Environment Climate Change Canada has launched a challenge to the cleantech industry for environmentally acceptable and affordable technologies to improve the collection and/or sorting of post-consumer [i.e. business to consumer (B2C)] plastic film, including flexible plastic packaging, to facilitate increased levels of mechanical recycling of these materials and a reduction in associated plastic pollution.

Eligibility

Solution proposals can only be submitted by a small business that meets all of the following criteria:

  • for profit
  • incorporated in Canada (federally or provincially)
  • 499 or fewer full-time equivalent (FTE) employees
  • research and development activities that take place in Canada
  • 50% or more of its annual wages, salaries and fees are currently paid to employees and contractors who spend the majority of their time working in Canada
  • 50% or more of its FTE employees have Canada as their ordinary place of work
  • 50% or more of its senior executives (Vice President and above) have Canada as their principal residence

Available Grant Money

Multiple grants could result from this Challenge.

Phase 1:

  • The maximum funding available for any Phase 1 Grant resulting from this Challenge is : $150,000.00 CAD
  • The maximum duration for any Phase 1 project funded by a grant resulting from this Challenge is up to 6 months
  • Estimated number of Phase 1 grants: 3

Phase 2:

  • The maximum funding available for any Phase 2 Grant resulting from this Challenge is : $1,000,000.00 CAD
  • The maximum duration for any Phase 2 project funded by a grant resulting from this Challenge is up to 24 months
    • Note: Only eligible businesses that have completed Phase 1 could be considered for Phase 2.
  • Estimated number of Phase 2 grants: 1

Deadline Dates

The deadline for submission of a proposal is November 8th, 2023 at 2 pm eastern time. Prospective applicants should refer to the Innovative Solutions Canada Grant Instructions and Procedures.

Problem Statement

Canada generated approximately 1.4 million tons of plastic film in 2019, less than 4% of which was recycled due in part to issues with its collection and sorting. Plastic film is also a common environmental pollutant, with film-based items like food wrappers and plastic bags being among the most frequently collected litter on Canada’s shorelines.

Due in part to issues with sorting, film and flexible plastics are not typically included in curbside collection. While improvements in sorting processes may lead to these materials being compatible with existing collection methods for other plastics, these collection methods may need to be adapted to ensure the effective and convenient collection of flexible plastics.

If collected and transported to material recovery facilities (MRFs), or beyond to mechanical recycling facilities, film and flexible packaging can disrupt normal operations by clogging and damaging sorting machinery. While advanced technology exists to sort plastic film and flexible packaging, current options are often too expensive for smaller facilities to implement (e.g. advanced optical sorting machines and artificial intelligence equipped machines/robotics) and, if implemented, can be burdensome to maintain (e.g. film vacuum systems).

As multi-material flexibles with chemically different components (such as metals or other plastics) can be difficult to distinguish from more easily recyclable mono-material flexibles, it can be challenging to ensure that similar types of flexible materials are baled together. Due to the issues associated with sorting, bales of film are often also highly contaminated by other materials, including other plastics, metals and paper; similarly, film is a prevalent contaminant in bales of other plastics. This contamination results in a low market value for the sorted materials, leading to the widespread landfilling of plastics.

As most Canadian provinces transition to full producer responsibility programs for packaging (i.e., extended producer responsibility (EPR)), with ambitious collection and recycling targets for films and flexibles, there is a need for innovation to optimize the capture rate of films and flexibles (including multilaminates) from consumers, in MRFs and at recycling facilities. Additionally, incoming recycled content requirements are expected to increase market demand for post-consumer resin (PCR) and make it critical to find affordable solutions to reduce current rates of bale contamination, while increasing the quality and quantity of recycled resin.

This Challenge seeks innovative solutions to the issues of collection and sorting of film, including flexible packaging, that will help boost recycling rates and move Canada closer to a circular economy for plastics.

Desired outcomes and considerations

Essential (mandatory) outcomes

The proposed solution must:

  1. Be an environmentally acceptable and economically viable solution to improve the collection and/or sorting of post-consumer film, including flexible and multilaminate plastic packaging.
  2. If a sorting solution, support the separation of multi-material and mono-material flexible packaging.
  3. Demonstrate the potential to increase the quality of recycled resins from flexible packaging such that the recycled resin is suitable for use in film or other packaging products.
  4. Demonstrate the potential to increase the net volume of flexible packaging material recycled.

Additional outcomes

The proposed solution should:

  1. Be low maintenance when in operation.
  2. Where proposed solutions include sorting technologies, be applicable within facilities operating on a smaller scale (e.g. in rural or remote communities).
  3. Be compatible with conventional at-home (e.g. blue bin) recycling collection methods or make minor adjustments to these methods to facilitate the collection process.

Flexible packaging is the fastest growing plastic packaging category, according to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, and its recycling rates in Canada are comparatively low when compared to those of other forms of plastic. Canada generated approximately 1.4 million tons of film in 2019, less than 4% of which was recycled due to its low value, the challenge of separating film from multi-material multilayer packaging designs and issues with collection and sorting. If it does reach a MRF, film and flexible packaging can disrupt normal operations by clogging and damaging sorting machinery. The lack of appropriate sorting technology can lead to low quality, low-value recyclate with limited, if any, market.

Background and Context

While upstream solutions are key to reducing problematic plastic packaging (such as the elimination of unnecessary single-use flexible packaging, transitioning multi-material flexible packaging towards mono-material alternatives and the expansion of reusable packaging) it is not possible to completely move away from single-use flexible packaging without negative unintended consequences such as food waste (e.g. certain oxygen or moisture-sensitive foods require packaging with high barrier properties)Footnote2. As a result, there is a critical need to address the limitations of current Canadian systems to collect and sort film and flexible packaging for recycling, in order to increase the overall capacity to recirculate these materials.

Innovative solutions are required to address barriers to the broader collection of film and flexibles, and to develop functional, cost-effective sorting technologies for these materials to facilitate increased quantities of high-quality recycled resin.

The Government recognises the importance of innovation in addressing plastic waste and preventing pollution. Through the Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge program, the government has provided funding to Canadian businesses to spur innovation and the development of technologies that address issues such as difficult to recycle plastic film food packaging and the separation of mixed plastics.

Canada is committed to protecting the environment while supporting businesses and Canadians transition towards a zero plastic waste future. Improving the recycling process for flexible plastics both supports this commitment and aligns with forthcoming policy measures, including regulatory targets for recycled content and labelling for plastic packaging and a pollution prevention plan for food-contact packaging.

Federal, provincial, and territorial governments are also working together through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) to achieve zero plastic waste and transition to a circular economy for plastics in Canada. Working with partners from every stage of the plastics lifecycle, Canada aims to keep plastic in the economy and out of landfills and the environment.

More Information

All incoming questions regarding this specific challenge should be addressed to solutions@ised-isde.gc.ca.

All enquiries must be submitted in writing no later than ten calendar days before the Challenge Notice closing date. Enquiries received after that time may not be answered.

You can also consult the Frequently asked questions about the Innovative Solutions Canada Program.

For information, prospective applicants should refer to the Innovative Solutions Canada Grant Instructions and Procedures.