In April 2021, the Canadian Government announced ambitious new climate goals that aim to accelerate the country on its pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050. The plastics industry is poised to take action and help Canada deliver on this commitment. Plastics are more sustainable and more environmentally friendly than alternative materials, which make them vital to helping Canada reach its climate change goals over the next few decades.
Plastics reduce emissions, not only during production of consumer goods, but during transport and end-of-life processes. According to life cycle assessments, which evaluate the environmental impact of a given product from resourcing to post-consumer processes, by replacing traditional materials with plastics in consumer goods and packaging environmental impacts can be reduced four times.
In terms of packaging, plastics have environmental advantages over alternative materials throughout every step of their life cycle. Not only does this mean that food is safer and lasts longer in sustainable plastic packaging that can be recycled, but it is also reducing the environmental impact of alternative materials that are more energy and resource intensive to produce and recycle. This is key to reducing emissions for items that we use every day and reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions overall.
Canada has committed to reducing emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030. That means that our country has only a few years to reduce emissions across all value chains and industries. In terms of consumer products, lighter weight packaging and everyday household items made with plastic help cut down on fuel used during production and transportation.
Plastics are helping reduce emissions in other industries, too. By replacing parts traditionally made with heavier materials with plastic, automobiles and airplanes are lighter so they are more fuel efficient. Increased use of electric vehicles is also supported by plastics both in battery storage and safety.
While plastics promise many new sustainable opportunities, end-of-life processes are still important to ensure that no plastic ends up in the environment. Industry and government are working to ensure that every piece of plastic produced is a piece of plastic that is recycled and reused in new products. And all plastic is recyclable.
Recycling has the lowest environmental impact on emissions and total energy use, encouraging Canada’s target climate goals. This includes a requirement for both mechanical recycling and innovative advanced recycling technologies, which process even hard-to-recycle products back to their molecular level. One LCA found that that advanced recycling of plastic waste reduces CO2 emissions by 50% compared to incineration.
Continued replacement of traditional materials with lightweight, more environmentally friendly plastics will help Canada reach a net-zero future. Continued efforts and focus on innovative recycling technologies will also ensure that no plastic is left out of the circular economy.