Canada’s Waste: An Opportunity for Entrepreneurship, Jobs and Economic Growth
Solenne Brouard Gaillot
Founder and CEO
Solenne Brouard Gaillot is the CEO and founder of Polystyvert and is a pioneer in polystyrene (PS) recycling. She created a disruptive technology that is revolutionizing the PS market and created her company from the ground by bringing together a dynamic team of young experts dedicated to sustainable development. Prior to this, she worked as a master scheduler and buyer in the aerospace industry at Bombardier and Avior, and in the electronics at Intrado.
Polystyvert has developed a proprietary system for polystyrene recycling. The dissolution of polystyrene into a solvent at the generator’s site allows for an ecological and economical collection method, lowering transportation costs and reducing GHG emissions.
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1- Although Canada’s private sector is working towards environmental sustainability, government regulations and standards need to incentivize waste management, cleantech development and carbon neutrality more effectively.
2- There is no panacea for Canada’s waste management problems; creating a circular economy, switching to bioplastics, recycling and introducing eco-design from the beginning of products’ lifecycle are all parts of the solution.
3- Instead of shipping waste to other countries, Canada needs to start viewing its waste as a resource. Waste management is an opportunity to boost entrepreneurship, generate employment and drive economic growth.
Canada must enact laws and regulations to increase recycling and environmental protection. We must invest in cleantech in order to discover new ways to create growth from our waste. We must also invest in education to give people the skills they need to work and start companies in the cleantech sector.
As an expat in Canada, how would you compare our approach to waste production and management to those of other countries?
Canada has various programs to support cleantech innovation, which are effective and well-executed. Cleantech start-ups receive a lot of support from both provincial and federal governments. In addition, industry is mobilizing to become as sustainable as it can. However, as long as there is no legal obligation to increase various industries’ level of sustainability, the private sector will not move any further. European regulations are much more stringent and that is the reason companies like ours have many more clients there.
For example, in Germany, companies are legally obligated to recycle all recyclable waste. As long as recycling technologies exists, we should use them – it should not be acceptable to bury or burn recyclable materials.We should implement such regulations in Canada. The carbon tax would also be really helpful here since it holds carbon generators financially accountable. Another effective European regulation is France’s tax on virgin plastic, which is directly allocated to plastic recycling upon collection. This subsidizes recycled plastic, which encourages producers to recycle rather than produce more virgin plastic.
Do you think the Canadian government is doing enough to manage our waste effectively?
We are all pieces of a chain and we all have to contribute to making it more sustainable. People are used to blaming the government and, to a certain extent, the government is responsible for that. The government has accepted that we have a major issue with plastic waste and our dependence on oil. But, changing the nature of our economy is a slow process; it will not happen overnight.
All stakeholders such as industry, consumers and academia have a role to play in this transition. The government has to legislate appropriately, industry needs to invest in cleantech and waste management, and academics have to train people to understand the life cycle of a product.Our education system also needs to equip people with the relevant skills for successful careers in cleantech. We all need to understand the impact of our production and consumption. For example, we always hear the three R’s when it comes to plastic waste: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This is not a new policy, we all just need to practise it.
What aspects should Canada focus on in its efforts to resolve our waste management challenges? What role do you see the transition to a circular economy playing?
I do believe that the circular economy is part of the answer, but it is not the only answer. We have to provide different kinds of solutions to fix the problem, but we also need to focus on growth and improvement. We do not want to go back to the past and live like our ancestors, so we have to find a balance between improving our standard of living and negatively impacting the planet.
I definitely think that bioplastics are also part of the solution, especially when it comes to single-use plastics. But, single-use plastics constitute a small fraction of plastic consumption. Other kinds of plastics that are used at home, in construction, cars, roads, equipment and more, form a much bigger part of the market, and they also need to be recyclable. We also need to incorporate eco-design from the very beginning of a product’s life cycle.
“We must start considering waste as a resource. So, instead of shipping it to developing countries, we should recycle it locally and generate entrepreneurship, jobs and growth through waste management.”
Finally, we must start considering waste as a resource. So, instead of shipping it to developing countries, we should recycle it locally and generate entrepreneurship, jobs and growth through waste management.We must implement the policies that incentivize local entrepreneurs and companies to view waste as a resource rather than hiding and avoiding the problem.
We will always need many different approaches to fix Canada’s waste management problems–there is no panacea.
How would you assess Canada’s cleantech innovation and investment ecosystem?
I think both the federal and the provincial governments are working hard to boost innovation in the country. Innovation will help solve important problems, create sustainable growth and generate local employment. I think the government is taking the right steps by offering loans and grants to innovators, but we could do better. For example, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) could provide more services to start-ups. Many of our clients ask for a bank guarantee, and while banks in Europe offer that kind of service to start-ups, the BDC does not.
Equity investment in cleantech has been growing in Canada. Venture capitalists from Silicon Valley see a potential market for cleantech and are ready to invest in promising Canadian start-ups.However, it must be noted that investors do not always differentiate between cleantech and IT lifecycles. In fact, when it comes to cleantech, they cannot expect to earn an exponential return on a small investment in a short period of time. Cleantech is a capital-intensive industry, so the initial investment is generally much higher and the product takes much longer to develop. However, the growth can also be much bigger that other areas of tech because the product lasts much longer once it is introduced in the market due to the higher barrier to entry. So, the markets are very different but that does not mean there is less opportunity in cleantech.
As a successful entrepreneur, what advice do you have for Canadian start-ups?
I would recommend that any new start-up to find an investor who is a match. Ideally, an investor should not just provide a start-up with cash but also the right value and relevant experience.
Another good piece of advice would be to find the right team and mentors. The best thing to do is to hire people who are better than you in their specific field, that is, better in finance, research or technical fields. As an entrepreneur, you need not have all the skills, but you need to have the vision. An entrepreneur should not feel jeopardized by hiring somebody who is better than them.
For Canadian start-ups in particular, I would encourage them to think global, even though this is difficult in the beginning. Since Canada is a relatively small market, a Canadian start-up’s offering should be designed to apply across multiple markets to scale easily.