Canadian Plastics Industry Association Newsletter on Environmental & Sustainability Initiatives | Spring 2019
In This Issue:
The products and packaging enjoyed by consumers worldwide bring an array of opportunities and benefits to our lives. From improving health and safety, to enhancing communications and preserving the life span of food and other products, many of these items add quality of life while contributing to the economic, social and environmental sustainability of societies worldwide.
But we know this is a double-edged sword. Despite the positive fact that many products and packages are much smaller, more efficient and enjoy lower climate footprints than earlier models, these innovations in packaging types, increased productivity and increased consumption have resulted in valuable resources ending up in landfills.
Traditional ‘mechanical’ recycling processes in use today convert plastic to plastic pellets or flakes and paper products to fibre for use in new products. The challenge is that these processes have not yet caught up to the complexities introduced in 21st century packaging.
And it’s increasingly apparent that it’s time to think beyond traditional mechanical recycling if we’re going to benefit from and manage modern packaging effectively.
Resource recovery processes exist to recover value from these new, technologically-advanced, low-carbon footprint packaging formats, converting materials not to the resin pellets but all the way back to their original molecules. In their original state, these materials can be used to develop entirely new products or packaging or to provide feedstocks for energy production. The opportunity here is that resource recovery processes can work side by side with traditional mechanical recycling in a synergistic environment, so more material is recycled back into the economy, not less.
However, to allow that to happen, a public policy framework is needed that incorporates the value of these technologies and presents a climate that encourages companies to make the investment needed to bring the resource recovery technologies fully onstream. It’s a challenge that several jurisdictions across Canada are beginning to embrace.
That’s where the Resource Recovery Partnership (RRP) comes in. Now in its sixth year, the RRP is a coalition of international academics, scientists, government, industry and innovators who are focusing their expertise to develop new approaches to incorporate resource recovery in waste management and in so doing, support circular economy approaches to achieve zero waste.
Jay Stanford, the City of London’s Director of Environment, Fleet and Solid Waste is an RRP partner. He says, “integrating resource recovery into waste management is a fundamental requirement to meet today’s challenges and prepare for the years to come. Municipalities and their service providers need more choices; not fewer to pursue higher levels of waste diversion and resource recovery. The federal government and some of the provinces are starting to see that resource recovery generates higher value end products. Without a policy approach that recognizes this value, we simply won’t be able to manage a huge percentage of waste that can’t be recovered with traditional 3Rs practices.”
At the RRP’s 2018 conference, more than 150 participants worked together over a two-day period contributing to the development of policy primer as a framework to incorporate resource recovery in Canadian systems. In a recent webcast, Chris Lindberg, Head, Circular Economy, Plastics Initiative at Environment and Climate Chance Canada spoke about the federal government’s support for recovering value from all plastics using a range of strategies and processes according to a hierarchy of priority. His remarks focused on including the broad range of all activities at end of life that recover value from plastics waste, including reuse, mechanical recycling, chemical recycling and energy recovery.
This approach continues to draw new interest and is vital to understand as a building block for all those who work in the sphere of public policy and operations for waste management. RRP’s next public event is a webcast that’s taking place on Wednesday, June 5 to highlight developments in resource recovery policy and consider opportunities to maintain the highest possible value of waste materials in the recovery system. The webcast paves the way for RRP’s annual conference, which will take place in Toronto, on September 19.
Registration for the webcast opens later this month, with registration for the Fall conference coming later in the Spring.
The RRP includes the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy, City of London, the Institute for Chemicals and Fuels from Alternative Resources, PAC Next, the University of Waterloo and CPIA.
No one would argue that keeping waste of any kind, but particularly plastics out of the environment isn’t monumentally important. The prevalence of plastic as a packaging material of choice means that it is all too often discarded or blown out of improperly managed garbage dumps and left to be propelled by rains and winds into water courses, whether they be rivers, lakes or oceans.
A recent announcement by nearly 30 multi-national corporations that make, use, sell, process, collect, and recycle plastics promises to change that. The companies include P&G, Nova Chemicals, Imperial Oil (via ExxonMobil), Dow, BASF and many more. Together, they have formed The Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) and have directed their innovation, strategic skills, networks, technology and money to eradicate plastic waste in all forms, from land and waterways. This commitment has already raised more than $1B, with a promise to bring at least $1.5B worth of initiatives to life, all earmarked to change the tide of ocean waste.
