Why feds ban on single-use plastic is a step backwards in eliminating waste
The feds’ proposed ban cancels out the opportunity to embrace a circular economy for plastics that is anchored in innovation and ensures post-con-sumer use plastics are turned into a resource rather than waste. Photograph courtesy of Unsplash Innovation and co-operation are a powerful duo. In Canada, we’re at our best when governments and businesses are working together to develop innovative solutions to address society’s most hard-to-tackle challenges.
Right now, we’re facing a global pandemic that continues to devastate economies and communities. However, what the pandemic has brought us is an opportunity to not just rebuild our economy, but to evolve it in a manner that helps address priorities for the environment and the economy.
Plastic waste in the environment is an issue virtually everyone agrees must be addressed. Across Canada, only nine per cent of plastic waste is recycled and the remainder ends up in landfills. The reasons are many, including challenges with collection, sorting, and access to advanced recycling technologies. Industry has been at the forefront of finding new mechanisms and technologies to address plastic waste—from advanced recycling technologies to more durable, reusable product designs—while also working with provinces to put in place producer responsibility programs that have industry pay for and manage post-consumer packaging.
In light of these efforts, the federal government’s intentions to ban some single-use plastics is a step backwards in the fight to eliminate plastic waste from our environment. It cancels out the opportunity to embrace a circular economy for plastics that is anchored in innovation and ensures post-consumer use plastics are turned into a resource rather than waste. By improving and harmonizing recycling systems, investing in technology, and creating end-markets for recycled plastics content, Canada can lead the world in how it manages plastics while creating jobs and rebuilding the economy.
Canada’s plastics manufacturers represent 93,000 workers and add $28-billion to the national economy annually. Implementing bans will send the wrong message to companies that have been investing to bring forward technological innovations to solve the plastic waste problem. Bans also hurt an industry that is essential for producing the products that extend food shelf life, protect the health and safety of Canadians from COVID-19 and other diseases, make automobiles lighter and more fuel efficient, and so much more.
Along with improved and harmonized recycling systems, what does innovation look like? Just ask Pyrowave, a Montreal-based company that has advanced recycling technology that can break styrene plastics down to their original molecular building blocks, which allows plastics to be recycled and repurposed over and over.
Or INEOS Styrolution, one of the largest global producers of polystyrene, which employs approximately 3,600 people and operates 20 production sites in 10 countries, including their location in Sarnia, Ont. INEOS Styrolution is another example of industry rising to the challenge of keeping plastics out of landfills. The company has over 85 years’ experience pioneering innovative and sustainable solutions. They have strong sustainability goals that aim to improve and increase the recovery of polystyrene post-consumer waste and strengthen innovation for circularity. Over the past two years, they have accelerated efforts to support a circular economy by implementing a defined strategy and investment plans to develop post-consumer recycled products at commercial scale.
Or GreenMantra, a company out of Brantford, Ont., that describes itself as the first company in the world to upcycle post-consumer and post-industrial recycled plastics. The company has developed a unique technology that transforms waste plastic into a specialty polymer that can be used to enhance performance in infrastructure and construction applications like roofing and asphalt roads—extending the life of the plastic by 20 to 50 years or more, while maintaining recyclability at the end of its lifecycle.
Alberta is seizing the opportunity to be part of this innovation agenda. It announced its intentions to embrace plastics recycling to rebuild and diversify their economy while addressing the issue of plastic waste head on. We need Ottawa to get on board and work with industry towards visionary goals that will position Canada as a leader in plastics recycling.
Canada can lead the way—through innovation and cooperation between governments and industry—in transforming discarded plastics and gain the full economic and environmental benefits from this valuable resource.
We cannot afford the cost of ignoring opportunities to evolve our economy and protect our environment, and we can start with a collective goal: co-operate to fund and find innovative solutions to eliminate plastic waste while safeguarding and providing our country with long-term economic and technological advantages.
Bob Masterson is the president of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada.