Plastics and the Circular Economy
More than 95 per cent of all manufactured products rely on chemistry and many of these include plastic resins. From wind turbines and solar panels, to vehicles and building materials, to the packaging that allows us to feed the world, plastics chemistry is vital to our economy.
These products that enable our modern way of life, however, do not belong in our waterways or in the environment.
Today in Canada, as a result of inadequate sorting, contamination, limited end markets and not employing all the technologies available, nearly 80 per cent of all post-consumer plastics end up in landfills – three million tonnes annually. The current approach to producing, using and disposing of plastics poses a real threat to the environment and results in a significant loss of value, resources and energy. In recent months, images of mismanaged plastic waste in our environment have left many Canadians concerned about the amount of plastic in their lives and the lack of visible and understandable solutions to address plastic waste. Our members are committed to working with all levels of government and other stakeholders to develop a more sustainable approach for waste management.
The Circular Economy
As the numbers show, we still live in a traditional linear economy, where most products start as raw materials and are eventually discarded. The chemistry sector is supporting the transition from a linear economy to a circular economy – one that prioritizes the extension of product lifecycles, extracting maximum value from resources in use, and then recovering materials at the end of their service life.
An important principle of the circular economy is increasing the capture of materials in waste streams so that they can be recycled, recovered and reused in new products. But a circular economy involves far more than just upgrading traditional mechanical recycling — it’s a new economic model where, ultimately, the waste of one process becomes a feedstock for another process, and ultimately, waste is eliminated. The guiding principle is to use products and resources in the best way possible without any loss in performance and value or any increase in environmental lifecycle impact.
We will never be able to reach 100 per cent diversion or zero waste goals from mechanical recycling alone. Other waste management options of energy recovery and chemical recycling are needed to advance a circular economy.
What CIAC members are doing to address plastic waste
Through the Responsible Care initiative, Canada’s plastic resin producers are obligated to ensure sound stewardship of resin pellets during manufacture, transport and distribution. The industry is upgrading and implementing its Operation Clean Sweep protocol to eliminate the escape of plastic pellets from industry operations, with a focus on preventing leakage into rivers and oceans.
Efforts to increase recycling rates, implement eco-efficient waste management systems and reduce the amount of litter entering the world’s waterways and landfills are important aspects of the Responsible Care commitment to continuous improvement and social responsibility.
Our members also work with their suppliers and customers to prevent product loss while also working to innovate for new products and processes that add value to society while reducing risks to human health and the environment.
In June 2018, CIAC and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) announced ambitious targets that underscore their members’ commitment to a future without plastic waste. Representing the broad plastics value chain in Canada, CPIA, CIAC and their members announced the following waste reduction targets:
Dow: Hefty® EnergyBag® Program
Dow is working to keep plastic out of the environment by innovating new applications for recycled plastics – demonstrating that a circular world is not that far out of reach. Dow, in partnership with Reynolds Consumer Products and other community collaborators, set up the Hefty EnergyBag program to complement existing recycling programs, allowing hard-to-recycle plastics to be picked up from consumers at their curbsides and converting them into valuable resources, including energy, fuels and other durable products. Since inception in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2016, the EnergyBag program has expanded to 13 communities across the United States, making it available to more than 500,000 households, bringing together communities and companies to help creating end-of-life solutions for plastic waste.
In 2019, the program expanded to Canada in London, Ontario. In March this year, Reynolds Consumer Products announced that the innovative program has officially diverted over one million pounds of hard-to-recycle plastics from landfills.
Global Alliance to End Plastic Waste
In January 2019, an alliance of global companies from the plastics and consumer goods value chain launched a new organization to advance solutions to eliminate plastic waste in the environment, especially in the ocean, and to do this by transitioning to a circular economy for plastics. The Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) committed over US$1.5 billion over the next five years to help end plastic waste in the environment. Made up of nearly 30 members from around the world, the Alliance is a not-for-profit organization that includes companies that make, use, sell, process, collect and recycle plastics, including chemical and plastic manufacturers, consumer goods companies, retailers, converters, and waste management companies. The Alliance will develop and bring to scale solutions that will minimize and manage plastic waste and promote solutions for used plastics by helping to enable a circular economy.
CIAC members NOVA Chemicals, BASF, Dow, Nouryon and Shell are founding members of the Alliance. For more information, please visit www.endplasticwaste.org
In 2018, NOVA Chemicals committed to a three-year investment of nearly $2 million to Project STOP, with the goal of preventing plastic debris from reaching oceans. Project STOP works with cities to create effective waste management systems that eliminate leakage of plastics into the ocean. The first city partnership was launched last year in Muncar, a coastal fishing community in Banyuwangi, Indonesia. Project STOP has brought in international waste management experts to provide guidance on implementing a waste management system that is owned and operated by the city government. Project STOP also provides financial support for collection vehicles and containers, equipment for waste collection, reuse, recycle and treatment (including dry marketable and wet compostable waste) and promotes behaviour change and creates jobs in the community.