Economic Study of the Canadian Plastic Industry, Markets and Waste

Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2019

 

The Economic Study of the Canadian Plastic Industry, Markets and Waste commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada in 2019 is the first of its kind in Canada. Using national statistics, interviews, and industry reports the study presents the entire value-chain of plastics in Canada from raw material production to end-of-life. Plastics are favourable throughout varying sectors of the market because they are cheap, lightweight, malleable and durable. The study focuses on the following topics: factors creating low recycling rates in Canada, the economic advantages of a zero plastic waste economy by 2030, and opportunities for positive change. This study shows that Canada has low landfill diversion and recycling rates (25% and 9% in 2016, respectively), and 87% of our plastic waste goes to landfills or the environment. Plastic pollution in Canada is a broad and systemic issue, and therefore difficult to address. While some sectors, such as textiles, automotive and construction have lower recycling rates than others, and each sector faces unique challenges, unifying recycling issues are economic problems of demand and supply.

 

Recyclers and other businesses in the end-of-life market, such as collectors, are in a vulnerable position in the Canadian market. The price of novel plastic material fluctuates often because it is linked to gas prices. Recycled plastic products compete in the market with virgin resins. For recyclers, the market is unstable and often not viable because the price of virgin resins is so cheap that the demand for recycled plastic material is low. This is a problem for Canada’s recycling rates because the types of plastics that are collected, accepted, and managed by recyclers are highly dependent on end-of-life markets. Across the eight sectors of plastic waste outlined in this study, packaging has the highest recycling rate at 15% in 2016. Recyclers focus on packaging because resins made from most of the plastics used in this sector, such as polyethylene terephthalatePET, are valued highly in the market. On the other hand, the automotive and white goods sectors essentially do not recycle (with recycling rates of 0% in 2016) because the market for the mixed shredded plastics these sectors produce is extremely limited. The viability of end-of-life markets is very important because it determines whether cost-adding actions like collecting and sorting plastic waste is worthwhile. 

 

Fortunately, various levels of government can provide support to recyclers and help create a more stable and viable market for recycled plastics. First of all, policies such as a tax on virgin resins could make recycled resins more attractive in the market, or politicians could ensure a market for recycled resins entirely independent of the price of virgin resins by requiring that recycled plastics be used in certain products. These measures should be implemented at the same time as upstream actions in order to ensure that recyclers can access quantities and qualities of plastic required to meet increased demand. Further, municipalities can enter into long-term contracts with recyclers to provide them with raw materials and the stability to invest in technological developments. Municipalities can also decrease recycler’s operating costs by implementing good systems of collecting and separating plastic waste. Although concerted efforts involving all stakeholders in the plastic value-chain are necessary to increase recycling rates in Canada, governments have an important role to play. When governments clearly and proactively communicate policy changes such as non-voluntary recycling targets, product design regulations, and changes in the cost of disposing of waste into landfills, companies are encouraged to address the problems.

 

The report concludes that many barriers leading to low recycling rates in Canada are economic in nature. In sum, recyclers are vulnerable in the Canadian market due to the low demand for recycled plastic resins and costs related to the collection and contamination of plastics. Governments at various levels can help recyclers gain stability in the market and implement clear policies that encourage changes in various stages of the plastic value-chain such as raw material production, product manufacturing, and end-of-life processing.

Find the full report here.

References

1. Deloitte & ChemInfo Services Inc.. Economic study of the Canadian plastic industry, markets and waste. Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2019, Gatineau, Quebec. Available from http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2019/eccc/En4-366-1-2019-eng.pdf 

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Shake Up The Establishment is a youth-led, registered (#1190975-4) national non-partisan non-profit organization that operates within the geographical confines of what is currently known as "Canada", but what is referred to by its First Peoples, as Turtle Island. Indigenous peoples have inhabited Turtle Island for over 10,000 years, and were the sole inhabitants less than 500 years ago. We acknowledge that our address resides on Treaty 3 land, and is the traditional territory of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas Peoples. Turtle Island is still home to many Indigenous peoples and we at SUTE are thankful to be able to live, learn and work on this territory, whilst continuing to create meaningful change for the climate justice movement. We are aware that our actions as an organization and the work we put out have an impact on our land, and on all that inhabit it. We are humbled to be able to follow the lead of centuries long Indigenous-led efforts towards the protection and stewardship of this land and the people that inhabit it. We are committed to continually evaluating & decolonizing our practices, and we do our best to incorporate the lived experiences of the land defenders and protectors within our work. We also want to honour the voices of Black, and non-Black people of colour within our work, and continually recognize their resiliency in the face of years of systemic oppression as imposed by the Canadian state.

 

Our enterprise is inclusive of all folx who call the geographical confines of what is currently known as Canada, home, and we celebrate the horizontal learning that comes from our diverse identities. As an organization, we will try our utmost best to ensure that only individuals with lived experiences are speaking on behalf of their communities, while still recognizing that Black, Indigenous and communities of colour as well as the LGBTQ2S+ community, are not a monolith. We firmly believe in accountability, and commit to being as transparent as possible in our activism space; to research our topics well, support and centre community care, and minimize any harm, no matter the intent. We have strict policies and procedures to uphold these tenets, and update these on a yearly (or as-needed) basis.

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