Plastic Shopping Bags are 100% Recyclable in Canada

Plastic shopping bags enjoy a very high recycling rate. Canadians not only want to recycle but they like to practice the 3 R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle. Canadians want choice. Most plastic shopping bags are either reused or recycled. Very few bags are wasted. (2015 CROP Poll)

The Ontario government task force identified a bag recycling rate of 37%. And our latest data shows that recycling rates are high in other regions of Canada:  32% in B.C, 32% in Alberta, 37% in Ontario and as high as 50% in some provinces in Atlantic Canada where they have not been banned. Ontario Plastic Bag Reduction Task Force Report.

Combined reuse – recycling rates are extremely high with bag management reaching almost zero waste.

In Quebec – 91% of plastic shopping bags are reused and recycled. Quebec Life Cycle Analysis

Given the high level of reuse, there are few bags available for recycling.

Quebec Bag Recycling

Provincial Plastic Carry-Out Bag Analysis

In Ontario, 96% of plastic shopping bags are reused and recycled (report).

Ontario Bag Recycling

Provincial Plastic Carry-Out Bag Analysis

And close to 100% are reused or donated to charity in Manitoba. Multi-Material Stewardship Manitoba Inc. (MMSM) Report.

Manitoba Bag Recycling

Provincial Plastic Carry-Out Bag Analysis

Manitoba has a food bank donation program to divert used bags from landfill.

Canadians Want to Recycle, but Reuse is So High, there are Not a Lot of Bags Left to Recycle

Canadians have really embraced the 3R’s which promotes the wise use and disposal of plastic shopping bags. Behaviour change in bag usage has led to serious reductions in the number of bags distributed in Canada by a minimum of 50%. Reduction strategies work.

The Quebec and Ontario 50% Reduction Programs implemented in collaboration with the plastics industry and retailers led to a permanent reduction in the number of bags handed out at check out very quickly. It was a combination of public education on the 3Rs, bag fees and the promotion of reusable bags.

Recycled Resin Pellets Used in New Products

Over time one of the added benefits of 3R’s programs has the rapid increase in reuse of plastic shopping bags and better disposal for recycling. Reuse is a form of reduction and reuse rates have soared averaging between 60% and 90% depending on the province. Ontario Plastic Bag Reduction Task Force Report. The Province of Manitoba has put a real emphasis on reuse and in its last annual report claimed that 90%+ of plastic shopping bags are reused in that province. And the added bonus is that all the bags can be recycled right here in Canada.

There are not a lot of bags left to be recycled.

Reuse rates on plastic shopping bags are double digit at 77% in Quebec, 59% in Ontario and 90% in Manitoba. So, there are not a lot of bags left to be recycled; averaging only about 15% of bags available to be recycled. (Life Cycle Assessments)

The bags that remain after reduction and reuse are recycled into useful products like outdoor furniture, decking, toys, office supplies to name just a few products. It is a $2 billion industry in North America.

Canadians Want Choice

Study after study of Canadian usage patterns of conventional plastic shopping bags clearly shows that Canadians want choice. They want the option to be able to reduce, reuse and recycle their plastic shopping bags.

 

Toronto

A similar 2012 survey conducted in the City of Toronto found that 82% wanted the option to practice the 3R’s.

City of Toronto Survey of Residents

Montreal

In a 2015 CROP Poll, 71% of Montrealer’s indicated that they wanted the choice to practice the 3R’s – reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic shopping bags.

Recycled Plastic Bags are Re-manufactured into Products- Extending the Life of the Resource

In Canada, clean, used plastic bags are seen as a valuable resource that should be used over and over again and recycled locally into new products, extending the life of the resource and creating valuable green manufacturing jobs. 

The bags recycled in Canada are remanufactured not only into new bags, but outdoor patio furniture, office supplies, water pipes, plastic lumber and many other products. To make this happen, Canada has a national network of recyclers to produce plastic pellets which are then sold to plastic manufacturers across North America.

Outdoor Furniture

Plastic Lumber – City of Toronto Western Beaches Boardwalk

Toronto’s Western Beaches boardwalk is a plastic lumber boardwalk, made from 32 million recycled plastic shopping bags.

It has a number of environmental benefits in that it lasts longer than a board walk constructed of wood, requires little maintenance, and resists insect infestations.

Flooring, Decking, Tiles and Carpets

Plastic Shopping Bags help Recycle Organics

To extend the life of landfills, it is important to recycle organic wastes which can account for between 16-43% of the solid waste stored in a landfill.

The City of Toronto came up with a unique strategy for its green bin organics collection based on the use of conventional plastic shopping bag as a recycling tool. Because plastic shopping bags are waterproof, the bags can be used to recycle organic waste which has a high moisture component.

The plastic bags help reduce the ‘yuk’ factor so that more residents will participate. It is particularly helpful for those who live in high-rise dwellings. Over one million Torontonians live in apartment buildings, five stories or taller (Source: Statistics Canada 2006)

There are many successful plastic bag recycling systems in Canada

The bags are recycled through a combination of curbside blue box systems (pioneered in Peterborough, Ontario) and take-back-to-retail programs (in-store recycling).

Curbside Collection

Take-Back-to-Retail Collection

Profile of Plastic Bag Manufacture and Recycling in Canada

EFS plant in Elmira Ontario

Plastic bag recycling and manufacturing are big business in Canada employing thousands of Canadians in facilities across Canada.

There is an extensive network of bag recyclers coast to coast — companies like EFS-Plastics in Ontario, Merlin Plastics in Western Canada, and Inteplast in Atlantic Canada. This recycled resin is used as feedstock to make new bags and other plastic products. Plastic shopping bags made in Canada contain 15 – 20% recycled content as a minimum and this is growing.

A Made in Canada Business Employing Thousands

90% of plastic shopping bags used in grocery stores in Canada are made by Canadians in companies across the country. Manufacture tends to be concentrated in Ontario and Quebec where Montreal has one of the largest concentrations of recyclers in North America.

Many are small, family-run businesses located in small and large communities across Canada. This is why the industry could respond so quickly to provide critically important plastic shopping bags during the COVID-19 pandemic to help stop the spread of the virus.

Reusable bags were banned due to health and safety reasons. There was grave concern that reusable bags could transport the coronavirus and transmit it to shoppers and frontline workers in retail stores because reusable bag users rarely clean their bags. Surveys found 55% of consumers do not wash their reusable bags