Municipalities want to solve their plastic recycling woes. This company says buy more lumber

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Victoria County in Cape Breton is unable to find a home for a stockpile of 50 tonnes of fishing gear after the federal government made changes to its fishing gear regulations. (Submitted by Jocelyn Bethune - image credit)
Victoria County in Cape Breton is unable to find a home for a stockpile of 50 tonnes of fishing gear after the federal government made changes to its fishing gear regulations. (Submitted by Jocelyn Bethune - image credit)

A Nova Scotia manufacturer that recycles plastic into lumber says governments need to step up and buy more two-by-fours and planks from the company, if municipalities are to deal with stockpiles of plastic waste including increasing amounts of old fishing rope.

Goodwood Plastic Products in Stewiacke creates boards by repurposing things like milk jugs and laundry detergent bottles. Company vice-president Mike Chassie said although several municipalities are eager to unload their recyclables, demand for Goodwood's products falls short of the potential supply.

"Collecting and sending the plastic somewhere, that's only a part of the solution," he said. "Our products have to be purchased as well, and just to send us all your plastic and then wash your hands of it is not a good enough thing to do."

The company has seen some successes, including government purchases by the Halifax Regional Municipality and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' small craft harbours program. Chassie said the company wants more municipalities to get on board.

Goodwood Plastic Products Ltd. turns plastics such as shopping bags into plastic lumber.
Goodwood Plastic Products Ltd. turns plastics such as shopping bags into plastic lumber.(Submitted by Mike Chassie)

In 2017, municipalities across the province scrambled to find new markets for recycled plastic after China stopped accepting the material. More recently, some have found themselves saddled with large amounts of plastic rope.

In Victoria County, for instance, the municipality has a stockpile of 50 tonnes of rope after fishermen in the area switched to specially coloured gear last year following new federal fisheries regulations requiring mandatory markings for all fixed-gear fisheries.

"We could get our hands on a lot of it, but the issue for us is that we can only take in so much," said Chassie. "There's thousands of tonnes generated every year around Atlantic Canada, but our sales just aren't at the level for us to be taking in rope all the time."

At this time, Goodwood does not rely on distributors, but sells its products retail or wholesale from its manufacturing plant. The price of an eight-foot two-by-four from Goodwood is $10.50, according to its website.

"We've always tried to be competitive with pressure-treated and now with the rising cost of lumber, it's definitely becoming a lot more of a viable alternative," Chassie said.

Mike Chassie of Goodwood Plastic Products Ltd. says products made from plastic lumber, such as a picnic table or fishing wharf, last much longer than traditional wood.
Mike Chassie of Goodwood Plastic Products Ltd. says products made from plastic lumber, such as a picnic table or fishing wharf, last much longer than traditional wood.(Submitted by Mike Chassie)

Victoria County officials have begun looking for solutions to its backlogged supply of used fishing gear. During their research they stumbled upon Goodwood, but have yet to reach out to the company.

They said the amount of fishing rope sitting idle at one of the county's public works sites is a bit of an anomaly.

"That's not a normal amount we would get in a year," said municipal spokesperson Jocelyn Bethune. "But there just doesn't seem to be an answer for how to recycle it right now."

In a typical year, Bethune said Victoria County typically takes in about nine tonnes of fishing rope.

The municipality launched a study last November into ways to dispose of its problematic plastic. The final report is being written now. Because it's a problem faced by other governments in the province, Victoria County plans to share its findings.

"What we wanted to do was create a best-practices document with tools and resources that other municipalities would be able to use in finding small, feasible answers," Bethune said.

The municipality is looking at purchasing plastic lumber for projects that include ramps and decking, as manufacturers say it has greater longevity than traditional wood.

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality has a similar problem with an unwanted supply of plastic film. Solid waste manager Francis Campbell said some of the plastic was brought to Goodwood over the past year or two, but the company was not looking to take all of the supply.

Campbell said CBRM does not have the same type of cache of fishing rope as Victoria County.

Making plastic lumber

Chassie said the process of creating boards at Goodwood is typically more time consuming than traditional lumber. It takes about a minute to six minutes to make each plank, depending on the size.

"From shredding to extruding to cooling — we're capable of pumping out several hundred boards a day," he said.

The plant currently has 10 employees. If government purchases were to grow, Chassie said the company would look to scale up its workforce.

"We need to develop markets and establish markets domestically," Chassie said. "If Canada wants to be a leader in plastic reduction in the oceans, then we need to invest in companies that can manage the waste, not just pull the waste from the ocean."

Not only is there a large supply of used plastic, Chassie said there are also hiccups within provincial recycling systems. A great deal of plastic collected doesn't get sorted properly, he said, and that leads to a higher degree contamination by other types of plastic, organic material and even garbage.

"What needs to be done is you need to have a good system ... for collecting it and for storing it. It needs to be a full-service solution."

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