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Waste Management

Plastic Recycling25 years of waste management advocacy

For more than 25 years, CPIA and our members have imagined, engineered, tested and advocated for changes to plastic packaging materials so Canadians can dispose of them responsibly when they are no longer useful in their original form and to make them more environmentally sustainable.

The 5Rs: Key to Plastic Waste Management

We see plastics waste management as a hierarchy with steps ranked from top to bottom in order of preference. Each step contributes to sustainable waste management, and we are always on the lookout for new ways to do better, and move from one step up to the next.

Here’s how the 5Rs hierarchy applies to plastic packaging. 

Reduce

Waste reduction is about reducing waste at source and by that we mean, at the packaging and product development stage. Plastic bottles, boxes and bags are thinner and lighter than they used to be due to innovations in the types of plastics available and how they are used.

Technology innovations for less packaging and better protection

Remember when you brought products home packaged in a protective box (or two)? Now we’re more likely to see the same product with just a small cardboard back held together by a lightweight plastic cover.

Or think of a litre of milk and how many cartons have been taken out of action with the introduction of lightweight plastic milk bags? These are all the result of new designs that use less material – reducing material consumption at the source by using plastics in place of other heavier materials, with less of it than ever before.

A study completed in 2016 demonstrates that the environmental cost of using plastics is nearly four times less than it would be if plastics were replaced by alternative materials such as steel, aluminum, paper and glass in consumer goods and packaging. For example, a typical plastic soft drink bottle weighs about 30 grams whereas replacing this bottle with a weighted average mix of alternative materials would require 141 grams to carry the same volume of product. Want to know more? View: Plastics and Sustainability: A Valuation of Environmental Benefits, Costs, and Opportunities for Continuous Improvement (Trucost, 2016)

And there’s the protective element of plastic packaging that prevents breakage, reduces spoilage and contamination…at the same time as it promotes longer product life and shelf stability. Using the example of packaging for a sirloin steak (and noting that the impact varies across different product types), the Plastics and Sustainability study showed that modern plastic packaging can cut food waste by almost half compared to using alternative materials. As another example, in the US, packaging experts suggest each pound of packaging can reduce food waste by up to 1.7 pounds. So, in addition to shrinking the amount of packaging waste that’s left over, plastics can also help reduce food waste.

To find out more about how plastic products and packaging have changed, and how they contribute to advances in healthcare, transportation, construction and more, go to “intelligent plastics in our lives”. 

Reuse

Do you ever refill water or pop bottles? Or maybe you plant your seeds in a plastic egg container, store leftovers in a clean dairy container or mix glue for craft projects in take out trays? If so, you’re already into reuse – using empty plastic packages to get another job done, extending the life of a product helps keep these items out of landfill. From carry out bags, to bottles, totes, tubs, plant pots and seedling trays, plastic packages and products are durable, long-lasting and flexible so they can be used in just about as many ways as people can imagine.

Many plastic packages are reused at least once before they go on to to the next step in their lives. How do you reuse your plastic packaging? Why don’t you tell us about your favourite ideas? 

More info: 

Recycle

Recycling is a process where different types of plastics are melted, then blended with new raw materials to create pellets that become new plastic packaging and products. Recycling can be a ‘closed loop’ process – where a recycled bottle might become a new bottle. The result also can be a completely new product – such as when a bottle is recycled into a fleece jacket, or a shopping bag becomes carpet or a weather-resistant board for an outside deck.

It seems simple, but recycling is tricky, requiring science, innovation and precision. It's like using a recipe that only works if you start with the right ingredients (no substitutions!) then prepare each step exactly according to instructions.

There are many different types of plastic resins and they’re all used for different purposes. And while plastic packaging types may look alike, there are differences in the composition of molecules, which makes recycling a technical challenge that succeeds only after years of innovation, experimentation and engineering. 

To produce high quality materials from recycled resins that industry can use to make new products and packaging, you can’t just mix any plastics together and hope for the best. It’s a carefully-controlled process from start to finish.