The not-for-profit Alliance is focusing its work on the countries that are the main generators of waste that contributes to ocean gyres. It will concentrate its efforts on four key pillars: infrastructure and development; innovation (including reduction and reuse initiatives); education and engagement; and plastic clean-up projects. And it started moving on all four fronts from day one.
With funding in place, the Alliance is already:
Alliance Vice-Chairman Antoine Frérot, who is CEO of Veolia Environmental Services states: “No one country, company or community can solve this on their own”. He says, “Addressing plastic waste in the environment and developing a circular economy of plastics requires the participation of everyone across the entire value chain and the long-term commitment of businesses, governments, and communities.”
Toward that goal, the Alliance is building partnerships and relationships across many sectors, with local experts and organizations around the world, drawing on the best ideas to generate locally appropriate and global solutions.
“CPIA and its members have long been working to enhance the sustainability of plastics and to benefit from the carbon footprint reductions that plastic materials offer, when managed responsibly,” said Joe Hruska, VP Sustainability. “But we recognize that opportunities to do this aren’t universally available and fully support and look forward to the advancements to come through this ground-breaking partnership.”
The Alliance has launched a website where interested individuals and businesses can sign-up to join the initiative and receive periodic updates.
The 2019 Canada Winter Games may be over but there are plenty of legacy moments still to be enjoyed in Red Deer, Alberta. A walk around downtown will take you past the Games’ Celebration Plaza and there you’ll find a pleasant interlude awaits. Take a seat on the futuristic looking bench fashioned from 100% post consumer plastics collected from community recycling programs across the province.
The welcoming bench is courtesy of the Alberta Plastics Recycling Association (APRA) and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) and was installed as their legacy contribution to the Winter Games celebration festivities.
The benches, designed by Stantec and Full Circle Plastics, include a concrete base with lights at the back to help create a welcoming and friendly space at all times of the day. The recycled-plastic boards are mounted on brushed aluminum.
“This plastic is very durable, will last decades longer than traditional wood or concrete products and at the end of its life as a bench, it can be recycled into new plastic lumber products,” remarked Full Circle Plastics owner Jonathan Beekman. “We are pleased to provide these benches to the Games and showcase just one of the many products our business has to offer.”
As an entrepreneur, Jonathan has a vision to create sustainable products that solve problems. The company produces fence posts, picnic tables and park benches, along with items to meet municipal needs such as parking curbs and plastic lumber. They are currently shipping orders across Canada and to locations in the United States. Jonathan and his business were recognized in the Lethbridge community in the spring of 2018 with the Chinook Entrepreneurs Challenge.
Jonathan Beekman, Full Circle Plastics and Tammy Schwass, APRA
“Organizations across the province of Alberta are challenging the norm by creating sustainable and innovative recycling capabilities,” said Tammy Schwass, APRA executive director. “We wanted to make a contribution to the Games that would tell a story about the benefits of using recycled plastic.”
CPIA’s Vice President of Sustainability, Joe Hruska, noted the Canada Winter Games are a truly Canadian event that brings together thousands of people from across the country and draws international attention. In this case, the Games create a venue to showcase the versatility of plastics in a circular economy.
“We have an opportunity to engage with the athletes, families, guests and community members about the role plastics plays in our lives and to stress how important responsible management is. It is up to us to make sure we keep it out of the environment. The bench in Red Deer is a great example of how plastics can be used to create new products in the new plastics circular economy,” he said.
Flexible packaging and film plastic bags – it’s all high-quality plastic that should be recoverable in recycling programs to be reused in a circular economy. The packaging is resource efficient and light, requiring less material and energy to make, and less fuel to transport, which in combination, assigns it a low carbon footprint ratio compared to other standard packaging. On top of that the resealable packaging keeps food fresh longer substantially contributing to lower food waste volumes.
