Recycling Basics: New Innovations to Increase Recycling Rates

The development of more advanced recycling and waste management systems has been central for Canada’s plastics industry as companies work toward a more circular economy. Better recycling systems, starting with curbside collection and sorting, can be further bolstered by more robust recycling infrastructure. Although traditional recycling systems have taken on much of the recycling responsibility, innovative advanced recycling technologies (ARTs) can support further increases in Canada’s recycling rates.

Recycling rates have been steadily increasing in Canada over the last few decades, and we can continue to move along this trajectory by supporting expanded mechanical recycling and making more investments in advanced recycling technologies. ARTs are the perfect complement to mechanical recycling because they have the ability to help overcome limits to mechanical recycling which tends to focus on only certain types of plastic. Inclusion of new technologies will expand overall recycling capacity to all types of plastic, including flexible films.

Current mechanical recycling technologies shred and melt plastic products, like water bottles, without changing the chemical structure of the original product. The recycled plastic is then reformed into the same or similar product but can only be re-used a certain number of times before the integrity of the plastic is no longer maintained. Comparatively, ARTs are able to break-down products into original monomers or polymers that can be then be used in perpetuity to manufacture any type of new plastics as well as other products. Together, these two technologies can create a more circular economy that allows more products to be recycled, increasing supply for recycled plastic content.

Recycling groups across Canada are already working to ensure that advanced and mechanical technologies complement one another to create better recycling results. Recycle BC, a British Columbia-based organization that is responsible for residential packaging and paper recycling, is working with Merlin Plastics to expand mechanical recycling options and employ advanced recycling equipment in their depots to ensure that flexible plastic packaging is also recycled.

Similarly, the Alberta Plastics Recycling Association, which focuses on sustainable plastics recycling and reducing plastic waste, is using advanced recycling technologies to ensure that plastic bags never end up in the landfill and instead are recycled into new bags or plastic products like decking, flooring, siding, and patio furniture. These efforts are contributing to a more circular plastics economy in Canada.

These are the types of solutions that Canada should actively support and invest in as it drives towards eliminating plastic waste by continuously re-using plastics in a circular economy.