Sustainable Development Impact

The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by world leaders in 2015 and consists of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) that aim to address global issues surrounding environmental sustainability and economic prosperity (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2023). Canada has been one of these countries implementing policy in the efforts to reach the outlined targets and as of 2023, ranks 26th out of the 166 committed countries across the world (United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, 2023). Our UManitoba Prairie iGEM team has identified three major sustainable development goals affected by PLAnet Zero:

  • SDG #11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG #12: Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG #13: Climate Action

Canada, known for its vast landscapes and natural resources, has been clear in its commitment to ensuring a sustainable future. Although there has been moderate progress toward climate action, advancements towards sustainable cities and communities, and responsible consumption and production have gone stagnant (United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, 2023).

By addressing the complex issue of PLA plastic pollution, PLAnet Zero ensures that PLA ends up where it belongs, in compost. Our project ensures that the sustainable solutions implemented in our communities actually support the UN sustainable development goals of sustainable cities and communities (SDG #11), responsible consumption and production (SDG #12) and climate action (SDG #13).

SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

The purpose of SDG #11 is to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable” (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2023). Outlined in target 11.6, this goal includes the reduction of adverse per capita environmental impacts of cities relating to their waste management systems and air quality. It is known that cities account for 70% of global carbon emissions and over 60% of resource use (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2021). With 82% of Canadians living in urban communities, it is of interest to develop sustainable cities that are centred around a circular economy to curb greenhouse gas emissions and decrease the use of our natural resources (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2021). PLAnet Zero was established to improve the current composting infrastructure to divert plastic waste from landfills in an effort to return our city’s waste to soil.

The Problem

Canadian alternative waste management initiatives such as composting are still lacking across the country with 86% of plastic waste accumulating in landfills (Oceana, 2021). Although the Canadian government has committed to increased access to waste diversion programs due to being linked to decreased waste disposal trends, landfills still accounted for 23% of our country’s methane emissions in 2019 (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2021). To make matters worse, 12% of plastic waste generated in Canada is still incinerated, releasing harmful particulate matter into the air, harming human health, and also releasing greenhouse gases contributing to climate change (International Institute of Sustainable Development, 2019).

PLAnet Zero’s Solution

PLAnet Zero aims to achieve SDG #11 by providing a solution for the breakdown of PLA bioplastics. Current composting initiatives in our community are not fit to deal with large amounts of bioplastics. Thus PLA is just another plastic that is being sent to landfills or for incineration. PLAnet Zero allows for the improved breakdown of PLA plastics such that it is compatible with our existing infrastructure, allowing for efficient degradation. Effective composting practices prevent the release of anaerobic breakdown methane gas and improve carbon sequestration in the soil. By diverting plastic waste to this more sustainable waste management system, the release of particulate matter from incineration and the accumulation of plastic waste in landfills is prevented, thereby improving air quality and contributing to the production of safer and cleaner cities.

Stakeholder Feedback

We met with Compost Winnipeg, a residential and commercial compost pick-up service in our hometown. Although PLAnet Zero offers a solution to make bioplastics more compatible with our infrastructure, it was clear that the lack of a city-wide composting pick-up service and the cost of these private services resulted in a major accessibility barrier to businesses wanting to adopt PLA plastic. This sparked our education-based initiatives that focused on educating the public on plastic pollution and the need to decrease single-use waste and more readily integrate reusable products. It is important to determine if the switch to bioplastics would readily aid in Canada’s efforts to achieve SDG #11 with the lack of efficient compost collection programs, despite the improved breakdown offered by the implementation of PLAnet Zero.

SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

SDG #12 is focused on ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns. More specifically, it aims to “decouple economic growth from environmental degradation and harm to human health” (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2021). Globally it is seen that environmental initiatives are rarely put before profit. It is known the harm that plastic products pose to our environment and to human health, yet due to their versatility and low cost, they are still readily integrated into our daily lives. PLAnet Zero attempts to bridge this divide between the economy and sustainability by offering a cost-effective solution to plastic pollution.

Identification of Problem

Target 12.5 states the goal that by 2030, there should be substantial reductions in waste production through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse. Further, target 12.6 aims to encourage companies to adopt sustainable practices and improve transparency regarding sustainability initiatives (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2023). With the rise in education surrounding the effects of plastic pollution on our health and environment, Canadian businesses have observed increased consumer demand for sustainable alternatives in efforts toward waste diversion. In 2018, 90% of Canadian businesses implemented environmental protection initiatives and many are also phasing out single-use petroleum-based plastics for compostable bioplastic alternatives (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2021). However, this switch to PLA bioplastics is not aiding in the achievement of SDG #12 and may be contributing to the stagnant status reported in the 2023 UN Sustainable Development Report. PLA tends to still end up in landfills due to the slow rate of breakdown associated with composting conditions that prevent its acceptance in many composting facilities.

PLAnet Zero’s Solution

In alignment with target 12.1 which calls for the implementation of a policy that supports a shift to sustainable production and consumption, Canada has put in efforts to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030 (Government of Canada, 2023). As a part of this agenda, they have committed to supporting plastic innovation, including the development of technology offering solutions to plastic waste. PLAnet Zero uses optimized PLA-degrading enzymes to improve PLA breakdown to permit routine composting alongside food waste. However, there is also a large price tag often associated with biotechnology. PLAnet Zero attempts to circumvent this cost barrier by using a surface-display mechanism allowing for whole-cell catalysis to break down PLA. The lack of purification processes required substantially reduces the costs to improve the breakdown of PLA plastic. Further, waste management programs in our community often lack funding, especially composting programs, and thus it is essential to provide an affordable solution. By providing a solution to plastic waste that does not require novel infrastructure or that clearly hinders economic growth, PLAnet Zero can aid in composting measures allowing PLA to be transformed into usable soil for landscaping or agricultural purposes.

