Quebec could manage all its post-pandemic plexiglass if it manages to recover it

MONTREAL — Quebec would be able to recycle or reuse all of the tens of thousands of tons of Plexiglas on its territory and the fear of a seventh pandemic wave could give it the time required to solve the most important obstacle to the realization of such a goal, or to recover it.

The industries, businesses and institutions (ICI) that have installed protective panels do not want to part with them because of the investment that a reinstallation would represent, while the pandemic is showing signs of resurgence.

“What I am told by the Chambers of Commerce is that we still fear perhaps a seventh, if not an eighth wave. So there are still a lot of businesses and establishments that are reluctant to part with everything they have been able to put in place. In some cases, some companies, these are large facilities that have been put in place and still quite elaborate structures, so many are still reluctant to part with them, not knowing what will be the next step in terms of the pandemic, ”said Environment Minister Benoît Charrette during an interview with The Canadian Press in mid-May, at a time when cases, hospitalizations and deaths linked to COVID-19 were still on the decline.

Solange Morneau, Executive Director of Co-éco (Bas-Saint-Laurent Ecological Communities), an organization that coordinates recovery, reuse and recycling efforts in the Bas-Saint-Laurent, agrees. “For the ICI of Bas-Saint-Laurent, there is no question of getting rid of plexiglass for the moment. It cost them a fortune and it is clear that, for them, even today, there is a risk of parting with this material.

Build greenhouses

But Co-éco will be ready to welcome Plexiglas in its regional ecocentres and eco-construction sites when we begin to dispose of it. Nobody has data on the tonnage of plexiglass in the region – tonnage which is unknown in all of Quebec – but Solange Morneau knows that it is important. Despite everything, she is confident that she can receive everything and has no worries about reusing it.

“Even before the pandemic, we received plexiglass in eco-construction sites and eco-centres and it left the same day, five minutes after its arrival. Who wants them? They are often artists, our « patenteux » of the region and since the media ask themselves « What are we going to do with these Plexiglas? » », we have a waiting list of people who do local agriculture. They ask us to reserve this plexiglass for greenhouses. Many local producers have asked us to reserve it for them,” says Ms. Morneau.

Co-éco is not the only organization that is preparing to receive and showcase the huge quantities of plexiglass that will eventually become useless, argues Benoit Charette.

“There are different projects, not on a large scale, not likely to recover everything that has been on the market for a few years, two years now, but still RECYC-QUÉBEC has been able to identify a few of them”, says the minister.

« There are no projects that have demonstrated that they are able to recover all this material, but we know that there are projects that have been quite successful on a smaller scale. »

Yes, we can recycle everything

However, this is where he is mistaken, believes Martin Pressé, chief operating officer at Lavergne, a Quebec company specializing in the recycling of plastics. “The quantities to come do not worry me at all. You would be surprised at the tonnages we recover and we can add capacity. We have just added a production line to our Montreal site, which will increase our capacity by around thirty percent.” In fact, Mr. Pressé is categorical: Lavergne would be able to recycle all the plexiglass that we want to entrust to him.

The word plexiglass is a trademark that has passed into use, he recalls, but it is in fact polymers grouped into two main categories: polycarbonates and acrylics (or PMMA, English acronym for polymethyl methacrylate) . “For us in both cases there are interesting outings. We can add value to these products.”

Infinite reuse

There is no depolymerization plant in Quebec or Canada that would allow these materials to be decomposed and brought back to their basic components. But Lavergne has been mechanically recycling various plastics for more than 30 years, a method which consists, if we simplify, of melting the raw material to make a recycled resin, sometimes adding other materials for certain specialized uses. .

“We like to say that there is enough plastic to be recycled on Earth to avoid buying virgin resin for the next 500 years. Our proposal is really to replace virgin resin,” says Mr. Pressé. From Plexiglas-type polymers, for example, the company is able to manufacture ink cartridges or ignition coils for the automotive industry.

Like Minister Charette and the general manager of Co-éco, the manufacturer does not expect to see tens of thousands of tons of Plexiglas arrive. “I don’t believe the volume is going to be that big. I think people will keep them for a long time. Secondly, I think people, when they have removed them, will store them. It’s flat, it disassembles quite well and it stores well. Some people will put this in their basement or some other storage place for a while before thinking, ok, we can get rid of it. It won’t happen all at once. »

The Final Hurdle: Recovery

But when that happens, when the managers of public spaces and businesses no longer want these signs, that’s when the real will to solve this problem will be put to the test, believes Mr. Pressé. “Their biggest challenge is probably how we centralize all these panels, to see how we are going to repatriate these plexi.”

And Benoit Charrette knows it full well. “The big, big challenge is recovery. There is no organized collection circuit to bring it to the centers that would be able to process it. There is not yet a coordination that (would allow) to recover all of the distributed plexiglass. There are deposit possibilities with specific companies, but it is not coordinated at the national level, at the Quebec level,” said the minister.

RECYC-QUÉBEC is at the heart of the efforts to find a solution to the challenge presented by such a massive arrival of a plastic material on the territory, but neither this government corporation, nor Minister Charette, nor the organizations that favor reuse like Co-eco or recycling like Lavergne, no one has actually found the solution to large-scale recovery.

Although we cannot rejoice in the resurgence of COVID-19, the fact remains that it will mean that the Plexiglas will remain in place for quite some time, thereby offering the government the luxury of time. Because if Quebec seems ready to dispose of them, we will still have to find a way to bring them where we can do so.

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