The Plastic Economy

While Canadian communities scramble to deal with mountains of plastic waste, a Nova Scotia company is turning it into valuable, durable lumber

by Susan MacVittie

In 2018, many Canadian municipalities scrambled to find new markets for recycled plastic after China stopped accepting the material. As the only province in Canada where it is illegal to dump plastics in a landfill, Nova Scotia found itself with a massive backlog of film plastics. The province has since banned single-use plastic bags and found new buyers for its plastic waste.

One of these buyers is a local business outside of Halifax, Goodwood Plastics Products Ltd., that recycles plastic to create dimensional plastic lumber. It’s owned and operated by father and son duo Dan and Mike Chassie, who used to have a business that recycled plastic debris from construction and demolition sites. For years they wondered what they could create with the tons of wasted plastic they saw every day. In 2014 they bought an extruder machine and began modifying their equipment and developed a system to turn waste plastic into useable lumber.

Now, 80% of Halifax’s plastic waste is being recycled at Goodwood and turned into synthetic lumber, wharf timbers, guardrails and agricultural posts which can be used like regular timber.

Goodwood recently partnered with a food retailer in Halifax to construct Canada’s first parking lot made almost entirely from recycled plastic. The company also approached LakeCity Works, an organization that supports people living with mental illness by employing them in social enterprise projects. The result is LakeCity Plastics, a new partnership that creates durable outdoor furniture using Goodwood’s lumber.

Unrecovered plastic material in Canada in 2016 was worth an estimated $7.8 billion.

Recycling plastic to create lumber isn’t new, but what sets Goodwood apart is that the lumber is made with 100% recycled materials, instead of wood-plastic composites or virgin resin. The domestic recycled plastic industry in Canada is small, and competes against the larger virgin resin producers. When oil prices are low, the resin producers’ cost is lower and some recycled plastic producers have had to cease operations. It costs more to purchase plastic lumber than wood lumber, but the selling point is that it is low maintenance and lasts… well, forever. And that’s the problem with plastic.

The preferable approach to plastic waste management is to avoid and reduce using plastic, and the second option is to reuse it. Canada’s announcement in October to ban single-use plastics is part of a larger goal of achieving zero plastic waste by 2030 – backed by a 2019 report to Environment and Climate Change Canada, Economic Study of the Canadian Plastic Industry, Markets and Waste.

The report states that 9% of plastic waste is recycled in Canada, 4% incinerated with energy recovery, 86% landfilled, and 1% leaked into the environment. Two key parts of the plan are to ban single use plastic items and create a circular economy for plastics. The report sees the recovery and recycling of plastics as an economic opportunity – unrecovered plastic material in Canada in 2016 was apparently worth an estimated $7.8 billion.

Let’s hope that environmentally progressive public procurement, such as the agreement between Halifax and Goodwood, creates more opportunities for municipalities and entrepreneurial businesses to have local waste management solutions.

Susan MacVittie is Watershed Sentinel’s East Coast correspondent based in Prince Edward Island.

Watershed Sentinel Dec2020-Jan2021 CoverThis article appears in our December 2020 | January 2021 issue.

Related Posts

Watershed Sentinel Original Content

5 Issues/yr — $25 print; $15 digital