Advanced Recycling Technology Can Move Canada Closer to Zero Plastic Waste

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

Advanced recycling technology solutions have the power to turn plastics that would otherwise be landfilled into reusable feedstock and products, with fewer emissions than other plastic disposal methods. The government and plastics industry can work together to make Canada a leader in advanced recycling solutions.

Congratulations, you decided to lead a zero plastic waste lifestyle! But wait, what about the bulk case of bottled water you just bought during your last grocery trip? Or when you forget to pack your reusable straws, so you had to ask for one individually wrapped in plastic. These are choices that shouldn’t make you feel guilty, because with the right investments in advanced recycling technology, no plastic needs to be “single-use.”

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 currently refers to a few methods—like pyrolysis, gasification and chemical recycling—which turn different “end of life” plastics into new plastic products, fuel, and electricity. These processes have the power to turn plastics that would otherwise be landfilled into reusable feedstock and products, with fewer emissions than other traditional recycling methods.

BBL Energy’s waste conversion system turns plastics that would go into landfills and turn it into light diesel oil and natural gas. Source: BBL Energy

For example, 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 fossil fuel extraction. Industry is already leading the way in Canada to incorporate pyrolysis into the country’s current waste management infrastructure. Ontario-based advanced recycling company, BBL Energy’s pyrolysis system can process items like used tires and grocery bags into fuel.

Nova Scotia-based cleantech innovator, Sustane Technologies’ innovative sorting and pyrolysis process transforms almost 90% of municipal solid waste back into pure, valuable raw materials and diverts approximately 70,000 tonnes of waste from landfills. Unlike previous approaches, Sustane’s innovation enables near-complete separation of the materials found in curbside garbage and extracts green energy during the process.

Sustane Technologies Nova Scotia plant is designed to transform up to 70,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste per year into biomass pellets, diesel fuel and recyclable metals. Source: Sustain Technologies

Pyrowave, like BBL Energy, is making ART in a smaller size. This Quebec company’s microwave-based technology is packaged in smaller, modular units that existing recycling facilities could use on-site to bring ART to a wider range of locations—even in more remote areas.

Plastics are deeply intertwined into our daily life and trying to go through the day plastic free is impossible because they’re essential to all aspects of our lives. Plastics safely wrap the food we eat and create protective equipment to keep frontline workers safe because they’re better than all existing alternatives to provide a flexible, durable and sterile material. With ART, plastics can also continue to be one of the most sustainable materials. You should be able to grab a single-use plastic item and know that through ART, your waste can become environmentally beneficial.