Advancing Circular Technology Investment in Canada

Let’s not pick winners and losers

Circular economy. For active players collaborating to reduce plastic waste, these words have become part of our everyday vocabulary. We understand the need for significant investment in technology and infrastructure and the need to scale these solutions to achieve circularity. Accelerating progress depends on a series of critical actions needed across policy, end markets, consumer behaviour and education to name a few. 

At Imperial, we are evaluating advanced recycling at our Sarnia, Ontario site that could divert 80 million pounds of plastic waste a year from landfill and incineration because it can’t be mechanically recycled today – that’s the size of 300 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Globally, our majority shareholder, ExxonMobil, is assessing opportunities throughout the world with the expectation to have about one billion pounds of annual advanced recycling capacity by year-end 2026. That’s a lot of pools. 

Advanced recycling involves breaking down plastic waste to its molecular building blocks, transforming plastic waste into the raw materials that can be used in the process of making virgin-quality plastic and other valuable products. Advanced recycling also helps remove contaminants, and it can accommodate mixed and soiled plastic waste. Advanced recycling is complementary to mechanical recycling, a common method which converts plastic waste into new plastic products via mechanical processes (such as grinding, shredding, pelletizing). Let me be clear, if something can be recycled mechanically, it should be. When that’s not an option, advanced recycling is an alternative, We are after that hard-to-recycle plastic, like food packaging, bubble wrap and artificial turf. 

Our proposed project would apply ExxonMobil’s Exxtend advanced recycling technology that is already in operation at its Baytown, Texas refinery and chemical plant. 

Exxtend leverages co-processing, meaning replacing a portion of fossil-based feedstock with plastic waste, resulting in a lower greenhouse gas footprint on a feedstock basis. Through a thermal pyrolysis process, plastic waste is broken down to its molecular level and made into raw materials for new products, without compromising quality or performance. We attribute these raw materials to new certified-circular polymers via the ISCC PLUS mass balance approach. Learn more about this process and its societal benefits by watching the video below:

We want to sell certified circular polymers in Canada that are produced in Canada. However, it is critical that government policy supports the ability of these certified-circular polymers to help manufacturers meet recycled content minimum requirements and ultimately support Canada’s zero plastic waste action plan. We also want to be able to transfer certificates across the border to enable the same benefits for U.S. manufacturers and companies with North American operations. Currently, however, Canada’s draft framework for recycled content de-incentivizes investment in advanced recycling technology.  

What policy attributes are necessary to drive investment? From a broad lens, we need: 

  • Policies that support both mechanical and advanced recycling technologies – this includes recognizing the mass balance free attribution approach certified according to a third-party platform such as ISCC PLUS. 
  • Policies that are based on a life-cycle approach based on reduced total environmental footprint– not arbitrary bans or restrictions, like those we’re starting to see.
  • Well-designed incentives to accelerate the collection of waste plastic and support the sustainable reuse and recycling of plastic products and packaging. Because plastics are too valuable to throw away.
  • And finally, policies that help bring more communities access – and equitable access – to recycling programs. Because the only way this works is by working alongside communities.

One thing is certain, the Great Lakes circular economy will only be enabled through collaboration across full value chains, all levels of government and communities. Together, let’s get after it! 

For more insight into the topic of advanced recycling, register for our webinar on August 31 featuring a guest speaker from Imperial by clicking HERE!


Eloissa Wells, Vice President Chemicals and Sarnia Complex, Imperial

Eloissa Wells assumed the role of Imperial’s Vice President of Chemicals and Sarnia Complex Plant in May 2023. Over more than 20 years at ExxonMobil, she has gained broad Downstream experience, while leading North America’s commercial fuels sales and marketing team and participating in diverse roles including global fuels analytics and reporting, process engineering, scheduling and crude economics and optimization.

CGLR’s business and sustainability network programming is supported by the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.

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