The beleaguered Canadian plastics industry is pushing back against critics with what it calls aggressive targets for plastics recycling and recovery. By 2030, the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) and the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada say that 100% of plastics and plastic packaging in Canada will be recyclable or recoverable. They are also setting an “aspirational” goal of all plastics being reused, recycled or recovered by 2040.
The zero-waste target for 2040 is aspirational rather than a hard commitment because it’s not entirely under industry’s control, Carol Hochu, president and CEO of CPIA told EcoLog News. The hard target for 2030 will allow the industry to take its pulse along the path to the 2040 goal, she says.
The targets put the Canadian plastics industry in line with targets announced in January 2018 by PlasticsEurope and in May 2018 by the American Chemistry Council.
The plastics industry continues to feel pushback from environmental advocacy groups, fuelled largely by news of the vast quantities of plastic waste clogging the world’s oceans and awareness of its consequence on marine life. Canada is not a major contributor to that problem, says Hochu, but the Canadian plastics industry is contributing to global efforts to address it.
The Canadian plastics industry continues to remind consumers of the benefits of plastics but is also responding with messaging encouraging the responsible use of plastics. It has done so with plastic bags and is now turning its attention to plastic straws.
“Our position on straws is that restaurants shouldn’t provide them automatically,” says Hochu.
As to plastic waste in Canada, Hochu says that most plastics are now already recyclable, though some only with difficulty.
Mixed rigid plastics and plastic film are the principal problems, explained Joe Hruska, CPIA’s vice president, sustainability, to EcoLog News. “The main reason they’re a problem is we don’t have enough capacity to process them in North America.” Both plastics were casualties of China’s decision to close its borders to imported plastic recyclables, he says.
Domestic processing capacity is building up, he says, but there remains room for improvement on quality. “This is not garbage,” says Hruska. “This is feedstock for someone’s manufacturing.”
The infrastructure to collect plastic waste is also well developed. According to the CPIA’s 2017 “Canadian Residential Plastics Packaging: Recycling Program Access Report”, nearly every Canadian household has access to recycling options for PET and HDPE beverage containers, bottles and jugs. Options for polystyrene continue to grow, standing at 71% of households.
What remains are political will to expand recycling programs to include a wider range of plastics, willingness among consumers to divert plastics from their waste streams, and the economics to make it affordable.
Hochu says the CPIA will be holding a strategy session in mid-June 2018. Following that, “we’ll probably have more to say on how we’re going to get there,” she says.