars or are looking to switch. “Knowing that in many locations they will soon be able to arrive and have access to a high-speed charge point to quickly refuel their car while they relax and refuel themselves will be a great source of comfort,” he said. “EVs are one of the ways in which the UK strives for a greener future and we’re pleased to help drive this goal forward with what we believe is the UK’s biggest roll-out of rapid charging points to date.” The move from Premier Inn has attracted praise from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which is currently juggling the challenges of the net-zero transition and the UK’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. The hospitality sector is widely regarded as one of the most affected in the country by lockdown restrictions. BEIS Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Just as the Government is accelerating efforts to support EV and battery manufacturing in the UK, we must also ensure the public can access high-power charging points at their convenience. “This fantastic initiative between two great companies will allow for stress-free electric vehicle charging when we are able to visit our favourite pubs and restaurants again - allowing consumers to charge up in record time while encouraging others to make that all-important switch to electric.” To communicate the new EV charging commitment with customers in the current landscape, Premier Inn is changing its electrified moon logo and signage to “Plugged Inn” at several of its major sites. Force For Good Whitbread’s broader ‘Force For Good’ sustainability strategy was updated to include new environmental targets in 2020. The business is aiming to halve its carbon emissions intensity by 2025, against a 2018/19 baseline, and to deliver an 84% reduction by 2050. It claims that these moves will align the firm with the UK’s 2050 net-zero target. Setting new targets in this space appears to be the exception, rather than the norm, for the UK hospitality sector. Of the sustainability and energy professionals in this sector that answered edie’s Green Recovery Survey questions, two-thirds said they had to delay or cancel sustainability-related announcements as a result of Covid-19. Moreover, more than half (52%) of hospitality and leisure respondents had placed sustainability or energy staff onto the Government’s furlough scheme, while 29% had to make staff in those functions redundant.

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Regulator approves UK’s first recycling plant for household batteries

The £2 million state-of-the-art facility in Elland, West Yorkshire has processing capacity for 25,000 tonnes of household batteries annually. This means it can recycle all UK’s spent alkaline and zinc carbon batteries thereby avoiding the need for them to be shipped to mainland Europe for treatment. Alkaline and zinc carbon batteries account for around 80% of those sold in the UK including common varieties such as AAs, AAAs, Cs and Ds. The fully automated facility receives mixed consumer batteries from collection points throughout the UK. An innovative sorting process then separates them by size and chemistry. The alkaline and zinc carbon batteries enter a sealed processing unit which boasts specially designed filtration and environmental monitoring systems. The batteries are pulverised before moving on to a multi-staged separation and extraction process. This allows the component materials to be separated so they can be reused by manufacturers as secondary raw materials. Graeme Parkin, chief operating officer of the WasteCare Group, who has overseen the development of this new facility, said: “We are proud to have delivered this world class facility which has the capability to treat all of the UK’s alkaline batteries. “It represents the first phase of our ambitious investment programme – to develop UK-based recycling solutions for other battery chemistries to meet the projected demand in the UK. “We are already at an advanced stage in developing a downstream process that will allow raw materials to be reused directly in battery manufacturing and this plant should be operational towards the end of 2021.” WasteCare has been recycling batteries through a small-scale pilot plant since 2017. This has enabled the company to develop and introduce a number of technological improvements that ensure this full-scale plant delivers recycling and recovery rates greater than any other battery recycling facility around the world, it says. The initial £2 million investment has been funded by the WasteCare Group. BatteryBack plc, as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Group, has already taken advantage of the lower cost of evidence for its battery producer members. BatteryBack is the largest battery producer compliance scheme in the UK. The company has been at the forefront of educational and awareness campaigns since the Batteries & Accumulators Regulations came into force in 2010 and has played an integral part in increasing the UK’s consumer battery collection rate from 3% to 45% over the past decade. WasteCare is now the UK’s largest collector of household batteries making over 50,000 collections per annum from major retailers, businesses and schools. Orginal Source