Canadian Plastics

New report examines barriers to increasing food-grade PCR use in Canada

The report was initiated by Environment and Climate Change Canada to support the government's goal of increasing the use of post-consumer resin.

December 13, 2021   Canadian Plastics

Image Credit: Stina Inc.

A new report commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada finds that, for three reasons, the vast majority of plastic products and packaging produced each year and placed on the market is not suitable for processing into food grade post-consumer resin (PCR).

The report from California-based consulting firm Stina Inc. is in support of the Canadian government’s goal of incorporating at least 50 per cent recycled content in plastic products, where applicable, by 2030.

Titled “Assessing the State of Food Grade Recycled Resin in Canada & the United States”, the report is based on interviews conducted with 16 organizations and companies associated with plastic packaging. The report focuses on polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and polypropylene (PP) as these are the main resins currently used in both new, virgin food packaging as well as processed into recycled PCR for use in food grade packages.

Stina found three main reasons that a specific package or product may not be recycled or processed into food grade PCR:

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  • The package or product was initially produced using non-food grade resin (virgin or PCR).
  • Converters add non-food safe additives during product or packaging production.
  • Packaged products leach non-food safe contaminants into the package.

Stina’s research also identified three barriers to using PCR in food-contact packaging:

  • A limited source of food-grade suitable plastic—Flat or declining recycling rates for the three main plastic categories used in food-grade packaging means little source material is available to be recycled back into food-grade recycled resin.
  • Insufficient recycled-content verification requirements limit benefits to companies—Products on the market might claim they use PCR but instead contain post-industrial resin or off-specification virgin resin. Recognized and accepted standards to verify recycled content allow those companies truly using PCR to realize a competitive advantage and/or gain recognition for using post-consumer feedstocks that reduce waste and conserve resources.
  • Insufficient economic drivers—The environmental benefits of using PCR are overshadowed by the economic drivers of a linear economy, including low-cost disposal, low-cost virgin resin prices and little market accountability for producing a product that is not recyclable.

To address these issues, the report calls in part for greater transparency in the chemical composition of products to ensure the suitability of products for recycling in food-grade PCR; expanded use of design for recycling to improve the quality of collected material; requiring recycled-content verification (e.g., standards and labeling) to reduce false claims and drive market efficiency; and the use of various economic incentives that value products and packages with lower overall environmental impacts, including rewarding companies committed to using PCR in their food packaging. According to the report, decoupling the price of PCR from virgin resins via recycled-content requirements or advanced disposal fees would help level the playing field between virgin resin and PCR.

“While there is growth in PET bottle production, a good source for food contact PCR, generation of
natural HDPE bottles is declining,” the report concludes.However, use of PE film and flexibles, currently a challenging application in terms of collection, recyclability, and to produce suitable food grade PCR, is increasing. There is a need for a holistic, systems-based approach to more recovery and reduction of environmental impact from plastics. Throughout the process, care must also be taken not to achieve the target and the associated environmental benefits at the expense of other unintended consequences that may come at a greater environmental cost.”

To access the full Stina report, click on this link.


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