Recycling across the world is becoming more widely accepted and practiced, but many countries, including Canada, have not yet implemented a successful or sustainable recycling system. Currently, Canada ranks 26th for the world's best recycling rate, which is respectable. However, only 8% of plastic waste is recycled every year, despite the production of approximately 3 million tons of plastic. This creates challenges for individuals, businesses, and the government (public sector) involved in waste management.
One of the biggest challenges for Canada's recycling industry is the lack of infrastructure and funding for recycling, particularly for businesses and individuals who struggle to access recycling facilities. Moreover, waste management regimes focus mainly on the disposal and collection of plastic waste from residential areas, while a lack of education and awareness of proper recycling practices is observed in many of these areas. In addition, much of the waste produced by Canadians that isn't recycled within Canada is shipped to other countries, with many of these countries not having the means, equipment, or experience to recycle waste on a large scale. As a result, many of the shipping containers sent to countries like India have been contaminated, making proper disposal difficult, and further escalating global waste issues and environmental challenges.
The carbon emissions created by the ships transporting the waste and the emissions produced during the recycling process, or the general waste disposal process, contribute to climate change and air pollution. In addition, plastics need to be clean before being recycled, and much of it is not. This creates issues with the recycling process, leading to more waste ending up in landfills. However, organizations such as Environmental Defence are calling on the Canadian government to support becoming plastic-free by 2025.
Canada has been making some efforts to improve its recycling rates. For example, Thunder Bay has decided to scale up and accelerate its recycling program in 2021, accepting more materials and waste for curbside recycling, and has plans to introduce an organics collection by 2025. Additionally, Canada has modified its glass recycling facilities to improve the process of glass recycling, with the aim of making the journey more efficient and streamlined. However, the machinery used for this in Quebec specifically has encountered major technical problems, meaning recycled glass is still ending up in landfills.
Overall, while there is still a long way to go, Canada's recycling industry is making progress. The pandemic has shown how people's habits can impact waste production and recycling. More education and awareness of proper recycling practices are needed for individuals, businesses, and the government (public sector) to create a more sustainable future. While funding for the recycling industry is necessary to improve infrastructure, develop new recycling technologies, and support research and development, innovation in recycling technologies and standardization in recycling regulations across different municipalities could also make it easier for businesses and individuals to participate in recycling programs. By working together, we can create a more sustainable future and protect the environment for future generations.