The Canadian government came up with a plan to eliminate plastic waste. By 2030, Canada hopes to achieve zero plastic waste. Right now, around 3 million tons of plastic waste are disposed of and less than 10% of that plastic is recycled. Much of it goes to the landfill, but an alarming 29,000 tons end up in the environment where it ends up on forest floors, in bodies of water, or blowing around the streets.
To get started, Canada is imposing bans on some of the biggest offenders. They are:
- Plastic coffee stirrers
- Plastic cutlery
- Plastic single-use food containers
- Plastic shopping bags
- Plastic six-pack rings
- Plastic straws
That’s a start, but a poll of Canadians found that many also want styrofoam, cigarette filters, and plastic and styrofoam cups added to the list. Those are the items that make up the majority of Canada’s litter.
While the laws are in the works and will be finalized by the end of 2021, companies like Unilever North America are already coming up with ways to help. Unilever invested in a fund to help reduce the amount of plastic packaging used and created by the company. The goal is to take back more plastics than it sells. This will help Canada and the U.S. both. What other ideas are being used in Canada that may benefit the U.S.?
Stop Packaging in New Plastic
In both Canada and the U.S., Colgate-Palmolive is using 100% recycled plastic bottles for Palmolive Ultra. Instead of using a mix of new and recycled plastic pellets to make the dish soap bottles, the company is now only using pellets from recycled plastic.
Consumers will see the How2Recycle logo on the bottles and know that the purchase has helped with sustainability. The switch is expected to help keep more than 5,200 tons of plastics out of North American landfills.
Make Manufacturers Pay
In Alberta, the government is working on a program where the cost of recycling will be paid for by the companies that use plastic in their packaging. The goal is that manufacturers and producers will not want to have to pay, so they’ll learn to take steps to reduce the amount of materials and waste that’s created by the manufacturers’ products.
The benefit is that it keeps costs down for consumers who are fed up with increased costs to have trash and recycling picked up at their homes. Instead of facing monthly fee increases each year, manufacturers will foot the bill.
TerraCycle is working with companies on refillable packaging. Instead of buying items like toothpaste, ice cream, and pet foods in containers that get used once and thrown away, the containers are reusable and don’t increase costs. Companies aren’t continually purchasing new packaging, but consumers have their product at the same price it was.
Breaking Down Plastics in Microwaves
Recycling plants put plastics through giant shredders. The shredded plastic is then melted down at high temperatures for reuse. Polystyrene can only be reused once, which limits the ability to recycle it. Pyrowave in Montreal came up with a way to use microwaves to convert polystyrene plastic to carbon using a process called pyrolysis.
When plastic is melted down, it releases greenhouse gas that is damaging to the atmosphere and people who breathe the fumes. Using electric energy in microwaves to break down the plastic reduces greenhouse emissions. The Montreal team reports that pyrolysis is 40% more efficient than traditional methods.
This technology is still being developed. If trials continue to be successful, it may change the number of emissions being released from polystyrene.
What’s Going on in the U.S.?
Could the U.S. learn anything from Canada? While Canada is working hard at a nation-wide ban on single-use plastics, some states have already adopted measures. California was the first state to ban plastic grocery bags back in 2014. The other states that followed suit are Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. Shoppers must bring their own reusable shopping bags or buy bags at the store.
Plastic straws and plastic cutlery are only available in Oregon by request. In Vermont, you also have to ask for them, and in most cases, paper straws are given instead of plastic. Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Nevada, New York, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia have partial bans on plastic straws. Some companies have taken steps to ban plastic straws. American Airlines opted to use bamboo cutlery and straws instead of plastic.
Styrofoam food containers are a big concern. During the pandemic, people are getting their restaurant meals to go, and that means extra food packaging is ending up in the trash and recycling stream. Styrofoam food containers can’t be recycled. In 2019, Main was the first state to ban styrofoam food containers. New York City followed, but the ban is only for the city and isn’t statewide. Other cities with styrofoam bans include Baltimore, Miami Beach, San Diego, Seattle, and Washington D.C.
Even if you get Styrofoam peanuts or packaging materials, check to see if there’s a styrofoam recycling facility near you. Some companies grind it up and turn it into brick or loose insulation for homes. It doesn’t break down if it gets wet, which makes it appealing in new construction. Other companies process it into bricks or loose plastic pellets to be used in other items like picture frames and rulers.
Plastic water and soda bottles are being turned into pavement. California’s TechniSoil Industrial paved a section of highway in Oroville using this method. It’s the first time Caltrans used recycled materials to resurface a road. Each mile of pavement uses around 150,000 plastic (PET/#1) bottles. The first trial wasn’t as strong as hoped and traditional pavement was put down instead, but Caltrans plans to try a second run after making a few changes.
In 2021, Coca-Cola is releasing its first round of soda bottles made entirely from recycled plastic as part of its World Without Waste campaign. The 100% PET bottles will contain Coca-Cola Flavors, Coke, Coke Zero Sugar, and Diet Coke at first. They’re being released in California, Florida, and certain states in the Northeast to start. Additional beverage products (Dasani, Sprite, and SmartWater) will shift to recycled plastic bottles later in the year. The goal is to have all of its products in recycled plastics by 2025.
Everyone Needs to Team Up to Stop Plastic Waste
Consumers cannot battle the overwhelming number of plastic items on their own. Support businesses that promise to use recycled plastic pellets to make new bottles and containers. As manufacturers lose business to companies that are focused on recycling, they’ll start to change their practices, too. Together we can stop plastics from ending up in landfills and waterways.
You should also do your part by recycling plastics properly. If you’re not sure how to recycle plastic food packaging or where to recycle padded mailers or plastic packaging materials, visit Recycle Nation. Our guide will show you local results for facilities where you can recycle plastics responsibly. All you have to do is enter your ZIP, the plastic items you want to recycle, and our search engine takes care of the rest.