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What does “100% reusable, recyclable, or, where viable alternatives do not exist, recoverable” actually mean?

These are the words in the Ocean Plastics Charter that Canada signed along with other G7 countries except Japan and the US. But what do they actually mean?Ocean Plastics Charter 2019 - 100% recyclable

First the 100%. That means all, right? Everything. So, there will be no plastic waste then? Or does the 100% only refer to the re-usable part? 100% re-usable? Are all plastics 100% re-usable? Don’t think so. Or maybe it’s 100% reusable or recyclable? Or a cumulative total. Get to 100% through a combination of reuse, recycling and recovering? Either way, but no waste as a result?

And what does recyclable mean? Technically recyclable? Most materials already are. Depends on how much money you want to throw at them. Or does it mean able to be recycled?  You can put it out at the curb or drop it off at a depot. But nothing will ever be 100% recyclable because 100% of Canadians will never have convenient access to recycling (those that live in remote communities et cetera).

Who decides?

And if the material’s not “100% reusable, recyclable” who decides whether “viable alternatives” exist or not? In a world of subsidies, what does viable mean? Does recoverable mean energy recovery or just able to be recovered? Everything’s able to be recovered right now. We’re just not recovering it all!

I think we need to sort this stuff out long before we start talking about targets and deadlines and consequences if you don’t meet them. Because I get the distinct impression that some of the packaged goods companies jumping on the bandwagon and saying they will reach such and such a goal by such and such a date don’t totally understand what they’re promising. And when they find out that a certain goal was never feasible with a certain material in the first place or never achievable because of geographic constraints, they’re going to have a lot of egg on their faces. And be accused of greenwashing. Governments too.

We need a document spelling out exactly what we mean because this affects not only plastics but all other materials and other countries as well. Get your pens out folks!

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John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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