Plastic films currently represent around 35% of the plastics packaging stream in Ontario with some types of flexible films growing at rates of more than 5% annually. Due to the volume and growth, there is an increased interest and need to ensure this packaging stream is effectively managed after use. To that end, The Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) the Continuous Improvement Fund and Stewardship Ontario has released a report on flexible film packaging.
The project, initiated in the fall of 2012, examined the current and potential future options for post use flexible film collection, processing and sorting and end uses. Specifically, CPIA says the project takes a first time specific assessment of the current barriers, opportunities and associated costs to collect and process flexible film plastics packaging.
The CPIA, CIF and SO, jointly retained a consulting consortium consisting of Reclay StewardEdge, Resource Recycling Systems and Moore Recycling Associates to help with the report. Advisory support was provided by Pac Next, which coordinated the provision of technical information from its membership. The report is intended to provide a basis for informed decision-making by governments and industry in their joint efforts to improve the recyclability and diversion of flexible film plastics from landfill.
According to the CPIA, the objectives of this project were to:
- Conduct a comprehensive study of flexible film packaging in the marketplace and in Ontario households to understand what is available and recyclable today and the issues at material recycling facilities and at plastic re-processors;
- Identify available commercial and upcoming pre-commercial technologies that can sort film in a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) or at a re-processing operation;
- Identify possible packaging design changes to increase recyclability; and assess the cost drivers and associated costs to collect film both at both curbside and at return centers for recycling and recovery.
Some of the highlights of the report finding include there is excess recycling capacity in North America for clean PE that is generated today. One way to help increase recycling of flexible films, in the short term, is to focus efforts on collecting clean PE stream separately.
The report states that return centers for PE based collection proved to be the most cost effective option to provide a clean source although with lower recovery rates compared to curbside collection. Curbside collection of PE film, on the other hand, can achieve higher recovery levels but requires further development of additional domestic wash capacity.
Collecting mixed films with PE film, at this time, is not economically viable due to the lack of cost effective sorting technologies and end market uses. However, mixed films can be used as an energy source or converted to a fuel for which there is excess demand.
The parties to this study anticipate continuing to work together to address the barriers and opportunities identified and undertake further initiatives to increase the recycling and recovery of plastics.