The ability to reuse a container over and over again means sending less waste to landfill and producing less in the first place. Manufacturers that deal with the same suppliers on a regular basis no longer have to use one-way containers but instead can further their investment through a number of trips. These manufacturers cover a gamut of industries: automotive, food and beverage, fruit and vegetables. For example, over the past two years, the Ford Motor Company eliminated more than 68 million kilograms of wood and cardboard packaging waste (that would have gone to landfill) by asking its suppliers to use returnable plastic shipping containers and plastic pallets rather than wooden ones.
While the breadth of reusable plastic containers has grown, so too has the use of recycled content in those containers. The plastics industry has responded to ongoing demands for recycled content by developing innovative solutions that still meet all of the stringent quality controls while incorporating varying levels of recycled content.
Horizon Plastics, based in Cobourg, Ontario is a good example. It uses a foaming process to manufacture a line of plastic containers that includes the Soilsaver Composter, a hospital cart, a garden hose cart and industrial fold-down automotive bins. The bins are made with 50 per cent post-consumer recycled plastic while the smaller containers can be manufactured with as much as 100 per cent post-consumer plastic.
Another innovative reusable container is the Apple Box from Montreal, Quebec-based IPL Inc. The box was first introduced in 1993 and is currently being used throughout Canada and the United States for the distribution of apples. This and other IPL-manufactured boxes used for the distribution of other fruits and vegetables can contain post-consumer or post-industrial recycled plastic content.
Another interesting innovation is the use of recycled plastic content in municipal curbside collection containers, such as Blue Boxes. These boxes are not only reusable (some of them come with five-year warranties); they also increasingly use recycled plastic content. (Some municipalities have even requested that the recycled content come from their own curbside collection programs.)
According to Joseph Hall, project coordinator for the Region of Ottawa/ Carleton, the region launched a pilot program last May that saw the manufacture of 20,000 black boxes containing recycled plastic. The new boxes will be used solely for fibre products (like newspapers and cardboard) and will alternate every week with Blue Box collection. Of the 20,000 black boxes, half are made entirely from 100 per cent post-consumer plastic collected in the municipality while the other half contains a combination of post-consumer and post-industrial plastic. To date, all of the boxes have weathered through the winter and still meet quality standards.
The Region of Peel is also looking for recycled content in its latest tender. According to Rob Rivers, manager of waste collection and processing for Peel, the region has used 40 per cent post-consumer content in its Blue Boxes for the last three years. A new tender just issued, however, calls for the manufacture of approximately 270,000 gray boxes, which will be used to collect fibre materials every other week. According to Rivers, the tender requests a minimum of 50 per cent certifiable post-consumer recycled material and it says that priority will be given to those submissions that use the highest possible post-consumer content.
A number of other municipalities have also requested specific recycled content in their Blue Boxes and this has led to some interesting developments in the recycling of specific types of plastics. For example, the Kingston Area Recycling Corporation (KARC) stipulated in a past contract that the manufacture of 2,500 Blue Boxes contain 10 per cent post-consumer tub material. Similarly, the City of Peterborough requested that a past shipment of the boxes contain a level of 10 per cent recycled content of which half is household-collected plastic film.
In order to meet this increasing demand for the incorporation of recycled content in Blue Boxes, manufacturers have been busy perfecting their various processes. Brampton, Ontario-based SCL A-1 Plastics strives to manufacture curbside collection boxes made with approximately 50 per cent post-consumer recycled plastic. Greater percentages are possible but are dependent primarily on the quality of the post-consumer plastic material.
Montreal, Quebec-based Sol Plastics has supplied curbside containers made from 100 per cent post-consumer plastic for more than one year. Each box is manufactured to withstand temperatures ranging from -28.8 to +48.8 degrees Celsius, with the post-consumer plastic gathered from 25 municipalities located in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. Sol Plastics attributes the success of its boxes to a combination of material and state-of-the-art equipment.
“Each box is manufactured to withstand temperatures ranging from -28.8 to +48.8 degrees Celsius, with the post-consumer plastic gathered from 25 municipalities located in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.”
In addition to producing the aforementioned Apple Box, IPL Inc. also produces curbside collection containers that typically contain between 50 and 75 per cent post-consumer plastic, as well as wheel carts that use as much as 100 per cent of post-consumer plastic.
An on-line directory, the North American Recycled Plastics Directory, is being developed by the American Plastics Council (APC) and the Environment Plastics Industry Council. Canadian companies interested in listing their products should call 905-678-0774 or e-mail email@example.com.
Cathy Cirko is director general of Mississauga, Ontario-based Environment and Plastics Industry Council, a council of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association.