Plastic – A Blessing and A Curse

Plastic, perhaps the most important invention of the modern world, is both a blessing and a curse. Right now you are likely wearing plastic, holding plastic or looking at plastic. It is arguably the most common material used in life in North America. Much of this plastic is produced in China, but did you know that until recently most of it was returned there as well? Earlier this year, China banned the import of 24 types of recycled materials[1], and the impact has sent the world reeling. Until then China processed approximately half of all recycled materials in the world.

The change has led to the redirection of recyclables to landfills and storage units. Recycling works on a commodity market structure, where companies bid to offer recycle services, and most recycling contracts with municipalities last for many years, making it a solid long term relationship. Unfortunately because the recycling market is a bid market, companies are expected to offer recycling services even when prices are low.

More and more Canadians and Americans see the need to recycle plastics. So what is the answer? Incineration plants may provide the solution. While very popular in Japan and Scandinavia, they are relatively unknown here in North America. This may be because of the bad rap they received in the 80s when plastic plants burned too cold to reduce harmful dioxins. New plants that burn at 1560 degrees Fahrenheit can have dioxin emissions at near zero.

So, are you ready to get into the recycling business? If you have $40 – $160 million to invest[2], maybe this is the ticket for you!

For the rest of us, do your part to reduce and reuse. Do you really need that plastic bag from the store, or is it time to invest a few bucks in a reusable cloth bag?