Transforming Plastic Waste: PRIA's Journey Towards a Sustainable Future

Published on January 24, 2024

Reducing Plastic Waste: A research endeavour

The 2023 annual research update of Plastics Research in Action (PRIA) had several major topics on the agenda: A novel technology and method for studying microplastics in the North Saskatchewan River, highlights of student researcher successes, creating entirely new ways to utilize recycled plastics in construction materials, and announcing a historic governmental partnership focused on reusing plastic waste.

But what exactly is the PRIA Project?

PRIA is an applied research partnership between Heartland Polymers, Inter Pipeline’s state-of-the-art polypropylene producer, and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). It is a 10-year, $10 million project with a single focus: finding ways for society to reuse and recycle plastic waste as valuable commodities. In short, PRIA is on a mission to build a sustainable circular economy.

“The future belongs to circularity . . .”

-Dr. Paolo Mussonne, Ovintiv Applied Research Chair in Energy, NAIT Applied Research


Watch the 2023 Annual Research Update 


Creating circular economies at NAIT

This partnership has the potential to make a true impact on the way society views and uses plastic. Going beyond reforging recycled plastic into other single-use items, PRIA has its sights set on integrating plastic waste back into more permanent uses to create a circular economy.

“Sustainability has always been at the core of what Heartland Polymers and Inter Pipeline do,” Lorraine Royer, Inter Pipeline’s General Manager, Government, Stakeholder & Indigenous Relations, said during the event. “This is just another way of us getting real about the circular economy.”

Working on that goal with Alberta Plastics Recycling Association (APRA), PRIA is engaged in a plastic waste study to inform the processes that will maximize the use of recycled plastics.

“The future belongs to circularity,” stated Dr. Paolo Mussone, the Ovintiv Applied Research Chair in Energy with NAIT Applied Research’s Clean Technologies Team. 


The student researcher experience

NAIT’s commitment to providing work-integrated learning shines through the PRIA project.

“So many students have come through the program, and many more will come through the program in the years to come,” Dr. Mussone said of the student recruitment to the PRIA project.

A vast majority of the student researchers have found meaningful employment following their stints with PRIA, and Dr. Mussone characterizes the entire project as “a story about talent-building and capacity. That’s very important to me. It’s very important to NAIT.”

Giving those student researchers the chance to get their feet wet as scientists, PRIA’s Microplastics Project saw the development, testing, and validation of a new microplastics identification and quantification technology that can evaluate the types and amounts of microplastics in the North Saskatchewan River. That technology is a prototype high throughput microplastics sampling system, known among the researchers as “River Beauty”, a prototype so meaningful to its creators that they’ve all signed the front.

The Asphalt Project

Taking another step towards circularity, the PRIA team is testing the viability of adding recycled plastics into the asphalt of Alberta’s roads in collaboration with GREENMANTRA Technologies, McAsphalt Industries Limited, Alexander First Nation, and both Strathcona and Sturgeon Counties. The project aims to make these modified roads more resilient to the fluctuating temperatures of Alberta’s climate.

One of the four sites designated for paving during the Asphalt projects is Alexander First Nation, where the road provides access to the Nation’s community hall, health centre, business centre, and church. 

“The land and the environment are very important pieces of how we need to live in harmony with development and operations, and we need to find that balance. Part of finding that balance is making sure that we encourage new ways of doing business,” said Chief George Arcand, Jr. of Alexander First Nation during PRIA’s third annual update in 2022.

Recycled plastics in construction

In a first in North America, PRIA is working to create a 100% recyclable polypropylene luxury flooring for homes in collaboration with Calgary-based PolyCo. These flooring tiles are currently being tested for durability, and longevity.

It is that collaboration with industry partners that makes PRIA’s work so salient to the market and the environment. 

“These companies are scaling, are developing their technologies because this program exists in collaboration with us,” Dr. Mussone told NAIT during the 2023 Annual Update, “And so as they enter the marketplace and as their products hit the ground, then they will flourish.” 

[Re]Waste Concrete and automated plastic detection

PRIA’s priorities also extend to the construction industry, and the Post-Consumer Plastics for Concrete Framework Applications project in partnership with [Re]Waste and Clark Builders is aimed at identifying the best methods to create sheets from recycled plastics materials that can be used as concrete framework in the construction industry.

The second of the recent project undertakings is what Dr. Adetoyese Oydeun, Senior Project Manager, Research, Plastics Research in Action, calls the “next generation” of PRIA’s Microplastics Project. The Automated Microplastics Sampling System project aims to automate River Beauty’s microplastics sampling system and run it with sustainable solar power.


“. . . plastic is a valuable commodity that belongs in the economy, not the environment.”

-Lorraine Royer, General Manager, Government, Stakeholder & Indigenous Relations, Inter Pipeline

Alberta Innovates joins the fight against plastic waste

The PRIA Annual Update event closed with Dr. Mussone making the announcement that the project has gained yet another partner: Alberta Innovates. 

“It’s a gamechanger,” Dr. Mussone said of the Alberta Innovates partnership. With amplified funding and opportunities to engage with more industry partners, bringing an organization like Alberta Innovates into the PRIA fold is a major step for the project and for the province of Alberta. 

“They bring that ecosystem-level ability to create the value chain we need, from post-consumer recycling producers, all the way to the companies that will be involved in commercializing those products,” Dr. Mussone summed-up. 

The project, called Designing for Circularity, will research the development of polymer blends of Heartland Polymer’s polypropylene products with commercially available post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics.

Designing for Circularity has its sights set on discovering the most commercially promising PCR polypropylene and polyethylene blends that can advance the use of recycled plastics in valuable commodities. 


Looking to the future of sustainability and circularity 

As shared by Lorraine Royer, the PRIA initiative is our chance to put into action Inter Pipeline and Heartland Polymers’ belief that “plastic is a valuable commodity that belongs in the economy, not the environment.” 

It is the industry partnerships and the development of novel products which utilize recycled plastics to create entirely new economic opportunities for Albertans that truly characterizes PRIA as a green initiative.  

Pushing us forward into a circular economy and a brighter future, PRIA is an incredible opportunity to demonstrate the utility of recycled plastics, to change perceptions on the value of post-consumer plastics, and to keep them out of the landfills and the natural environment. 


Matthew Menzies
Lance Doucette