Frequently asked questions
What is industry doing to help address plastic waste?
Plastic makers are leading efforts towards a waste free circular economy for plastics through improved product designs, building innovative, more advanced recycling, and collaborating with all levels of governments. By adopting programs where plastic producers pay for and manage the products they produce, throughout the lifecycle of that product, industry is helping to develop economies of scale, and establish packaging and recycled-content goals, which can help drive demand and create new markets. Additionally, several Canadian companies have made significant investments in advanced recycling technologies and other programs throughout Canada to modernize and advance recycling systems towards a circular economy.
What is a circular economy for plastics?
We still live in a traditional linear economy, where most of the products start as raw materials and are eventually thrown away in a landfill. A circular economy for plastics, on the other hand, is a new economic model where plastics don’t ever become waste- rather they are reused, recycled, and recovered at the end of their life so that they can forever stay in the economy as new products and new plastics.
What is advanced recycling?
Advanced recycling technologies (ART) transform plastics back into their original molecules (monomers or polymers) to re-use them within the economy. Once back in their molecular state they can be re-used in perpetuity in any plastic product or as feedstock for manufacturing processes. In contrast, mechanical recycling essentially melts and reforms post-consumer plastics to be re-used in the same or similar products and can only be re-used a few times before the molecular integrity is compromised. Advanced recycling technologies help keep plastics in the economy and out of the environment.
Advanced recycling solutions have the power to turn plastics that would otherwise be waste into reusable feedstock and products, with fewer emissions than other traditional recycling methods. Industry is already leading the way in Canada to incorporate advanced recycling solutions into current waste management infrastructure. For example, in November 2020, Michelin and Pyrowave announced that they would partner to fast-track the use of proprietary microwave technology to create an outlet for plastics, like shampoo and conditioner bottles. The partnership will work to industrialize innovative recycling technologies for plastics to create a circular economy in Canada.
What are the potential impacts of the Federal Government’s plan to ban certain plastic products?
There are better ways to achieve a zero-waste economy than specific product bans. The problem is that a small percentage of plastics – despite their use and benefits – are ending up in the environment at the end of their life rather than back into the economy through reuse, recycling and recovery infrastructure. In fact, bans on plastics could wind up being worse for our environment. Studies have shown that replacing plastic packaging with alternatives will significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions from transportation because these materials are much heavier than plastic. A ban on single-use plastics also doesn’t address many of the current issues with low recycling and recovery rates. A lifecycle view of plastics—from their design to the infrastructure we need to recycle them and the technologies and innovations that will turn them into new products—would effectively eliminate plastic waste and enable Canada to continue using this valuable resource.
How can we fix the problem of plastic waste?
Greater collaboration between government and industry is integral in developing the end-market use of recycled plastics. Together, we must develop and adopt circular economy policies, as outlined in the CCME National Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste. If implemented, it could create 42,000 jobs and save the country $500 million per year.
Circular economy programs, like plastics producer responsibility and alternative recycling technologies (ART), will also allow us to manage plastics waste through reduction, re-use, recycling, and energy recovery.
What’s wrong with Canada’s current recycling system and infrastructure?
In Canada, only 9 per cent of plastics are recycled. This is due to issues with sorting, cleaning plastics prior to recycling, insufficient recycling infrastructure, and the lack of markets to incentivize the use of recycled plastics. To truly improve recycling in Canada, governments and businesses need to continue to work together, as well as invest in innovative technologies and solutions. Some provinces have recycling models that could be used for national, harmonized policies. CIAC supports the model being used in British Columbia, which sees all recycling handled by the non-profit organization, Recycle BC. The program’s costs are covered by businesses in the province that create packaging or products. As a result, B.C. has the highest rate of waste recovery in Canada (78 per cent) and one of the lowest rates of contamination (6.5 per cent).
How would a plastics ban impact the Canadian economy?
Experts anticipate that the impact and job losses tied to a plastics ban would be felt in communities across the country by family-run companies that have been operating for multiple generations. Canada’s plastics manufacturers add $28 billion to the national economy annually and directly employ over 93,000 Canadians within 1,850 different businesses. Moreover, there is the misconception that many of these manufacturers are large companies, when—in reality—86 per cent of these manufacturers are small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs).
The Federal Government intends to regulate some harmful plastics under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) Schedule I. Why doesn’t industry support this decision?
CIAC firmly believes that CEPA is not an appropriate tool for managing post-consumer plastic waste – and is certainly not the solution for eliminating it. CEPA is a criminal law statute that is designed to regulate specific substances, not consumer products. Listing plastic items on Schedule 1 of CEPA could drastically impede the ability of industry and the provinces to develop sustainable circular economy practices for plastics. Instead, we believe governments must to develop a comprehensive framework dedicated entirely to managing waste. This would provide the appropriate authorities and tools to support advancing a circular economy for plastics in Canada.
How do advanced recycling technologies repurpose plastics?
There are three main types of advanced recycling technologies: chemical recycling, pyrolysis, and gasification. Chemical recycling uses chemicals to break down plastic products into their original monomers. Pyrolysis is a value recovery process that turns plastics from solid waste into a synthetic oil that can be refined into diesel, gasoline, or heating oil and used as feedstock for existing industrial processes thereby displacing the need for new fossil fuel extraction. Gasification turns currently non-recyclable, solid waste materials into a gas, which can be used to power electricity.
Each of these technologies make all plasticsrecyclable so that value is kept inside the economy. Advanced recycling technologies allow us to reuse plastics over and over again to make new materials or fuel products.
What are the environmental benefits to advanced recycling?
In an effort to further focus on environmental goals, industry is working to support advanced recycling solutions that reduce emissions. Advanced recycling solutions, which create fewer emissions, break down hard-to-recycle plastics into their original building blocks so they can be reused to make new plastics, fuels, and other products. For example, pyrolysis, a type of advanced recycling technology that is the thermal decomposition of plastics, can reduce CO2 emissions by about 50 percent compared to incineration of the same materials. With lower emissions and higher reusability opportunities, advanced recycling technologies are an innovative solution to the growing plastic waste problem.