Canadian Plastics Industry Association Newsletter on Environmental & Sustainability Initiatives | Winter 2017
In This Issue:
Welcome to Canadian Plastics Watch, CPIA’s newsletter for stakeholders interested in the development of sustainable plastic recycling and recovery in Canada. This issue is full of information to help you stay abreast of advances in the plastics industry. Firstly, we hope you’ll take a few minutes to review the infographic we’ve added immediately below. We’re very proud of all we’ve accomplished in 2016 and the infographic is a fast-paced newsreel recapping our successful year.
Looking ahead, we’ve planned a year that will focus even more on the plastic materials at the new frontier of recycling and recovery – plastic bags, film, and overwrap and polystyrene foam. As you will see from the “Canadians' Access to Plastics Recycling Programs Grows Again” story below, diversion rates for all types of plastic packaging from bottles and tubs to caps and lids continue to grow. This year, we will be working with our municipal and end-market partners to examine and implement options to help recover more of these materials in municipal and retail collection settings.
Finally, I’m excited to announce that within days CPIA will be welcoming our new VP of Sustainability, Joe Hruska. Joe, who steps into the role very capably shaped by our previous VP of Sustainability, Krista Friesen, brings to CPIA a wealth of knowledge and experience in recycling resources diversion and recovery. You can read more about Joe in the appointment announcement.
We hope you enjoy this and future issues of Canadian Plastics Watch. They’ll be coming to you on a quarterly basis. As always, we welcome your comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CPIA President and CEO
CPIA has created an infographic that encapsulates key achievements and highlights of 2016. From noting that more Canadians can recycle even more types of plastic packaging in their local programs to celebrating an increase in plastic packaging recycling of 3%, the infographic depicts a quick overview of a very successful year. Click here to see full infographic >
Plastic seems to be the most common type of packaging on store shelves today. And while a wide variety of plastic containers are accepted in our recycling bins, and the number of locations that accept plastic bags and overwrap (plastic wrap covering bulk products like paper towel) continues to grow, many Canadians find they can't recycle certain packaging like food pouches. Plastic Watch talked with CPIA President and CEO Carol Hochu to find out more about how CPIA advances sustainability in recycling.
PW – In light of the call to move to greater sustainability and to support the circular economy, what is CPIA doing to bring more of this packaging into the recycling stream?
Carol: CPIA is actively involved in the end-of-life management of plastic packaging in Canada. We appreciate that an effective reverse supply chain is central to producers who are obligated under stewardship and extended producer responsibility regulations to take responsibility for their packaging and products once the consumer no longer has a use for them. Effective means of capturing recycling resources is also critical to municipalities committed to reducing demand on landfill space and to material processors who prepare post-consumer materials for feedstock in manufacturing processes.
CPIA promotes the development of effective recovery systems and end-markets for plastic packaging and products like plastic bags and overwrap by working as a partner with stewardship agencies, municipalities and processors…and often retailers…to open doors to broader material recovery options for consumers. Sometimes those doors lead to innovative uses for post-consumer materials…and sometimes they lead to out-of-the box thinking about collection options.
For example, new opportunities to recycle plastic bags and overwrap are emerging throughout Canada as a result of in-store collection programs put in place by retailers like Walmart and a number of supermarket chains. CPIA has established an online Plastic Film Drop-off Directory that Canadians can use to find nearby stores with collection bins for plastic bags and overwrap. We have also developed an online Foam Recycling Directory that allows Canadians to find municipal and private recycling programs for polystyrene foam products like protective packaging. While these are just two examples of plastic packaging types, the CPIA team is in continuous dialogue with the recycling industry to figure out how we can improve the range, quantity and quality of plastic packaging that is making its way to recycling channels.
We also work with municipalities to help them meet end-market specifications for recycling resources and to develop educational programs directed to consumers so they can become more knowledgeable, better recyclers. That means putting only acceptable materials in recycling bins. And, as history has shown us, recycling technology quickly adapts to the evolution of packaging. I predict that in the near future we can expect to see innovative recycling techniques that will expand the range of packaging materials that can be accepted in recycling streams and recycled in the emerging circular economy.
We’ve also recently released new figures showing that as of 2015, two out of three Canadian households can recycle all types of plastic containers like bottles, jugs, jars, tubs and lids and clamshell boxes. That’s an increase of 6% over 2014 and up 14% since 2013. Exciting increases like that happen when new ideas help end-markets expand.
PW – Estimates suggest about 40% of food is wasted from the field to table. Add to that the wasted energy and resources used to grow, transport and process food, and the losses mount. We often hear consumers question why produce is packaged in clear wrap, for example? What is the purpose of plastic packaging in delivering food to consumers?
Carol: The plastic packaging industry is a major contributor to effective food delivery systems. Plastic packaging reduces damage during transportation and extends the shelf life of produce allowing more time for food to be purchased and consumed. That is hugely important in reducing the amount of food that requires disposal. For example, the plastic sleeves on English cucumbers and red peppers may seem unnecessary to some people, but they preserve freshness, keeping produce suitable for human consumption for days and even weeks longer than without packaging. This helps utilize the investments in energy and resources from the growing and transportation process, and reduces potential cumulative greenhouse emissions from discarding spoiled produce in landfill.
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In its new Sustainability Living Plan, Unilever, a multi-national consumer goods giant has committed to ambitious sustainability goals that integrate circular economy concepts throughout its manufacturing processes, from the design stage on. This expands on a prior commitment to reduce the weight of its packaging worldwide by one third by 2020 and to increase the use of post-consumer plastics by 25% in 2025, measured against a 2015 baseline.