Stakeholder Feedback

We met with Stephanie Chow, the sustainability coordinator at the Forks Market in Winnipeg. As part of the new lease agreements, vendors at the market must swap their petroleum-based plastics for PLA single-use plastic. This PLA is then processed via on-site composting. Stephanie informed us of the importance of ensuring that a sustainable solution is economically feasible to aid in SDG #12. It is not realistic to have these businesses and individuals in general sort their plastic waste to improve recycling practices within our current waste management system as it is too inefficient and costly. With a clear commitment to bioplastics, this feedback promoted the use of the surface-display mechanism. The implementation of PLAnet Zero can ensure that the commercial switch to compostable PLA plastic aids in the achievement of SDG #12.

SDG 13: Climate Action

The targets outlined by SDG #13 share the common goal of ensuring urgent action to combat the effects of climate change. The effects of climate change can already be seen across Canada with extreme weather events, rampant forest fires, drought and more. SDG #13 aims to implement climate change policy into national governmental regulations with a focus on long-term strategies for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2023). PLAnet Zero allows for the effective integration of bioplastics within our local economy, which results in decreased greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum-based plastics, aiding in efforts to achieve SDG #13.

The Problem

Plastics are a major contributor to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gasses, with the production, conversion and waste management of these materials accounting for 4% of total emissions. However, about 90% of these greenhouse gas emissions are associated with the production of petroleum-based plastics through the burning of fossil fuels (OECD, 2023). The remaining emissions are associated with end-of-life treatments in landfills or incineration. In an effort to address the role of plastic in our challenges to achieve SDG #13, Canada has established the Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030 (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2021). A part of this is the transition to a low-carbon economy that is not reliant on fossil-fuel burning.

PLAnet Zero’s Solution

PLAnet Zero allows for the effective degradation of PLA plastic to allow for its diversion to composting facilities within our community. This allows composting to be seen as an adequate waste management system to deal with plastic waste, further promoting a switch to bioplastics. The substitution of petroleum-based plastics with bioplastics such as PLA has been shown to cause a direct decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, clearly showing the benefits towards achieving SDG #13 (OECD, 2023). More directly, PLAnet Zero decreases the emissions associated with end-of-life processing through the promotion of composting. Since it is an aerobic breakdown process, there is decreased methane gas emissions associated with landfill conditions, and the carbon can be used as an essential nutrient by returning to the soil (Government of Canada, 2023). It is clear that the implementation of PLAnet Zero can curb emissions at both of the sources associated with plastic pollution.

Stakeholder Feedback

We met with the Canadian Council for Ministers of the Environment in which the current state of waste management was discussed with a focus on composting initiatives. Our community still needs to be more developed for composting and there are minimal large-scale facilities. The development of more composting facilities across Canada may therefore contribute to increased resource and land use as well as overall emissions. Furthermore, although overall bioplastics do contribute less to greenhouse gas emissions, their production is still correlated (Atiwesh et al., 2021). There still exists a barrier relating to the social issues associated with plastic pollution and thus without clear education on composting vs. recycling streams, PLA will end up in landfill, further contributing to plastic pollution. In the future steps of PLAnet Zero, it is of interest to focus on these barriers associated with the early stages of the compost life cycle to ensure that it ends up in composting facilities to promote efforts to achieve SDG #13.

Possible Benefits and Negative Impacts of PLAnet Zero

Our UManitoba Team Members have identified many long-term benefits associated with the integration of PLAnet Zero in our local composting facilities. Most notably, it would decrease our reliance on petroleum-based plastics allowing for reduced fossil fuel burning and promote a circular economy where waste can be re-integrated into useful compost end-products for applications in landscaping and agriculture. As a result, the carbon footprint of the plastic sector would be overall reduced (OECD, 2023).

However, PLAnet Zero is not a perfect solution. As discussed, PLAnet Zero would permit more mainstream PLA composting, making it a more sustainable solution for businesses diverting from petroleum-based plastics. However, the switch to bioplastics across Canada may become an issue in low-income communities where accessibility to composting and lack of infrastructure may be an issue. It is therefore vital to develop these programs alongside novel technologies allowing for PLA breakdown, to ensure a sustainable waste management program. Our team also identifies that progress to achieve SDG #15 life on land, may be hindered by PLAnet Zero as bioplastics may exacerbate deforestation efforts to create more land for their production (OECD, 2023).


PLAnet Zero was designed to deal with Canada’s plastic problem. By contributing to the sustainable development goals of sustainable cities and communities (SDG #11), responsible consumption and production (SDG #12) and climate action (SDG #13), it offers the opportunity to curb environmental degradation for profit in our country.


Atiwesh, G., Mikhaeil, A., Parrish, C. C., Banoub, J., & Le, T. T. (2021). Environmental Impact of Bioplastic Use: A Review. Heliyon. 7(9). doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2021.e07918.

Employment and Social Development Canada. (2021). Taking Action Together - Canada’s 2021 Annual Report on the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Government of Canada. (2023). Canada’s Zero Plastic Waste Agenda.

Government of Canada. (2023). Waste and Greenhouse Gases: Canada’s Actions.

International Institute for Sustainable Development. (2019). Plastic Waste in Canada: A Daunting Economic and Environmental Threat or an Opportunity for Sustainable Public Procurement? (12%)

Oceana. (2021). Canada’s Plastic Problem: Sorting Fact from Fiction. (86%)

OECD. (2023). Climate Change and Plastics Pollution.

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2023). The 17 Goals.

United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. (2023). Sustainable Development Report 2023.