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Improving Canada’s plastics recycling rate will take “radical changes”: report

The report from Deloitte and ChemInfo Services shows that Canada’s plastics manufacturing sector is far larger than its recycling industry.


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June 7, 2019 by Canadian Plastics

A new report shows that Canada’s plastic industry is far larger than the recycling industry, which means that it will take “radical changes” to get to zero plastic waste in this country.

The report, completed by consulting firms Deloitte and ChemInfo Services, concludes that getting to zero plastic waste will require big alterations in consumer behaviour, a major increase in the number of recycling facilities in Canada, investments in recycling technology, and a range of government policies such as landfill taxes or requiring products to include a certain proportion of recycled material. Requiring more recycled content would help create market demand in Canada for recycled plastic, the report said, regardless of the cost of new plastic.

The report, which was commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada to guide its plan to cut the country’s plastics waste to zero, found the plastics manufacturing industry is a significant economic driver in Canada, worth $35 billion in sales of resins and plastic manufactured goods in 2017, and supporting about 93,000 jobs across more than 1,900 companies.

By comparison, there were fewer than a dozen recycling companies, employing about 500 people and generating about $350 million in revenue.

In 2016, 3.3 million tonnes of plastic ended up in the trash, 12 times the amount of plastic that was recycled. A small number of plastics are burned for energy at five Canadian waste-to-energy plants. Almost 90 per cent of the plastic that is recycled in Canada is from the packaging.

Generally, the analysis says, it is cheaper and easier to produce new plastic, use it and then throw it away than it is to recycle, reuse or repair it. The voluntary standards for contents of plastic products, and additives like glues and labels, mean there is a lack of consistency in the plastic materials available for recycling. That, in turn, makes them more expensive to recycle.

Canada also has very little demand for recycled plastic, which is why so much plastic has been shipped overseas to countries such as Malaysia. But the markets for recycled plastic are falling apart all over the world, leading shipments of Canadian plastics to be dumped in landfills or burn piles on foreign soil as well.

The report suggests that Canada could get to the point where 90 per cent of plastic avoids landfill by 2030 with an investment of between $4.3 billion and $8.6 billion, the addition of 167 new sorting and recycling facilities, plus significant government regulation and consumer willpower. That would increase revenues in the recycling industry from $500 million to $3 billion, and create 42,000 new direct and indirect jobs.