In Alberta, we know that we need smart solutions to build a circular economy for plastics. The old model of a linear recycling economy is a dead end that starts with raw materials and heads straight towards disposal — destroying finite resources, contributing to pollution and creating excess garbage.
Alberta has the opportunity to use homegrown expertise in the petrochemicals sector to create environmentally responsible solutions that reduce plastic waste by design and keep valuable plastics in use in the economy. Essentially, we need to eliminate the plastics we don’t need, and innovate the valuable plastics we need.
Alberta’s chemistry and plastics industry is valued at $12.1 billion and employs about 58,400 people, and our extensive industry expertise is unmatched and can be leveraged to work toward solutions that diversify our economy and establish a leading advanced technical approach to plastics recycling to create a circular economy. We have an opportunity to continue to collaborate with governments at all levels and partners along the plastics value chain to identify solutions that are in the best interest of Alberta and Canada, as well as the environment as a whole.
Continued collaboration with stakeholders, including governments, are key to making a circular economy a reality. Industry has embraced targets to make plastic packaging 100-per-cent recyclable or recoverable by 2030 and 100 per cent reused, recycled or recovered by 2040. Industry is already developing advanced recycling technologies (ART) to turn waste plastic back into new plastics, allowing us all to get the maximum value from existing resources and move toward eliminating plastic waste from our environment.
However, we need additional investment in research to continue identifying innovative and cost-effective recycling methods, strategies and programs for different types of plastics. We also need to continue to create financial incentives to establish standards and end-markets for recycled plastic content in products.
A critical component for success is a robust harmonized extended producer responsibility (EPR) program across the province, which shifts the costs and operational responsibilities for managing recycling systems from local governments to producers. The economic and environmental benefits of doing so are abundantly clear. The Recycling Council of Alberta estimates that implementing an EPR program for packaging and paper products would save Alberta municipalities more than an estimated $100 million annually. The savings would only grow from there as we expand EPR programs to cover additional material streams.
Alberta has the opportunity to leverage its technical chemical expertise to lead the way through the design and implementation of innovative plastics industry approaches that will assist in our evolution to a circular economy in Canada.
Christina Seidel is the executive director of the Recycling Council of Alberta and co-chair for the Plastics Alliance of Alberta.