Engagement Paper on Canada’s National Infrastructure Assessment: A Plastics Opportunity

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

The Government of Canada’s Engagement Paper on the National Infrastructure Assessment identifies a number of infrastructure needs to focus on in the decades ahead, with advanced recycling technology having the potential to improve and expand our country’s infrastructure.

Earlier this month, the Government of Canada released an engagement paper on the National Infrastructure Assessment outlining a long-term plan for Canadian infrastructure. “Building the Canada We Want in 2050” identifies three priorities for all levels of government to focus on over the coming decades, starting with an assessment of Canada’s infrastructure needs and establishment of a long-term vision for public and private infrastructure investments. Such investments must do three things: “grow our economy and create jobs, tackle climate change and build a more resilient and inclusive country for all.”

Within the engagement paper, the need for “efficiencies in waste management” is highlighted stating, “Working with provinces and territories, the Government has also committed to … improve waste systems by ensuring more plastics are recycled.” Canada has a global leadership opportunity to highlight the positive ways plastics and advanced recycling technology can help develop next-generation infrastructure that supports our modern and sustainable way of life.

Investing in Innovation: Advanced Recycling

Advanced recycling technologies make it possible to continually recycle plastics into new products by breaking plastics down into their original molecules so they can be repurposed as new products like other plastic items and fuels. Investments in these technologies would truly modernize Canada’s recycling infrastructure.

Investing in advanced recycling technologies would not only create the infrastructure we need to increase recycling rates, but it would also help create recycled plastics that are similar in quality to virgin resin and can be used in a number of new infrastructure projects. Better still is that this technology already exists. Advanced recycling technology such as Pyrowave’s innovation that uses microwaves to break down plastics and repurpose them into new sustainable products can make it possible to infinitely repurpose plastics found in packaging, insulation panels and/or household appliances.

At the same time, our government can look to make our recycling infrastructure—whether advanced or mechanical—a benefit to all communities. A recent report by Oceans North found that Arctic communities have little access to waste management services and infrastructure. As we work towards an equitable future for all Canadians, all levels of government must prioritize putting the appropriate recycling infrastructure in place and investing in advanced recycling solutions.

While these investments will improve Canada’s recycling rates, infrastructure planning can also look to plastics to help achieve net-zero new builds and zero-emissions vehicles as well as reach next generation digital connectivity.

“Powering our Economy for Clean Energy Systems and Net-zero Structures”

If government is committed to fully transitioning to a net-zero economy and promoting electrification, plastics must be a key part of the way forward. Energy grids, charging stations, and long-life batteries are all systems that enable renewable energy in bustling cities and commercial properties. Durethan polyamide (PA) and Pocan polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) are the main polymers used for charging plugs, sockets, and wireless charging for high-voltage batteries. Unique blends of plastic polymers are pivotal for weather-resistant charging stations and provide battery compartments with the required heat resistance to operate optimally without sacrificing durability.

Electric vehicle charging stations use plastic to prevent vandalism, withstand the weather and provide ignition resistance.

As construction across the country expands, highly-energy efficient materials offer more opportunities to erect net-zero new builds. Recycled plastic has become a sought-after composite to manufacture construction blocks that are just as sturdy as cement, but with added eco-friendly benefits. Construction blocks made from recycled plastic use 95% less GHG emissions to produce. The same could be said about plastic piping made from recycled content. It takes less energy to produce and is lighter, making it easier and cheaper to transport. Additionally, for water and liquids, plastic piping is highly beneficial as it is impervious to rust.

“Getting People and Goods Around Faster, Cheaper and Cleaner”

Plastics are quite literally paving the way for roads, highways, parking garages and bridges. Companies like GreenMantra create asphalt paving by using recycled plastic-modified binders. Since 2014, the company has worked on projects that use recycled plastics to create more durable roads. Adding plastics to the base asphalt mixture saves taxpayers money since it is less expensive than using traditional asphalt materials. Plastics can reduce the cost of paving roads by as much as 15%, while also making roads 60% stronger than traditional ones.

For zero-emission electric vehicles, auto parts producers’ focus on metal-to-plastic conversion is crucial for EVs because lighter vehicles offer greater range between recharges. And, while many drivers believe a metal exterior is the safest option, plastics can be engineered to be just as sturdy if not studier than many metals, and they offer unique properties that better protect EV components, such as high-voltage batteries. At the end of the day, plastics are vital to Canada’s next generation of vehicles as we continue to move towards electric options.

“Staying Connected in a Digital Society”

Government has set a sustainability goal to connect 99% of Canadians to high-speed internet by 2026. This goal opens the door to bringing recycled plastics to electronics and digital infrastructure. Improving connectivity for underserved, rural and remote communities place a tall order for innovations in cell towers, fiber optic power lines and terminals, Wi-Fi routers, and commercial/residential modems—systems that also rely on plastics. However, most Canadians will see digital plastic innovation in the palms of their own hands. For example, there are now innovative plastic materials – that contain up to 50% recycled content – that can be used in phones, tablets, and other personal electronic devices. Also worth noting, plastics used in cell phones and other consumer electronics can be reused and recycled.

Cleanfarms works with agriculture communities to recycle grain bags for other uses.

“Investing in our Natural Environment Through Infrastructure”

Plastics producers and recyclers agree that waste management is linked to the health of the nation’s natural resources and ecosystem. In many provinces, plastics industry leaders have already made those strides. Groups such as Cleanfarms and the Alberta Plastic Recycling Group collaborate with agriculture and recycling communities in Alberta to provide a responsible recycling option for agricultural plastics that processes grain feed bags and twine into plastic pellets for use in future plastic products.

“Building the Canada We Want in 2050” requires the government to leave no solution overlooked and fully recognize the real value plastics have in helping to achieve Canada’s infrastructure modernization and sustainability ambitions. We already have the ability to increase recycling rates through advanced recycling technologies and to create more durable infrastructure with plastics. It’s promising to see the government recognize the need for these investments to create a Canadian infrastructure that is sustainable, profitable and equitable.