Let’s hope our garbage fiasco helps catalyze a commitment to the circular economy

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This week we heard that 69 containers of our mislabelled, non-recyclable garbage is being repatriated back to Canada after 6 years of diplomatic discussions around who should take responsibility for the waste shipment. 

Yes, you read correctly - 6 years. 

Thinking about this diplomatic clash and PR nightmare, I still see signs of our collective denial over the core waste issue we are facing and its scale.  Our issue is not in mislabelling our waste, nor is it in limited management solutions.  I believe our core issue centres around the creation of waste.  A lack of intentional vision around creating a sustainable society has led to the establishment of a take-make-waste approach. 

Currently, we produce over 2 billion metric tons of solid waste globally, of which only 13.5% is recycled and 5.5% is composted.  The World Bank estimates that our waste generation could increase 70% by 2050[1].  In Canada only 11-12% of our 3.84 million tonnes of used plastic is collected for recycling and only a portion is actually recycled[2].

The good news is that there is some amazing and inspiring work in this area.  Globally, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has put forth the Circular Economy as a north star.  “By designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems we can reinvent everything.”[3]  

In Canada, the Circular Economy Leadership Coalition has put together A Circular Economy For Plastics in Canada, detailing the barriers, benefits and critical policy areas that will enable the advancement to a circular economy.   Next week the Recycling council of Ontario is putting on the Circular Procurement Summit, and I am looking forward to hearing international and local experts share their insights on how to use this critically important lever to help advance the circular economy.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has stated that a strategy that works to address the roots of our waste challenges will be unveiled next month.  This is exciting. I look forward to this strategy and am hopeful that it will signal a shift from denial to acceptance of the core issues and a commitment to sustainability.  As such I am hopeful that that it will be visionary in nature, include specific measurable targets that build towards a circular economy, and include meaningful investments to enable the of transition.

With this we can avoid countless years and resources discussing who should deal with the symptoms and move on to fixing the problem.



[1] Ellis, Cody, World Bank: Global waste generation could increase 70% by 2050, Waste Dive, September 2018, Retrieved June 2019 from https://www.wastedive.com/news/world-bank-global-waste-generation-2050/533031/

[2] Circular Economy Leadership Coalition, A Circular Economy For Plastics in Canada, A bold vision for less waste and more value,  February 29, 2019, Retrieved from http://circulareconomyleaders.ca/downloads/A_Circular_Economy_for_Plastics_in_Canada.pdf

[3] Ellen MacArthur Foundation, What is the circular economy, Retrieved May 2019 from https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/what-is-the-circular-economy

Moving beyond the conscious capitalism model


Nicole Aschoff’s article on how Whole Foods represents the failures of conscious capitalism challenges us to “take a hard look at models that claim to solve the ills of capitalism without challenging the in-build drives of our for-profit systems”[1].   Aschoff questions the capability of sustainability advancement to meaningfully address the unintended environmental and social consequences of our existing capitalist model.

This is a critically important area for investigation, discussion and debate.  Meaningful discourse combined with a commitment to building a society where humans and nature thrive and where we build opportunities for broad participation in wealth creation may lead to a fundamental shift to our current approach, areas of work as well as allocation of human and financial resources. 

Looking at Aschoff’s example of Whole Foods, we can definitely see some positive impacts. There is no doubt that Whole Foods has grown the awareness and demand for natural and organic products sourced via sustainable agriculture.  Their Local Producer Loan Program has provided needed capital to local farmers.  Their internal salary cap that “limits the compensation… of any team member to nineteen times the average total compensation of all full-time team members[2]” has provided a living wage and shared value creation with employees. From a philanthropic perspective, the Whole Planet, Whole Kids and Whole Cities Foundations have contributed positively towards poverty alleviation, improving nutrition and wellness, as well as healthy eating education.

These are positive.  Yet despite these efforts and the efforts of hundreds of thousands of other organizations to advance sustainability, innovating and investing in a breadth of areas ranging from sustainable agriculture and renewable energy to waste reduction and the circular economy, we continue to see declines in our natural capital, increases in economic inequality as well as decreases in population health. 

WWF’s 2016 Living Planet Report states “species populations of vertebrate animals have decreased in abundance by 58% between 1970 and 2012[3].  In January, The World Economic Forum articulated that, “the widening gap between the rich and poor has emerged as one of the biggest threats to the global economy”[4].  And the World Health Organization outlines that obesity rates have more than doubled since 1980[5].

If our current efforts of making capitalism better are structurally not setting us up for success, then we have an opportunity and a responsibility to move beyond conscious capitalism however daunting and seemingly impossible that may be. 

The question then becomes how.  I do not believe we know the answer to that question.  We do however know that if we invest human and financial resources into advancing towards a goal, we can do it.  We put a man on the moon in the 1960's. 

A bigger challenge to not knowing how to build a sustainable society may be that we are focusing our resources on re-arranging the deck chairs on the titanic.  

If we invest collective resources in envisioning our desired future state, understanding what the critical components of that state are and identifying, designing, and testing new models, we may just be able to build a society where people and nature thrive. 

I have a feeling that without that investment, it will not happen. 




[1] Aschoff, Nicole, Whole Foods represents the failures of conscious capitalism, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/29/whole-foods-failures-conscious-capitalism

[2] http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/core-values/we-support-team-member-excellence-and-happine

[3] WWF-International, Living Planet Report 2016, http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/lpr_living_planet_report_2016_summary.pdf

[4] Gensler, Lauren, Rising Income Inequality Is Throwing The Future Of Capitalism Into Question, Says World Economic Forum, Forbes,


[5] World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/