From monitoring microplastics in fresh water, to studying the use of post-consumer plastic in cold climate asphalt, to creating luxury flooring made from fully recyclable polymer, Inter Pipeline’s partnership with the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) is making significant progress as it enters its second year.
The Plastics Research in Action (PRIA) initiative is a ten-year multi-disciplinary research program led by industry and research experts focused on exploring opportunities for society to reuse and recycle plastic waste. The organizations held a joint virtual event on November 25 to provide progress updates on the major research initiatives, including the Microplastics Project, which is focused on developing methods to identify and quantify microplastics in freshwater and river sediments. The goal of this project is to optimize protocols that can accurately and efficiently evaluate types of microplastics in the North Saskatchewan River. Establishing an accurate understanding of this will form a solid, fact-based foundation for future work identifying microplastics in the environment and developing potential solutions to mitigate its occurrence.
Led by NAIT’s Dr. Paolo Mussone, Ovintiv Applied Research Chair in Energy, the team has gathered comprehensive data from the North Saskatchewan River and plans to share updates and findings at international conferences and symposia in the coming year.
“The most unique aspect of this project is that we are combining three separate lines of applied research in microplastics science into one single project,” said Dr. Mussone. “We have been able to push microplastic science further and faster than we could have on our own. We are also developing methodologies together with our industry partners at Inter Pipeline and Dow Canada, and this is important for the science community and the public at large.”
PRIA’s second annual progress update also provided insight into several other ground-breaking projects:
- The Asphalt Project, which is focused on testing, validating and demonstrating the blending of post-consumer plastics into asphalts for use in Alberta’s cold climate conditions.
- Recyclable luxury flooring to be produced by Calgary-based company PolyCo will be the first sustainable flooring solution of its kind in North America – a fully recyclable and low-carbon product with plans to use polypropylene produced at the Heartland Petrochemical Complex. This product can help replace other flooring materials that do not biodegrade and which end up in landfills.
- Plastic waste study in collaboration with Alberta Plastics Recycling Association (APRA) to inform processes that support a circular economy where products are used to their highest value while reducing plastic waste and landfill rates.
To date, 16 students have participated in the PRIA initiative, with nearly 3,500 hours of research.
“It’s such an important part of what we do at NAIT, partnering with industry to help solve the most pressing problems,” said Laura Jo Gunter, President and CEO of NAIT. “The potential global impact for these projects is astounding.”
In kicking off the virtual update, Lorraine Royer, Director of Government and Stakeholder Relations with Inter Pipeline, underlined the company’s investment to explore and bring to market sustainable solutions that power a thriving plastics circular economy.
“We have undertaken (the PRIA initiative) because we believe plastic is a valuable commodity that belongs in the economy, not the environment,” Royer said. “It’s important as a society that we get plastics right. When plastic products complete their usefulness, they don’t belong in landfills or the environment. They should be considered a valuable resource that can be recycled and re-used and enter the production cycle again and again, known as a circular economy.”