This may come as a shock, but across Canada plastic is burned (incinerated) as a form of waste management and is often hidden under an umbrella term known as “advanced recycling” or “chemical recycling.” And burning plastic waste is more common than you’d think. Many Canadian municipalities have plastic incineration facilities that burn hard to recycle plastics in lieu of sending them to landfill or proper recycling facilities. Burning plastic creates an easy out for governments and plastic producers rather than working towards real plastic waste solutions like eliminating all unnecessary single-use plastics by investing in refillable and reusable packaging solutions. So, if burning plastic waste is not a real solution to the plastic disaster, why do we do it?
Let’s dive into the issue and debunk some common myths about burning plastic waste.
Burning plastic is better for the environment than putting plastic waste in landfills
Burning plastic releases harmful pollutants and emissions into the environment throughout every step of the process. Diesel trucks haul enormous amounts of plastic to an incineration facility, where, when burned, releases billows of greenhouse gases to the air. Not only is the smoke from burning plastic filled with climate change-accelerating gasses, but it also contains carcinogens like lead, mercury, dioxins and furans, fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, arsenic, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and brominated polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHS). Ash and wastewater from burned plastic, containing many of these same pollutants, is then often sent to landfill, where it poses the risk of leaking into the soil and water of nearby communities.
Burning plastic is carbon neutral/emissions neutral because energy is recovered from it
Burning plastic is actually one of the highest greenhouse gas emitting forms of energy production. Burning plastic for energy emits 3.8 times more greenhouse gas emissions than the energy grid average and is a significantly dirtier source of energy than coal and oil. In Canada, we have numerous renewable energy options, like hydro, wind and solar in many of our populated areas. Simply put, we do not need energy created from burning plastic waste in Canada.
Burning plastic is not considered a form of recycling
In Canada, burning plastic waste is often hidden under the guise of “advanced recycling.” or “chemical recycling.” These false recycling solutions break down plastic waste into fuel, oil or gas that is intended for use in other waste management or energy sectors. Unfortunately, these fuels, oils and gases are then burned by the sector that obtains them as a form of energy – resulting in an expensive and polluting process that ultimately results in burning plastic.
Canada recycles most of its plastic waste
Right now, only eight per cent of plastic waste is recycled in Canada. Concerningly, without intervention to move away from false solutions like “advanced recycling,” Canada is projected to burn 22 per cent of its plastic waste by 2030, up from 4 per cent as of 2019. That is a lot of climate change- accelerating emissions and cancer-causing pollutants being released into our environment and communities.
This has been happening for years, I can’t do anything about it
The government of Canada is developing a new regulation called recycled content standards, and within it lies the opportunity to legally exclude the burning of plastic waste as a form of recycling. Oceana Canada is advocating for the federal government to strengthen this regulation and make this ban on burning plastic waste a reality. You can join us and add your voice by signing our petition, which also sends an email directly to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada. With thousands of people sending emails on the same topic, it brings the issue to the attention of these policy makers, encouraging them to take action.