Innovations in recycling

I recently attended Stewardship Ontario’s Sustainability Summit at the Brickworks in Toronto.

Stewardship Ontario is a private, not-for-profit, industry led stewardship organization established in 2002 under the Waste Diversion Act. Based on a model of shared responsibility, stewards and municipalities split the cost of recycling products and packaging in Ontario through the Blue Box program. The stewards are also responsible for 100% of the costs for the safe end of life management for nine municipal special and hazardous waste materials through the Orange Drop program.

Product stewardship is a term that refers to assigning responsibility for the entire life cycle of a product to the users and manufacturers. By doing this, manufacturers have an incentive to reduce the environmental impact of the product. I was excited to learn about how companies are investing in innovation to support sustainability. They are making products and packaging easier to recycle and using recyclable materials during manufacturing.

Currently, clear plastic “clamshell” containers are not accepted in Halton’s Blue Box program. Industry is working to ensure a consistent plastic type is used in the manufacturing of these containers, and that technology and markets exist to make the recycling of these materials feasible.

One issue that municipal recyclers have had is the rigid plastic “clamshell” containers so popular in supermarkets for packaging fruit, vegetables and baked goods. The problem has been that these packages, although they all look the same, can be made out of different types of plastic.  This makes it very difficult to sort them properly into different plastic types that can be shipped to a manufacturer to be made into a new product.

In June 2011, Canada’s top grocery chains, Loblaws, Walmart Canada, Safeway Canada, Metro and Sobeys, worked co-operatively together and announced that they would only accept these types of packages made from Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET). They also worked with label manufacturers to find a label adhesive that sticks to PET and is easily removed during recycling. This has allowed many municipalities to add this material to their Blue Box programs. In Halton, we are working with our recycler to add this material to Halton’s Blue Box as part of our 2012-2016 Solid Waste Management Strategy.

Ice River Springs is Canada’s largest private-label bottled water company supplying companies such as Walmart Canada and Loblaws. In 2010, they were the first in North America to manufacture their own bottles from 100% recycled PET plastic. This has greatly reduced the distance that materials are shipped during the manufacturing process. They have also reduced the amount of plastic used to make the bottles and the amount of packaging for the cases.

Have you purchased a Blue Planet plastic product such as a laundry basket or tote from Canadian Tire? The Blue Planet products are manufactured in Ontario by Gracious Living and contain at least 75% recycled plastics. These products are a result of Stewardship Ontario investing in local companies that could convert mixed rigid plastics into new products.

GreenMantra Technologies is developing a process that takes mixed plastics, including plastic bags, and turns them into synthetic commercial grade waxes, oils and lubricants. They are planning to move beyond the pilot testing stage and open a processing plant in Brantford later this year. You would be surprised at the wide range of products that use waxes: lipstick, asphalt, particle board, crayons, and of course candles.

We can all support these companies in their efforts to manufacture products in a more sustainable manner. Next time you are shopping, look for the recycled content, local manufacturers and for products and packaging that are accepted in Halton’s Blue Box program.

About Shirley McLean

I am the Supervisor of Solid Waste Planning at Halton Region. My educational background includes a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering from the University of Guelph. My career focus is to work on programs and policies that lessen the environmental impact of waste on our earth.
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