There is not a single hospital, store aisle, car, or refrigerator where you cannot find plastics, and that is because plastic products work. They extend the shelf life of our foods, help us drive lighter, more efficient vehicles, and protect out frontline health care workers day-in and day-out. But as plastic use increases, we need to solve a pressing challenge: increased waste streams with an end-life at the landfill.
Plastics producers are keenly aware of the challenges to keeping plastics out of landfills. Over the past decade, we have created innovations in recycling infrastructure, made huge advancements in recycling technologies and worked to create new markets for recycled content, but there is still more that we can do. The need to innovate faster has become more pressing as COVID-19 has created a greater need for single-use plastics. Yet this is a challenge we can meet, and we are dedicated to eliminating plastic waste.
The Canadian government has also noticed the growing use of single-use products. But, instead of working with industry, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson made it clear that the government intends to follow a go-it-alone approach that will ban useful and necessary plastic products with new regulations taking effect as early as next year. The proposed ban includes just six items: plastic bags, stir sticks, straws, cutlery, six-pack rings, and certain polystyrene takeout containers. However, the government is going as far as to classify plastics as “toxic” under Schedule 1 of CEPA, using the classification as a tool to ease regulatory hurdles despite admitting that plastics are not actually “toxic” in the traditional sense of the word. This plan is short-sighted and undermines the years of resources and effort that industry has already committed to tackling the plastics problem, and this toxic classification will also confuse Canadians who use plastic products daily.
It also ignores the very real economic implications these decisions will have. If we invest in a circular economy for plastics—meaning we transform plastic products through recycling—it will actually create more than 40,000 jobs and save Canada half a billion dollars each year. Additionally, plastic products are Canada’s third largest import category from the United States and are Canada’s fifth largest export category to the United States. Due to this highly intertwined relationship, bans would undoubtably have a cascade effect on U.S. industry as well as many businesses that work cross-border between the two countries.
Our companies, INEOS Styrolution and AmSty have a plan that will keep plastic waste out of the environment and ensure a brighter economic future for Canada and the United States. It is also a plan backed by real investments. Recently, our companies announced plans to jointly create new advanced recycling programs, a key part of the circular economy. Together, we will construct an advanced polystyrene recycling facility in the United States that will service single-use items from both the United States and Canada. The facility will break down post-use plastics into their original raw materials that can then be reused to make new products saving industry and consumers millions of dollars, while keeping the environment safe and healthy. While the government is focused on banning polystyrene products, we are actively finding innovative ways to ensure these types of plastics remain in the economy, as opposed to landfills – a collective goal of both the government and our industry.
In 2019 AmSty invested in Regenyx, a similar facility which turns post-use recycled content into material for new products. Over the past few years, demand for recycled plastic materials has been growing steadily at about 6% year-over-year, and this trend is expected to continue, driven by growth in the packaging industry. In addition to successful industry partnerships that drive circular economy goals and increase access to recycled content, AmSty is committed to making industry more accountable for single-use waste by investing in sustainable end-life solutions for all products.
AmSty’s work to increase the circular economy’s recycling infrastructure and technologies is just part of the equation to eliminating plastic waste. Companies like INEOS Styrolution and AmSty have a long history of working to do more with less. This has decreased the amount of virgin materials needed for vital plastic products, and investments from companies like INEOS Styrolution and AmSty have made plastic products lighter, in both transit and consumer products sectors, meaning fewer raw materials for products and reduced energy for transport.
INEOS Styrolution has strong sustainability goals that aim to improve and increase the recovery of polystyrene post-consumer waste and strengthen innovation for circularity. The company has more than 85 years’ experience pioneering innovative and sustainable solutions, while helping to make the circular economy a reality. Over the past two years, it has accelerated efforts to support a circular economy by implementing a defined strategy and investment plan to develop post-consumer recycled products and, most recently, their newly announced plans to, together with AmSty, construct a 100 ton per day facility for polystyrene advanced recycling just outside of Chicago, in Channahon, Illinois.
These are the imaginative and innovative projects government should support at all levels. Calling a valuable resource like plastic “toxic” or banning certain products is not the answer. Instead, we have the opportunity – and the commitment from industry – to work towards legislation that creates a circular economy for plastics.
The plastics industry, including INEOS Styrolution and AmSty, has been working towards a better future for many years, and is dedicated, now more than ever, to introducing new infrastructure and innovative partnerships to increase the recovery, reuse, and recycling of plastic products. Canada’s government should support these efforts, not fight them. The future is here, and through ingenuity and innovation and the commitment of people and governments, we can attain a circular economy for all plastics while also growing the American and Canadian economies.
Jon Timbers is a chemical engineer that spent the first 15 years of his career in manufacturing. He is currently AmSty’s Director of Innovation and Sustainability where he leverages technology and innovation to bring new solutions to the market to ensure plastics have a pathway to recyclability. Jon is the chairman of the ACC Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group, sits on the PLASTICS Industry Association Sustainability Advisory Board, and is on the board of Californian Foundation on the Environment and the Economy.
Ricardo Cuetos currently serves as Vice President Standard Products Americas at INEOS Styrolution America LLC. His career began in 1994 at BASF Mexicana, where he held various technical, production and commercial positions before moving to BASF Corporation in 1999 and becoming Global Business Development Manager. In 2003, he was appointed Global Team Leader for the Engineering and Styrenics plastics divisions of BASF South East Asia in Singapore, with responsibility for global sales and marketing activities for the IT Industry segment. In 2009, he became Business Director of BASF Styrenics business in North America. On January 1, 2011 he was appointed Vice President of Styrolution LLC taking over North and South America for Styrolution adding manufacturing, supply chain, R&D and controlling to his responsibilities of product management, market development, sales and technical service in North America. Ricardo Cuetos holds a chemical engineering degree and has 25 years of experience in the plastics and petrochemical industries, working in North America, Asia Pacific and Latin America.