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Material Cost Differentiation (MCD) Project Update (May 2018)

The MCD Project is progressing. Phase 1 of the project is completed and Phase 2 has commenced. Phase 1 required Resource Recycling Solutions (RRS) to identify the material characteristics that impact the cost of recycling activities; recommend system boundaries (where the system starts and stops); and propose a design for the MCD model. In Phase 2, RRS will design, test and evaluate measurement procedures for the MCD conceptual system.


MCD Project Phase 1

Certain material characteristics can impact cost in different ways at various stages throughout the recycling system. The graphic below illustrates examples of these characteristics and the recycling system activities where they are likely to impact costs:

System Boundaries

System boundaries refer to the set of collection and sorting activities that will define where the MCD system starts and stops.  As they did when making all their recommendations, RRS considered the MCD Project principles to help inform their recommendation on boundaries. Principle 4, in this case, was particularly relevant.  It says that “All activities count: All activities necessary to prepare the material to be repurposed should be considered because the intention is that all materials supplied into the market should be repurposed.” In accordance with this principle, it therefore followed that the system boundary should begin when the consumer puts the material out for collection and it should end once it is ready to be repurposed. In this context, the definition of ‘repurpose’ is “to transform a material for use as a substitute for virgin natural resources, or as a value-added input into reprocessing or remanufacturing.” The following graphic depicts the boundaries of the conceptual MCD model, as recommended by RRS:

MCD System Design

With the system boundaries established, the final task was to engineer a conceptual recycling system that includes the sum total of all activities necessary to prepare each material to be repurposed. The conceptual system is more comprehensive in its scope than most of the actual recycling systems in the provincial PPP programs. The conceptual MCD must include all activities necessary to prepare all materials that can be reasonably sorted and with viable end markets to be repurposed. This ensures that all materials are placed on a level playing field, i.e., are treated equally. Some materials with magnetic or electromagnetic properties may be effectively sorted with simple technology, while other materials must be sorted manually. Other materials, such as most plastic packaging can be sorted with more sophisticated technology using their optical properties, that is the way they interact with light.  In each case, the MCD system includes all the appropriate technology and the necessary steps to prepare each individual material category for repurposing.  This also means that the MCD sorting system is more extensive than many existing recycling facilities in our programs because it does not produce bales of mixed products, such as mixed plastics, which instead are sorted to individual plastic resins where possible.

The conceptual system design was also based on the following requirements:

  1. It must be rooted in real-world practices and technologies such as well-established methods and technologies where the benefits of the approach are clear and uncontroversial, e.g., optical sorting of plastic resins, screen sorting for fibres, and magnetic sorting for metals. In addition, the cost inputs used in the MCD system will be rooted in real-world labour rates, capital costs and financial principles.
  2. It must consider emerging technologies and recycling end markets. In keeping with Principle 7, “Emerging trends count”, the conceptual MCD system will incorporate emerging or evolving systems and technologies, defined as “technologies that are expected to be commercially proven in the next few years”, such as technology that has been defined and engineered or has prototypes in operation or are prototypes that are producing a result.


Next Steps

With Phase 1 complete, the project team has moved on to Phase 2 of the project.  In Phase 2 RRS will design, test and evaluate measurement procedures for the MCD conceptual system. That work is expected to progress through the summer and into the fall. The project team plans to provide another update at the annual steward meeting in October.