The plastics industry and the technology it has contributed to modernize our world is the product of science and years of research and innovation.
Plastics protect and save lives.
Cell phones, television, medicine, food packaging, household appliances, wind power, space travel, personal protective equipment (PPE), sports and safety equipment, auto manufacture, even firefighter heat and flame-resistant clothing have all been revolutionized by this industry and its technology. Plastics protect and save lives.
Even the plastic shopping bag is a miracle of modern science. It is a strand of natural gas that is captured and stripped away from the gas during the refining process to reduce its heat intensity so that the gas can be used to heat our homes. This strand of natural gas is then frozen into solid form.
Plastic Industry Revolutionizing Modern Recycling – Exciting Advances and Breakthroughs
It is all about innovation with an eye on the future. The plastics industry spends millions of dollars each year on research into new technologies and processes to ensure that every bit of plastic is recaptured and recycled. The goal is zero waste and conservation of resources; no more plastic going to landfill. And that is now possible.
Industry technology breakthroughs mean that hard to recycle plastics can now be recovered and recycled. This means that Canada no longer needs to rely solely on mechanical recycling for plastic industry technology breakthroughs resulting in zero waste and a major step forward in building a real-world circular economy.
These are huge recycling breakthroughs. And Canada has been leading the way on innovation. Quebec is perhaps the largest recycling technology hub in North America; home to one of the largest concentrations of next generation and traditional recyclers – Pyrowave, Polystyvert, Klockner Pentaplast, Groupe Lavergne, Loop Industries, Groupe Gagnon, Polyform, Enviroplast, Plastiques Cascades, Plastiques Terra Nova, Exxel Polymers, Plastrec, Berga, and Plastimum.
CANADIAN LEADERSHIP ON PLASTIC RECYCLING – Exciting Advances Over the Years
The list of plastic recycling advances is extensive – blue box curbside recycling, bag-to-bag, closed loop recycling, plastic lumber, polystyrene densification, and now the most exciting is breakthrough molecular recycling which is revolutionizing the recovery and recycling of plastic!
- Blue Box Curbside Recycling
- Bag-to-Bag Circular Economy Recycling
- New and Improved Recyclable Reusable Bag
- New Curbside Recovery System for Plastic Bags and Non-Blue Box Plastics
- Breakthrough 21st Century De-polymerization Recycling technologies a.k.a Chemical Recycling
And Canada has been Leading the Way on Innovation in Plastic Recycling
1. Canadians Invented Curbside Blue Box Recycling
Bet you didn’t know that Canada pioneered and introduced the very first curbside blue box recovery and recycling system in the world in Kitchener-Waterloo Ontario in 1981. Since then, Ontario’s Blue Box has become a blueprint for recycling programs in more than 150 countries around the world.
For decades, the most advanced recycling technology for plastic packaging was mechanical recycling. Mechanical recycling uses mechanical processes to recover plastics from the blue bin – sorting, cleaning, grinding and re-granulating the plastic into pellets that then can be used to replace virgin plastics and used in new products.
Plastic Shopping Bags are 100% Recyclable in Communities Across Canada and Used to Make Valuable Products like Plastic Lumber and Office Supplies
Many plastic shopping bags made in Canada contain 15 – 25% recycled plastic content. Bags recovered are recycled using mechanical recycling. The recycled plastic pellets are then used to manufacture a wide range of plastic products like plastic lumber, office supplies, flooring, outdoor furniture.
The City of 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.
2. Bag-to-Bag Recycling – A Closed Loop Recycling System Wastes No Resources
A good example of Canadian leadership on innovation is ‘Closed Loop’ or ‘Bag-to-Bag Recycling’. Bag-to-Bag Recycling was pioneered right here in Atlantic Canada and the system technology was exported across North America.
Bags manufactured, distributed to retailers, and used by consumers are returned to the retail store which then collects them and returns them to the manufacturer to be recycled into new shopping bags. This system returns clean, used bags to the manufacturer where they are recycled – shredded, flaked, pelletized and remanufactured back into new bags.
3. Breakthrough Next Generation Recycling Technology – Molecular Depolymerization
It is the genius of Canadian Cleantech companies – GreenMantra, Pyrowave, INEOS Styrolution and ReVitale – leading the way to new horizons in plastic recycling.
Molecular recycling, a depolymerization technology, is revolutionizing the recycling of plastics. Moving beyond mechanical recycling. We no longer think of plastic recycling just as packaging recovery and diversion from landfill, but the recapture of the plastic molecules, the very building blocks of the plastic, that now allow us to reuse the plastic molecules over and over again … in a circular loop of recovery. In turn, zero plastic going to landfill.
