Recycling Basics: Curbside to Collection

Improving the plastics recycling value chain usually puts an emphasis on mechanical and advanced recycling technology. However, when designing recycling systems we need to focus on the entire life cycle, including the recovery, collection and sorting of post-consumer plastics. The Circular Plastics Taskforce has recently completed Phase I of their comprehensive report, which will greatly inform several recycling improvement projects in Québec and later all of Canada.

The Chemistry Industry Association of Canada Plastic Division, Cascades, Danone Canada, Dyne-A-Pak, Keurig Dr Pepper Canada and Transcontinental have all formed The Circular Plastics Taskforce to properly examine the plastics supply chain. The task force is taking a multi-phased approach to develop a circular economy for plastics in Québec: Phase 1, completed recently, includes Value Chain Mapping and Optimization Proposals; Phase 2 will see Pilot Projects to Test and Monitor Optimization Scenarios; and Phase 3 sees Project Replication Outside of Québec. The CPT promotes sustainability through plastic packaging by designing a system from disposal and collection all the way to end-markets to recover, recycle, and resell recycled plastics.

Disposal & Collection

For many Canadians, single-stream blue bin recycling programs are the most visible part of the recycling chain, since it’s the only part of the chain where consumers have a highly active role. Consumers have seen their actions come to life through organizations like Recycle BC , which has the highest plastic waste recovery rate in the nation, though there is still room to improve the recycling rate. Across Canada, even though most local municipalities have guidelines on what’s accepted in the blue bins, the guidelines vary from town to town. There is a need for a national harmonized framework that clearly defines the range of plastics and other recyclable materials that can be placed in blue bins.

The Hefty EnergyBag program boosts plastic recovery by taking some items not normally accepted in blue recycling bins. Source: Get Involved London

It’s important to recognize that plastics producers have developed innovative programs that supplement what blue bin programs won’t accept. Partnerships like the one between Dow and Hefty® demonstrate an existing priority to improve recovery rates by addressing the first step in recycling for consumers. The Hefty® EnergyBag® Program is a pilot project that offers more than 13,000 households in London, Ontario with a distinguishable orange bag to discard their clean and dry plastics, such as plastic wrap, flexible plastic reusable pouches, foam takeout containers, plastic utensils, and snack food bags—which are not normally accepted in recycling bins. These smart solutions seamlessly fit into local collection routines. Collection crews hand-pick the easily distinguishable orange bags before they enter sorting equipment, so the plastic goods are reaching the right places and repurposed accordingly.

Materials Recovery Facilities & Sorting

The “right place” is a Materials Recovery Facility (MRFs) which are the first line of defense in diverting plastic waste to landfills. One of the newest and most advanced facilities in Canada, ReVital combines a Container Recovery Facility (CRF) and a Plastics Recovery Facility (PRF) in one location. ReVital’s proprietary process incorporates state-of-the-art robotic sorting technology that can quickly identify plastics numbered one through seven on the conveyor belt and divide the plastics into discrete resin types, tailored to specific customer end-use applications.

ReVital Polymers uses sophisticated optical and robotics technology to quickly identify and divide plastics in its Ontario recovery facility. Source: ReVital Polymers

Bale for Sale

Companies like Merlin Plastics commercially compact and bale plastics and sell them to end-market recyclers. Modern MRFs also have specialized equipment and technology to regrind and pelletize plastics for recyclers such as GreenMantra and Pyrowave. Similarly, companies like Modix Plastique are able to produce high-quality LDPE recycled resins by collecting used LDPE films from not only Québec but across North America.

Groups such as the Circular Plastics Taskforce have launched an unprecedented collaborative effort that focuses on better alignment between the recovery and recycling value chain and end-markets for recycled resins. CPT has recently completed Phase I of their comprehensive report which will greatly inform several pilot projects in Quebec. The success from those pilots will serve as the national model for an exemplary circular economy for plastics.