Collaboration is the key to advancing a circular plastics economy for Canada

By Paul Shorthouse, Interim Managing Director, Canada Plastics Pact

Identifying the need for systems change

The world has a plastic problem. Everyone knows it. According to the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, we produce nearly 400 million tons of plastic packaging every year globally, of which only about two-thirds are collected and only 15% is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, as waste-to-energy, or as pollution into the environment.

In Canada, packaging, construction, and the automotive sectors drive almost 70% of plastic products introduced in the market. Our research suggests that only 12% of plastic packaging is effectively being recycled, and only 1% of flexible packaging and films (e.g., plastic bags and pouches).

The trend is toward more plastic production over the coming decade – with an estimated two times more by 2040, with a risk of three times more plastics leaking into the environment if interventions aren’t taken. As such, we’ve seen a global response to the issue, with Canada also taking action.

It’s fair to say that plastics provide many benefits – such as their durability, versatility, and light-weight structure, with an ability to protect food and other products, reduce costs during transportation and related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from shipping, as well as other positives. However, an important question is how can we use less while still availing of their benefits? And how do we keep these materials from becoming pollution, ensuring we retain their value for as long as possible within the economy and out of the environment. Embracing a circular economy and its underlying principles are the answer.

Launching a collaborative platform to tackle the issues

In January 2021, we launched the Canada Plastic Pact (CPP), with a vision of creating a circular economy for plastics in Canada. The CPP is made up of a diverse set of stakeholders from across the plastics packaging value chain. We launched with 40 Partners and are now up to 90 Signatories and Implementation Partners, who are driving the work of the CPP forward. We’re united around a common set of goals and targets that have been adopted by similar Pacts around the world, adhering to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy framework. There are now more than 15 Pacts, including across Europe, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, the United States, South America, and most recently, India, Kenya, and Colombia. 

We are focused on four collective targets by 2025:

  1. Defining a list of plastic packaging that is to be designated as problematic or unnecessary and take measures to eliminate them.
  2. Ensuring that 100% of plastic packaging is designed to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.
  3. Ensuring that at least 50% of plastic packaging is effectively recycled or composted.
  4. Ensuring that plastic packaging contains at least 30% recycled content.

Last year, we launched our Roadmap to 2025 that includes three priority areas of focus and more than 50 ‘Key Opening Moves’ we are actioning in the immediate-term toward achieving our targets.

We are focused on the whole value chain and applying innovation to improve the entire system. But systems change from a linear model to a more circular one is hard and takes an enormous amount of effort and collaboration. That is the underlying ‘raison d’être’ of the CPP. The change we are seeking won’t happen overnight, but we are ambitious and taking affection action towards achieving our collective targets.

Working together to realize collective action

Earlier this year, we launched our Golden Design Rules (GDR) for Plastics Packaging microsite, based on the nine GDRs developed by the Consumer Goods Forum, containing guidance and global standards for Canadian companies to adjust their packaging design so that it aligns with a circular economy for plastics packaging.

We’ve launched eight different working groups made up of our Partners across the value chain to advance the key actions within our Roadmap. These working groups include a focus on: packaging redesign, identifying problematic packaging that can be removed from circulation, improving the integration of recycled content, tackling issues around flexible packaging and films, advancing compostable packaging, and improving data, education, and awareness. We will also be launching a new rapid action group focused on reuse and refill models this fall.  

So far we’ve accomplished a number of milestones, undertaken important research to fill information gaps, and supported a number of cross-partner pilot projects and initiatives. But we’re just at the beginning. This past July, we published our 2020 Baseline Report, designed to help us understand our starting place so that we can measure our progress against our targets.

We’ll continue to engage with all players across the value chain in Canada and beyond, including recruiting more partners to help us deliver on our targets and generate successful outcomes. I invite you to reach out if you’re interested in being part of the CPP solution or learning more. The issues are pressing and the opportunities inspiring for creating a circular economy for plastics – and we’ll only be successful by tackling it together.