OPINION: Together We Can Solve the Issue of Plastic Waste

By Luis Sierra, President and CEO, NOVA Chemicals Corporation

Published by the Toronto Sun on December 7, 2020

Plastic materials have value. They are high functioning, versatile, lightweight and affordable. They help to keep us safe and healthy, as we’ve all witnessed during the pandemic. Indeed, the images captured across the world showcase plastics protecting our healthcare workers and patients as we fight this terrible virus.  And while we know that plastics enable our modern way of life, we also know we must work towards a world where plastic never becomes waste.

Recently, the Government of Canada proposed its Zero Plastic Waste Strategy. It includes regulating plastic through the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) as if plastic products were hazardous materials. They simple are not.  Indeed, the Government’s own scientific reports found that plastics are not harmful to human life. Using CEPA  is not the solution to ending plastic waste.

Instead of banning specific products, governments at all levels must continue to collaborate with businesses, scientists and industry leaders to create innovative solutions that will deliver a waste free future to Canada. This collaboration, and the innovation that comes from it, will create additional jobs, more investment and new businesses. We need both production, distribution, consumption AND recovery, reuse and recycling of plastics. Business can be a catalyst for this change, and NOVA Chemicals is an eager partner in finding science-based solutions that work.

As the new President and CEO of Canada’s leading plastics manufacturer, I’ll offer an example. Merlin Plastics is Canada’s largest recycler and a true Canadian success story.  The company employs approximately 300 employees at its operations in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, California and Oregon. NOVA Chemicals and Merlin recently announced an agreement to take Canadians’ used milk jugs and turn them into recycled plastic for new consumer packaging. We are combining Merlin’s three decades of recycling experience with NOVA Chemicals’ industry and scientific expertise to increase the supply of high-value recycled plastic in the marketplace and keep it out of landfills and waterways.  It means the milk jugs you use and recycle at home today can be shredded, washed and processed to return to your grocery shelves again. NOVA Chemicals will soon be buying back and reprocessing nearly the same amount of recycled plastic that we are selling into British Columbia today. This is the very essence of plastics circularity and is the type of collaborative solution the plastics supply chain needs to replicate elsewhere.

Another example is our work with Montreal-based Enerkem, a world-leader in waste-to-renewable-fuels and chemicals. Our scientists are pursuing game-changing technology to take non-compostable, non-recyclable municipal waste and turn it into ethylene, the key building block for new plastic material. Our goal is to make new plastic resins manufactured from recycled municipal waste. These innovations in advanced recycling won’t happen overnight but it is one way we are committed to investing in new pathways of circularity to create jobs and add to Canada’s green economic revival.  

As a founding member of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, NOVA Chemicals is working with over 50 organizations that have collectively pledged US $1.5 billion  by 2024 to keep millions of tonnes of plastic waste out of our oceans at more than 100  cities around the world. The Alliance  is non-profit organization which is demonstrating right now how successful waste management solutions can solve the way we achieve a circular economy.

Also new is a private-public partnership, the Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup Initiative, which is deploying novel litter capture technology to collect plastic waste quickly and cost effectively from our own waters here at home.  We are proud to be the lead corporate sponsor and work with Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Council of the Great Lakes Region, Pollution Probe, regional marinas and academic institutions to stop plastics from entering one of North America’s greatest natural wonders.

In September 2021, Canada will host the World Circular Economy Forum in Toronto. We will have an opportunity to show the world how we are making tangible progress and realizing results. What will we say?

NOVA Chemicals stands ready to collaborate with our industry, governments, non-profits and others to find actionable, science-based solutions to this important issue. Maintaining the unparalleled health and safety benefits that plastic provides requires responsible use, recovery, reuse and recycling of the products we use every day.  We challenge all levels of government, industry and every Canadian to contribute toward solutions that will showcase Canada as a serious leader in achieving a plastics circular economy.  This is a solvable problem, and our shared environment requires us all to do the right thing, the right way,  starting now.