In February 2020, five major food, beverage and packaging companies in Canada joined forces with two industry associations in hopes of finding concrete solutions to improve the management of post-consumer plastics across Canada.
Cascades, Danone Canada, Dyne-a-pak, Keurig Dr Pepper Canada and TC Transcontinental, alongside the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada and Éco Entreprises Quebec, launched the Circular Plastics Taskforce (CPT), a collaborative initiative aimed at developing a circular approach to plastics recycling in Quebec and Canada.
The CPT’s objective was clear: enable a closer alignment between market needs and recycling stakeholders – namely, materials recovery facilities (MRFs), recyclers and packaging companies – through the identification and implementation of short- and medium-term solutions to optimize plastics recycling throughout the value chain.
This project was structured in three phases, the first of which was completed in the fall of 2021.
Mobilizing key players
Phase I of the initiative consisted of a detailed mapping of the value chain of the plastics recycling industry in Quebec. The goal was to determine market needs and establish optimization hypotheses to achieve the required specifications.
The work completed in this first stage was extensive, involving a thorough market analysis, a series of portraits of plastic recyclers, and the execution of simulation trials to validate possible optimization pathways, among other activities.
More than 130 interviews and consultations were held with various partners and stakeholders, leading to the release of a white paper (“Rethinking Plastic Packaging Recycling: Solutions towards increased circularity in Quebec and Canada”) that highlights five major findings and 18 recommendations addressing the entire value chain.
As a whole, the response from industry stakeholders during the first phase of work was exceptionally positive, with the project attracting the support of a wide array of recyclers, brand owners, retailers, MRFs and investors alike.
Government entities were also onboard at different levels, with Canada’s federal government playing a key role as a major financial partner for Phase I.
“Phase I allowed us to see that there are major challenges, but equally great opportunities and potential benefits,” said Charles David Mathieu-Poulin, a member of the CPT Steering Committee. “Our goal is that all plastics be recycled locally and that a solid market for recycled resins be established domestically. We demonstrated that close collaboration between industry players and end markets can be beneficial and contribute to building a circular economy for plastics in Canada.”
What most notably came to light from the first year-and-a-half of work was confirmation of CPT’s initial working hypothesis that there is a strong demand for recycled plastics, but it is not aligned with supply. This misalignment is exacerbated by a lack of communication between members of the value chain, which causes inconvenience or disruptions among the numerous stakeholders, in addition to variations in the quality of the plastic bales produced.
It is therefore paramount to establish long-term agreements between members of the value chain to stabilize local markets, increase the competitiveness of recycled resins in the long term and encourage investments.
These findings, along with the overall success of the project’s Phase I, will allow the CPT to identify and implement pilot projects aimed at improving the quality of outgoing materials and the recycling rate of plastic packaging.
Such pilot initiatives are the focus of CPT’s second phase.
Moving to implementation
The pilot projects planned for Phase II will address a number of systemic challenges, such as the complexity of the food grade certification process for recycled resins and the importance of having a robust and harmonized traceability system in place.
Other industrial projects will target challenges specific to certain resins – for example, polystyrene, flexible polyethylene, polypropylene and PET thermoforms – and will involve the use of technologies and innovative processes such as artificial intelligence, secondary sortation and real-time quality control.
Once more, the involvement of stakeholders across the value chain will be crucial to ensuring the success of the initiatives. By adopting a coherent and structured approach, the CPT aims to play a catalyst role in the creation of relationships between those key players.
“We wish that all plastic packaging put on the market in Quebec and Canada be collected and recycled in keeping with market needs, including volumes, grades and quality, to create a circular economy,” said Mathieu-Poulin. “We will ensure that this happens by testing best practices and equipment in a real-world environment with key value chain players.”
In terms of timeline, this phase will be implemented throughout 2022 and 2023. Once more, the CPT has been able to engage many stakeholders around upcoming projects, and the Quebec government has confirmed its financial support of Phase II activities.
The third phase of the initiative will consist of an expansion of the CPT model outside of the province of Quebec, and the CPT has already started building collaborations with other leading organizations, such as the Canada Plastics Pact and the Circular Great Lakes Initiative.
These promising relationships may lead to an acceleration of Phase III, with the potential of deploying several pilot projects outside of Quebec in the coming year.
Thanks to a unique and collaborative approach, the taskforce is positioning itself as a catalyst for change toward the implementation of a circular economy for plastics in Quebec and in Canada. The CPT aspires for the learnings from its projects to be shared as widely as possible, in order to benefit the entire industry.
The approach that the group has chosen and the success achieved so far clearly demonstrate that in order to optimize plastics management, greater coordination and complementarity of initiatives are needed.
The future is bright not only for the CPT, but for the numerous projects it is championing across Quebec, elsewhere in Canada and possibly beyond. Such initiatives will help to build a truly circular economy for plastics across a range of jurisdictions.
Marie-Anne Champoux-Guimond is the manager of sustainability at Keurig Dr Pepper Canada and is a member of the CPT Steering Committee. She can be contacted at [email protected]
This article appeared in the May 2022 issue of Resource Recycling. Subscribe today for access to all print content.