Outgoing CPIA head Carol Hochu looks back
As the Canadian Plastics Industry Association prepares to merge with the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada on July 1, outgoing CPIA head Carol Hochu reflects on her time filling one of the most important jobs in our sector.
After eight years as president and CEO of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association – arguably the most important job in our country’s plastics sector – Carol Hochu stepped down from the Toronto-based organization in mid-March. As CPIA prepares to dissolve and reemerge as a new Plastics Division under the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC) banner on July 1, Canadian Plastics talked with Hochu about CPIA’s past, present, and future.
Q: When you took the helm in January 2012, what was the state of the CPIA and how did it the organization change during your tenure?
A: When I joined CPIA the effects of the recession were still being felt, and CPIA had taken a hard look at itself and narrowed its priorities slightly, to focus on sustainability, issues management/opportunities, and outreach. After I became involved, our efforts towards sustainability involved diverting plastics from landfill towards recycling and recovery programs – we became the national voice for plastics sustainability in Canada, and I’m proud of that. As a result, the growth in the number of CPIA member companies that focus on the recovery of plastics and the circular economy has been significant.
We also began to partner more with other plastics industry associations to form a unified front against anti-plastics initiatives. We collaborated with the Plastics Industry Association and the American Chemistry Council in the U.S., which led to good results. And we also partnered with CIAC in 2018 to set two goals for the industry: an aspirational goal of 100 per cent of plastics packaging being reused, recycled, or recovered by 2040; and an aggressive interim goal of 100 per cent of plastics packaging being recyclable or recoverable by 2030.
Q: Nationally and globally, the plastics industry came under unprecedented attacks while you were leading CPIA, as plastic bans spread and major corporations began boycotting single-use plastic. How did these affect CPIA’s work, and how successful were you in pushing back?
A: When I started, one of the hallmarks of CPIA was that it led the way in successfully overturning a number of single-use plastic bag bans in Canada, beginning with Toronto. That has transitioned more recently into fighting back against a broader, more global campaign against plastics, which is a harder fight because it’s a phenomenon beyond Canada. The marine litter issue, driven in part by images on social media, captured the hearts and minds of people around the world. Add to that China’s National Sword policy, which banned the import of most plastics and other materials headed for that nation’s recycling processors, and it created a strong global backlash against plastics, leading to broader deselection attempts.
CPIA worked hard to set the record straight, to work with key influencers at all levels of government, but I don’t think our messaging to the consumer about the everyday benefits of plastic resonated as well as we hoped. People often didn’t trust the positive information about plastics that we made available – such as life cycle assessments conducted by the governments of several countries proving that thin plastic bags have much lower environmental impacts than the alternatives – because they thought it was research that our industry paid for, when it wasn’t.
Q: How do you see the former CPIA functioning as a division of CIAC?
A: I supported the notion of the two groups coming together, and worked closely with CIAC executives to bring it about. Our collaboration with CIAC dates back to 2018, when we worked together to help develop, and then review and endorse, the G7 Ocean Plastics Charter.
Our two organizations complement each other quite well. CIAC is based in Ottawa, and are very effective at lobbying federally, while CPIA has always been stronger at the provincial and municipal level; and CIAC is more focused on plastics policy, and we’ve been focused on actual programs related to sustainability and recovery. The match is very good, and with the headwinds buffeting our industry, we need all the marshalling of forces, and all the clout, that we can get. I have no doubt that CPIA will do well as the plastics division of CIAC.
For me personally, it’s bittersweet to leave, but I think the time has come to move on. I had the honour over the years to work with a great CPIA staff team and board members, CPIA member companies, other industry association members, as well as many excellent industry consultants. There’s so much to love about the plastics industry and I’ll still be a very vocal cheerleader from the sidelines.