Plastics Industry Group Claims That Canada Can Resolve Its Own Recycling Shortcomings
October 22, 2019
The closing of Chinese and other overseas markets to Canadian-made plastic waste does not have the calamitous consequences for Canada’s plastic recycling infrastructure that would require governments to introduce outright bans or other drastic measures deemed to be necessary to solve the country’s plastic waste problem, according to a new report prepared for the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA).
Released in late August, the 2017 Post-Consumer Plastics Recycling in Canada report says that most of the recyclable plastic material collected in Canada remained in North America for reprocessing into new products, rather than being shipped to overseas markets.
Complied by highly respected California-based recycling consultancy More Recycling, the study found that 88-per cent of collected plastic material in 2017 was reclaimed either in Canada or the U.S., with only 10 per cent being diverted to overseas markets, with the remaining two per cent of that total unaccounted for.
While CPIA acknowledges that the Chinese government’s new ‘National Sword’ policies—introduced in 2017 to block plastics and other recyclables from entering the country—has led to a “significant tightening” in the market for recycled waste, the Mississauga-headquartered industry states that Canada already has all the resources it needs to solve its plastic waste challenges domestically through enhancements to its existing recycling infrastructure.
“Despite this [export market closing], Canadians continue to recycle, and recycling programs continue to send these materials to end markets, the majority of which are in North America,” CPIA states.
“By converting the plastics to new packaging and consumer and industrial goods, they are continuing to support strength in overall recovery rates.”
According to CPIA president and chief executive officer Carol Hochu, “This study again proves that by developing and maintaining strong domestic markets for recycled commodities we can continue to offer Canadians viable programs to recycle plastics.
“This is important because Canadians have demonstrated they are fully committed to and want to continue to recycle,” Hochu states.
As always, plastic bottles continue to be the coast-to-coast leaders in recycling, the study finds, with 63 per cent of used plastic containers being collected at curbside or returned to depot for recycling.
Following their first and potential reuse, PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottles continue to be reprocessed to generate plastic fibers for textile products, as well being converted into new bottles.
For their part, the HDPE (high-density polyethylene) plastic bottles are most often converted into new bottles, along with being used to manufacture lumber, decking and lawn–and-garden products.
“Despite the challenges over the past two years, the mainstay programs for HDPE and PET jugs are very close to what we saw in previous year, before China’s National Sword policies came into effect,” says Hochu.
“It’s a testament to the strength of the North American reprocessing industry that recycling of materials from Canada stayed strong at 88 per cent per cent during this difficult period.
“Not only that, but Canadian recyclers were managing more materials generated in the U.S. as well.”
Contrary to the positive outlook for traditional plastic bottle packaging, the tightening international markets have impacted plastics recycling rates across the board, as reflected by a five-percent overall decline in recovery rates through 2017.
According to the report, plastic film recycling was most profoundly affected by export restrictions and a need for new domestic markets—particularly those able to process post-consumer materials from curbside programs.
While many other materials were also subject to reductions, most were just slightly off from a year before.
According to CPIA, solving these shortcomings will require continued commitment to recycling by the public and accelerated innovation by the producers of plastic packaging.
“The CPIA team is working diligently with municipalities, industry and regulators to seek new ways to recover and derive continuing value from all types of plastic packaging, including recycled content in new products and packaging,” says CPIA’s vice-president of sustainability Joe Hruska.
“When new and evolving packaging formats come along, like the new and emerging film and laminated plastics, there’s often a lag in technology to manage this more complex material,” Hruska explains.
“But I’m excited to see the huge growth in recovery technology now, with new systems available to recycle curbside film, polystyrene and much more,” Hruska states.
“With that, we’re confident that the declines of 2017 will be offset over the years to come,” says Hruska, citing a significant increase in new Canadian processing capacity.
In addition to more traditional mechanical recycling capacity, Hruska says the introduction of new-generation ‘resource recovery’ technologies will help recyclers to recover the value from plastic materials and to ensure they don’t go to litter or landfill.