Molecular depolymerization is an entirely new approach to recycling that works with the molecular structure of the plastic. It returns the plastic to its original molecules – its original organic form!
Formerly hard-to-recycle or impossible to recycle plastics like soiled food packaging, polystyrene, cutlery, stir sticks, straws and medical supplies can now be recycled. Zero plastic waste is now possible thanks to scientific innovation.
How it Works: Molecular recycling uses a microwave technique to break apart post-use polystyrene restoring it to its original molecular state. It does not matter if it is soiled or clean, rigid or foam, the result is a recycled purified resin identical to virgin resin that can be used in any medical or food application.
How Molecular Recycling Works
Commercialization of the Technology is already far advanced.
And the best part is that is being commercialized and is already in use in Canada. For example, plastic additives made using the depolymerization technology are being used to build green roads in Vancouver. The addition of the recycled plastic in asphalt strengthens the road, lengthening the roads life and allows earlier construction in the spring.
4. A New and Improved Reusable Bag
Most people do not know that the plastic industry developed and introduced reusable bags to encourage Canadians to practice the 3R’s. Reusable bags are an important tool to drive reuse and reduce the number of bags in the system. Most reusable bags are made from plastic.
Not recycled and not kept clean: Reusable bags are very popular, used by millions as carry bags, but even this industry innovation has an environmental and public health weak spot.
Not recycled: Reusable bags in their current form, however, are not recyclable because it costs too much to recycle them. Reusables are multi-material bags to give them strength and so they need to be taken apart to sort and recycle the different materials in the bags. The result is that reusable bags end up in landfill at the end of their useful life as garbage.
Not kept clean: Another hazard of bag use is that reusable bags are rarely washed by users. http://allaboutreusablebags.ca/#polls Because they are rarely kept clean, reusable bags can pose a public health risk from foodborne diseases. If not kept clean, pathogens like viruses, bacteria and mold that can grow inside the bag and cross-contaminate the groceries placed in the bag. https://lluh.org/sites/medical-center.lomalindahealth.org/files/docs/LIVE-IT-Sinclair-Article-Cross-Contamination-Reusable-Shopping-Bags.pdf?rsource=medical-cente This can lead to food poisoning and death. 11,000 Canadians are hospitalized each year from food poisoning. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/food-nutrition/infographic-food-related-illnesses-hospitalizations-deaths-in-canada.html
Failure by shoppers to keep their reusable bags clean is why the bags were banned during the COVID-19 pandemic over fears that they could transport the coronavirus into the stores causing a mass spreading event. http://allaboutreusablebags.ca/#publichealthresearch
But there are solutions.
- Make reusable bags locally out of plastic that can be recycled in Canada.
- Run an instore public education campaign to encourage shoppers to wash their bags after every use.
The New and Improved Reusable Bag
The plastic bag industry are problem solvers working to protect the health of Canadians and help the Premiers achieve zero waste in line with the 2018 Zero Waste Strategy Developed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.
To that end the plastic bag industry has been working on a new and improved reusable bag to improve its environmental performance. It is 100% recyclable, good for 125 reuses, contains 20-40% recycled content and is easy to keep clean.
5. Innovations in New Recovery Systems to Collect Plastic Bags and Hard to Recycle Plastics
There is huge demand for recycled plastic. It is a $2 billion market in North America and growing. This provides a real market opportunity for the industry to figure out a way to recover valuable, but hard to recycle plastics. These are plastics that are not recovered in blue box programs.
For example, there are some communities such as London, Ontario ( London Hefty® EnergyBag® Pilot Project | Get Involved London) that do not collect plastic shopping bags in their curbside blue box systems, or other hard to recycle plastics like straws, stir sticks and soiled polystyrene food packaging.
Advances in recovery of hard to recycle plastics are essential of the industry is to achieve zero waste and build a circular plastics economy. These plastics are a valuable resource that need to be diverted from landfill and recycled into valuable products like decking, office supplies, and new food packaging. Orange bag plastics can be used to make valuable products.
To advance this agenda, the plastics industry has been testing the use of a new orange recovery bag called the Hefty Bag that can be used to collect plastic shopping bags at curbside along with other types of plastic packaging not currently accepted in recycling programs curbside. Residents put these plastic items into this new orange bag and put out at curbside so they can be picked up and sent to a recycler for reprocessing. It is expected that this system, or something similar to it, will be expanded to communities across Canada over time.