September 16 – Published in the Edmonton Journal. Op-ed by Tammy Schwass
Canadians have relied on the sanitary benefits of plastic during the coronavirus pandemic, with some reports showing upwards of a 250-per-cent increase in single-use plastic. As Albertans, we are part of that statistic and we know this trend is expected to continue with plastics as the go-to material that is lightweight, cost-effective and essential for our health and safety. While plastic use increases, there’s a little-known fact that Alberta is experiencing a surge in plastics sustainability.
Many stakeholders, focused on finding solutions to address plastic waste, have come together to manage environmental outcomes and capture lost value from the material. The goal is a circular economy for plastics — where materials are designed for reuse and recycling and producers demand recycled content for their products. This means reducing plastic waste by being smarter about how it is managed.
Petrochemical manufacturers have the technical knowledge and resources to help advance smart technologies and advocate for policies that will better manage the plastics value chain. NOVA Chemicals’ joint development with Enerkem on advanced recycling and partnership with Merlin Plastics to increase high-quality recycled materials for new products are just some of the recent announcements that advance a circular economy.
We also see change on another level, between new allies. The Alberta Plastics Alliance, a group of stakeholders from petrochemical companies, the plastics industry, recyclers, academics and government, aims to play a large role in shaping a resilient economic recovery in the province. Ongoing investment and collaboration with governments will foster innovation, create new jobs and enhance the development of sustainable recycling methods — while working toward a waste-free economy.
As a member of this alliance, the Alberta Plastics Recycling Association (APRA), has worked to reduce plastic waste for over 29 years, and support the development of sustainable programs and resources to advance recycling initiatives. We support industry’s commitments, to make 100 per cent of plastics packaging reused, recycled or recovered by 2040 and 100 per cent of plastics recyclable or recoverable by 2030. But we have a lot of work to do to get there.
To support these goals, we actively work with companies through programs like Operation Clean Sweep — a campaign to achieve zero pellet, flake and powder loss during plastic manufacturing. As part of our commitment, APRA helps plastics processors review business practices and establish management systems to keep plastics out of the environment.
Other sectors are also highly involved in these efforts to manage the full life cycle of plastics. Alberta’s agricultural sector has increased plastic use over the past two decades. Although groups were passionate to manage plastic waste, until recently there was limited traction on a provincewide effort to collect discarded plastic or find new markets for recycled materials.
With funding support from the Alberta government, a provincial group hired Cleanfarms to operate a three-year pilot program for grain bags and twine called Alberta Ag Plastics: Recycle It!. Now, there are over 20 collection sites across Alberta and this program aims to expand to become permanent and include other types of plastic.
These are examples of the work underway in Alberta towards a circular economy for plastics, which means that we maximize the value of plastic products. We must continue to develop collaborative solutions that establish short- and long-term goals, coupled with investment in more effective recycling and innovative approaches.
This will position Alberta, and Canada, as a model in eliminating plastic waste, growing the economy and protecting our environment.
Tammy Schwass is executive director of the Alberta Plastics Recycling Association.