Specifically, Unilever has committed to:
The plastic-laminate initiative is aimed at providing new solutions for recycling an increasingly popular plastic packaging material to reduce the amount that emerges as litter or enters waterways as waste material. This far-reaching program assumes collaboration of suppliers, producers, retailers, customers and consumers working together to achieve a new, practical vision of sustainability.
Contributing to system change
With new technologies for recycling, an expanded focus on end-market development and a defined commitment to practicing circular economy principles, this statement offers promise to promote sustainability worldwide. According to the MacArthur Foundation, with these initiatives, "Unilever is contributing to tangible system change and sends a strong signal to the entire fast-moving consumer goods industry" that will help convert the circular economy principle into reality.
Since 2011, CPIA has been an active participant in a global organization of plastics industry leaders that seeks to keep plastics out of marine environments and promote the further sustainability of energy and resource efficient plastic materials. The group is committed to the principle that while plastic materials offer many benefits, plastics must be managed properly to prevent litter posing a threat to the environment, including marine ecosystems. Acting on this commitment, together, the group, which represents over 30 countries, is implementing more than 250 projects worldwide at the local, regional and national level.
President and CEO, Carol Hochu represented CPIA at the group's most recent meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam in December, 2016. The meeting included delegates from 17 countries and four continents, and the addition of seven new signatories to its program. This year's meeting focused on education, researching public policy, sharing best practices, plastics recycling/recovery, and plastic pellet containment.
Among other initiatives, the CPIA fulfils its commitment to this work by actively contributing to:
The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup: a country-wide program to actively clean up Canadian aquatic environments and promote shoreline conservation.
Operation Clean Sweep (OCS): a voluntary stewardship program for facilities across North America that handle plastic materials with a goal of zero pellet, flake, and powder loss. To do this, CPIA offers companies that handle plastic pellets an extensive, free manual of best management practices to implement, and an opportunity to join in a pledge to commit to effective pellet management.
"These organizations and programs offer excellent opportunities for Canadian residents and companies to take action in the 'sustainability field', either by taking part in a shoreline cleanup event or by signing the Operation Clean Sweep pledge to promote safe plastics stewardship at the corporate level," said Ms. Hochu. "These initiatives make a measurable difference and we encourage our stakeholders and partners to join in the effort to protect marine environments through these and other activities."
A new study conducted of over 2,000 US residents shows that overwhelmingly, people are learning to recognize fact from fiction when it comes to recycling. In an online poll conducted by Harris Polling for the US Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, respondents were asked if they agree that material placed in a residential recycling bin is just mixed with trash later anyway. Only 11% agreed this was true.
Similarly, and belying the 11% who distrust recycling, just 7% of respondents agreed that recycling offers little or no economic benefits and only 5% agreed that it doesn't help conserve energy or natural resources. What's more, nearly 50% of respondents indicated instead that recycling actually helps reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions.
Results of the poll further indicate that consumers recognize the value of end market uses of recyclables, with only 8% stating that they believe goods made from recyclables are inferior to those made from virgin materials. Plus, nearly 30% of respondents understand that recycling is highly technical and sophisticated industry with potential to supply a good amount of raw materials to satisfy manufacturing requirements nation-wide.
This is a big win
For the many people that have worked in and around the recycling industry since its inception, there's always been a question of how to explain the process and counter perceptions of low value materials and a low impact, expensive process. Yet, despite the rise of 'fake news', and the fact that problems do occur from time to time, consumers now recognize the value of recycling for their communities, the environment and for the economy as a whole. Even though this is a US study, it might hold some truths for Canadians, too.
All of this suggests that consumers value recycling and will continue to participate in it, which is a vital first step in the chicken vs. egg sequence that results in sustainable waste management. It suggests that consumers truly value recycling and points to the importance of consistently communicating about all aspects of recycling - from how to do it to what products and packages are made from recycled materials - through good times and bad. And, it may just prove the adage attributed to Abraham Lincoln that while "you can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time ... you cannot fool all the people all the time" which offers a welcome and hopeful start to this new year.
No matter where you live in Canada, it’s almost a certain fact that your access to residential recycling programs that collect a broader range of plastic packaging has grown – again. Data compiled for 2015 (the most recent available) shows 96 out of 100 Canadians have access to residential recycling that accept all types of transparent and opaque plastic bottles, jugs and jars.
“We’re excited that more Canadians can recycle plastic packaging materials than ever before,” says Carol Hochu, CPIA’s President and CEO. The annual report, Canadian Residential Plastics Packaging: Recycling Program Access Report, monitors the changes taking place in Canadian residential recycling programs, tracking how they have expanded to collect a broader range of plastic packaging materials over several years. Plastic packaging includes both rigid containers like bottles, jugs and tubs and also flexible materials such as plastic bags and clear overwrap from bulk products, and stand-up pouches of various sizes and shapes.
CPIA recognized another milestone in plastic packaging recovery in 2016. Data compiled for the 2014 Postconsumer Plastics Recycling in Canada demonstrates that plastics recycling in Canada jumped by three percent in 2014 compared to 2013, despite generally stagnant overall recycling rates across the country1.
“A three percent increase in plastics recycling is significant given that we continue to see improvements in package light-weighting, so to realize any increase means that a larger volume of plastics was recovered,” said Hochu.
Most Canadians can recycle the majority of main-stream plastic bottles and containers. The national access rates for bottles and non-bottle rigid containers range from 85 to 99 percent. For rigid polystyrene containers, the number has jumped from 63% in 2014 to 70% in 2015, mainly due to the work CPIA has been doing with the City of Montreal to include all types of polystyrene in their eco-centre programs.
1 There is a two-year difference between when data is generated and when it becomes available for this analysis
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