But the very lamination that makes it highly desirable as a package to preserve food also makes it challenging to recycle. So, the vast amount of this packaging purchased across Canada regretfully ends up in landfill…for now. CPIA has partnered with a U.S. industry group, Material Recovery for the Future (MRFF) that is working to change the end-of-life destiny of flexible packaging.
Among the partners in the pilot project are several multi-national companies sporting household names such as Nestle, Pepsico, Dow, P&G, S. C. Johnson and Plum Organics. They have joined forces with associations such as the American Chemistry Council, the Plastics Industry Association and CPIA to direct and fund the pilot.
Flexible packaging has not been accepted in recycling programs in part because it cannot be mechanically sorted from other materials. As a result, the first stage of the pilot involved sourcing, testing and tweaking optical sorting equipment to enable it to recognize and sort flexible packaging from other materials being processed at a material recycling facility (MRF), including other containers and paper. With that problem solved, the group moved to stage two– searching for a MRF that would be willing to enter into a multi-year demonstration project that included collecting and processing flexible packaging as part of a curbside recycling program.
Stage two launched in February 2019 with the announcement that a state-of-the-art MRF owned by TotalRecycling in Exeter Township, near Reading, Pennsylvania had been selected as the partner to carry out the practical side of the pilot project. The facility currently processes 20,000 tons of recyclables each month.
TotalRecycling, owned by J.P. Mascaro and Sons, is the first recycling organization in the U.S. to offer curbside collection of flexible packaging. As such, it will demonstrate whether recovering flexible packaging in single stream curbside household recycling programs is both technically as well as economically feasible. End market tests are already underway.
In Canada, BC’s extended producer responsibility program for packaging and printed paper, Recycle BC is testing the recovery of flexible packaging in its depot collection programs.
Plastic bags take centre stage again this year in The Plastic Bag Grab (PBG) challenging students from coast to coast to collect as many bags as they can over a two-week period concluding with Earth Week in April. Initiated by the Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO), participating schools are eligible for substantial prizes, not just for the number of bags they collect, but also for engaging their communities with new opportunities to integrate 3Rs (reduce-reuse-recycling) practices in managing plastic materials. Over the past years, prizes have been directed to environmental enrichment activities and providing support for winning schools.
With a focus on elementary schools through the first three years, school communities have recovered over 50 tonnes of bags for recycling. Bringing in the efforts of secondary schools from coast to coast for 2019, the sky’s the limit and the RCO expects to see the amount of material recovered grow dramatically, with new 3Rs learning opportunities for young Canadians and their families.
Holy Family School in Red Deer, Alberta via plasticbaggrab.com
Plastic bags are exceptional candidates for reuse and reduction options and this year’s challenge integrates a new focus on these important activities. In 2019, the challenge encourages students to use their imaginations and initiative to find new ways to streamline use of plastic bags in their daily lives and share their ideas to prevent these valuable materials from entering the environment.
“Plastic bags that go to landfill, that are not reused or end up as litter are lost, not only to the environment, but also to the industries that need these materials to create valuable products that are used worldwide,” says Joe Hruska, CPIA Vice President of Sustainability. “The young Canadians who take part in this challenge set a terrific example for all of us by using the resources in their community to extend the benefits of the bags through recycling and to protect their land and waterways.”
CPIA is a proud sponsor of the challenge, along with partners RCO, Walmart, Cascades, TREX and Waste Reduction Week in Canada. To date, more than 600 schools have taken part, harnessing the energy of more than 500,000 students and their teachers to recover plastic bags for recycling. In 2019, bags collected will be taken to Walmart bag drop off locations and shipped directly to TREX, a North American manufacturer of premium wood alternative products.
The PBG challenge is important not just for the impressive achievements but for reminding us that convenient options exist, not just on Earth Day but every day, to recycle these bags when they can’t be used any more. In fact, this year’s program is set to expand with an additional challenge that’s coming in the Fall.
Plastic film isn’t always accepted in curbside recycling programs, but it can be taken back to stores in communities country-wide. Looking for recycling opportunities in your community? The Plastic Film recycling ‘look up tool’ is an excellent resource to use and share year round to ensure that the value in these materials is captured for continual use.
Details about how to register, challenge rules and more are available at the PGB challenge website: plasticbaggrab.com.
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