From scrap plastic to fantastic: Enbridge Gas workers rethink waste

Innovation breathes new life into plastic pipeline scrap destined for landfill

What comes to mind when you see a plastic Muskoka chair?

If you’re Tom Canellos or Graham Waller, you’re reminded of an opportunity to improve the environment and create value from waste.

Canellos and Waller worked together in a Toronto-based Enbridge Gas construction group in 2019, when they noticed a lot of plastic polyethylene pipe was discarded as garbage by Enbridge and its contractors.

Could that high-grade yellow plastic be recycled, rather than heading to landfill? It was a problem, the friends decided, that needed solving.

Over the course of the next two years, they met with every recycler within striking distance of Enbridge Gas’ GTA facilities. They learned the ins and outs of recycling high-density polyethylene plastic, built their network, and ultimately established a new process to dispose of plastic pipe.

Thanks to their efforts, scrap plastic pipelines are now gathered, stripped and ground into pellet form, supplying a wide variety of industries that extrude plastic products. Lumber and other building materials are the main destination for this recycled material—and, of course, the plastic Muskoka chairs soon to arrive at Enbridge Gas facilities to promote the program.

It’s a master class in environmental and business innovation—spending less money on hauling waste, while reducing impact from the company’s operations on the environment.

“We didn’t know the first thing about plastic recycling when we started, but we leaned on each other and spent the time learning about the industry,” says Waller, now a station technician in the GTA region. “Our plastic is high-quality material, and we couldn’t be happier that it’s being used rather than ending up in a landfill.”

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The duo recently earned the go-ahead to expand the initiative within Enbridge Gas.

“Innovation is about creative ideas that drive growth and value across the business,” says Michele Harradence, Enbridge’s Senior Vice President and President of Gas Distribution and Storage. “Tom and Graham saw room for improvement, took action and made a difference.”

‘Yellow pipe in a garbage bin should be a red flag’

Canellos, now a technical trainer in Markham, says persistence has been the secret ingredient. “Plastic pipe is not an easy material to recycle, let alone the logistics of collecting it province-wide. We had to go back to the drawing board several times, but we knew we had to make it work.”

And work it did. Since the start of 2021, they’ve collected and recycled more than 200,000 pounds of plastic pipe originally destined for landfill, not to mention the related carbon emission reduction by avoiding the manufacture of new plastic.

As the world celebrates Earth Day today, with this year’s theme being “invest in our planet,” Canellos and Waller’s plastic pipe recycling is currently ongoing at seven Enbridge Gas contractor locations, with collections being expanded to all company utility locations.

“Seeing yellow pipe in a garbage bin should be a red flag,” Canellos says, predicting that Enbridge Gas could one day collect a million pounds of scrap plastic pipe for recycling.

The pipe recycling program has “got us all thinking about waste in a whole new way,” remarks Steve McGivery, an Enbridge Gas regional director.

Both Canellos and Waller value sustainability and believe that Enbridge will become an industry leader in utility waste recycling.

“It’s important in a big company like ours to always question our processes and strive for improvement,” says Waller. “Anybody can make a difference.”

(TOP PHOTO: Canellos, left, and Waller with one of four bins collected in one week—totaling 25,000 pounds of pipe.)