Many Canadians can recycle some plastics

  Not sure what plastics to recycle?   
Check with your local recycling
program first.

That’s where yo u’ll find out exactly what
plastics yo u can rec   ycle from your home or
office. There may be some items that can’t
be recycled now, but it’s im portant to check
back over time because new opportunities
may be just around the corner. 

More than 90% of Canadians with access to recycling can recycle bottles and tubs made of HDPE (high density polyethylene) and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) while more than 60% can recycle all plastic containers (including tubs, bakery containers and much more). This is a huge achievement that has happened in the past 10 years - and... there’s always more to do.

CPIA sponsors studies to find out about plastic recycling across Canada, and uses the data to identify opportunities to find out how to recycle more. This information tells us while many people can recycle some HDPE and PET, fewer municipal programs recycle polystyrene (foam cups, protective packaging and more) and plastic bags.

Why the difference?

It’s all about how materials are processed at recycling plants and the availability of end markets - the companies that want to purchase the recycled resins to use them for new products. Some recycled resins are in greater demand than others, but CPIA and our members are tireless seeking out new ways to recover more plastics for recycling and develop markets that can use the recovered resins.

 Innovation & Inspiration Contribute to Sustainability

 

  Plastic bottles and jugs have been collected in some communities for more than 30 years. Forging partnerships, and encouraging investment and innovation, CPIA has contributed to developing the recycling opportunities that we all enjoy today. Visit our Recycling section to find out about studies, pilot projects and more.

Recover 

Everything contains energy, even people. There’s lots of energy in plastics – in fact the inherent energy value is on par with coal and oil. Even when they can’t be reused or recycled, with so much life left in plastics, the last place we want them to go is to a landfill site.

CPIA is committed to reducing, reusing and recycling end-of-life plastics. But where that’s not possible, we recognize that waste-to-energy (WTE) technologies can offer a sustainable way to help keep plastic waste out of landfill and gain value from the materials. 

Modern waste-to-energy facilities – such as those in York/Durham and Vancouver  – use controlled, technically-advanced processes to convert waste products to energy sources that generate renewable energy to power homes, offices and manufacturing facilities. Plastics are a high calorie (meaning it produces a high heat level producing more electricity) energy source, so they’re valuable in maintaining the extreme high heats needed in energy recovery facilities.

Energy recovery is a waste management option that converts the energy in waste materials to new forms of renewable energy.

Find out more >

Retain 

Depending on where you live, at the end of their useful life, some items will need to be retained in landfill. For communities that are farther away from recycling and energy recovery facilities, landfill may be the most cost-effective option. Or you may live in a location where there just aren’t enough plastics recovered for recycling to make sense.

Landfill is our very last choice

In cooperation with our members, CPIA consistently seeks out viable new approaches to avoid landfilling plastic waste materials. But for some items, it’s the only option – at least at this point, and we always prefer to see waste materials managed responsibly, rather than being discarded as any form of litter.

Modern landfills manage waste safely

Modern landfills are designed to compact and compress materials so they won’t move or decompose over time. Plastic packaging and products are a lightweight, stabilizing component in landfills that can easily be compressed but remain intact and inert. 

Fast Facts on Waste Management

  1. Learn more about WTE/EFW facilities in Canada 
  2. CPIA supports Marine Litter clean-up projects in Canadian communities
  3. Hundreds of home products are made of recycled plastics: which ones are in your home
  4. In 2014, Canadians recycled more than 320 million kg of plastic containers and plastic bags and overwrap - that's equal to roughly 15,700 regular size transport trailer truck loads and represents a 3% increase over the prior year. Read our annual report on postconsumer plastics recycling to learn about how much plastic is recycled and what it means.
  5. As much as 78% of plastics recovered in Canada for recycling were reclaimed either in Canada or the United States in 2014 (Access to Recycling, 2016).