What is a Circular Economy for Plastics?
A plastics circular economy is a prosperous economy that recirculates materials, keeping plastics out of the environment and in the economy. It harnesses the extraordinary material properties of a wide range of plastics, and captures their full value but without waste or harmful emissions. A plastics circular economy:
- reduces plastic use
- makes use of products for as long as possible, including by choosing high-quality, long-lasting, useful and necessary products
- produces plastics from renewable sources without harming biodiversity
- is powered by renewable energy
- reuses and recycles plastics within the economy without leakage to the environment
- generates no waste or harmful emissions
- develops markets for secondhand products
- restores to health the ecosystems that have been damaged by the manufacturing, use and end-of-life of plastics, such as oceans and waterways
The Circular Economy Evolution
A plastics circular economy in Canada would:
- recirculate plastics, to either displace the demand for raw materials or to be consumed as nutrients in living systems without harm
- use renewable energy to power each life-cycle stage of plastic
- shift to adopting renewable resins if they are compatible with the recycling process.
A plastics circular economy in Canada calls on us to bring our brightest thinking and new science to bear, as we tackle both the demand and supply sides of plastics.
Circularity will result from market evolution, not revolution. While it will not happen overnight, it must begin now.
This evolution involves:
- building new commercial relationships
- transforming existing exchanges and relationships
- redesigning products and packaging
- developing and scaling new business models that reinvent products and packaging systems to be delivered as services
- developing technologies
- making investments
- changing operations
- restoring to health ecosystems that have been damaged by the production, use and end-of-life of plastics
Practical and Bold Policies
Governments at all levels have a vital role to play in catalyzing a circular economy for plastics.
To achieve progress towards a circular economy, the federal government and the provinces and territories must establish a collaborative approach to national harmonization of definitions, standards, targets and protocols while recognizing and respecting the division of powers between them. There are five initial practical policies and market instruments that need to be explored and embraced in order to catalyze a circular economy for plastics in Canada:
- Assign property rights for end-of-life plastic waste to producers and set end-of-life performance-based regulatory requirements such as recycling targets.
- Set recycled content performance standards
- Create common definitions, performance standards, measurement and assessment protocols.
- Economic instruments and/ or prohibitions (“bans”)
- Price greenhouse gas emissions associated with various stages in the life-cycle of plastics.
READ OUR POLICY BRIEF ON A CIRCULAR ECONOMY FOR PLASTICS IN CANADA