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Author Archive for John Mullinder

Time to move on

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

This will be my last blog as executive director of PPEC, the environmental council I have run for the past 30 years. Yes, 30 years. Unbelievable how time marches on, isn’t it?

I remember my first day on the job being asked to take the minutes of the board meeting. I knew only two people in the room (the ones who had interviewed me) and had absolutely no idea what these guys were talking about (C flute, Rule 41, corrugators). It was a steep learning curve, but I had some great help along the way from board members, staff, industry colleagues, government folks, environmental activists. A wide range of helpful people, many of them still in regular or occasional contact.

Thirty years ago, packaging was a major political target (things haven’t changed much, have they?) and paper packaging, in particular, was ‘public enemy number one.’ Paper packaging tends to be larger and stand out more; it’s widely used across a broad range of industries and commerce and delivers household goods as well; and somehow it is always captured in stock images of ‘nasty’ landfill. But when you dig deeper, as I did, you quickly discover that it has a great story to tell about sustainability and a circular economy. That’s what I’ve tried to add to, and pass on, over the last 30 years.

I won’t list the council’s many achievements here (there’s a series of videos on the website) but several were world or North American firsts. Possibly the most significant was leading North America in the further recycling of old cereal and shoe boxes (boxboard). Back in the mid 1980s, this already highly-recycled material ended up in the dump because the fibres were considered too thin and short to be of any further use in papermaking.

Working with brand owners like Lever Brothers, Kellogg’s and Procter & Gamble, and municipalities like Quinte in Southern Ontario, we undertook pilot trials at Strathcona Paper and Paperboard Industries, and developed what we called a food packaging protocol to give the brand owners confidence that re-using residential boxboard in new food packaging would not be a health concern. We then persuaded other mills (Atlantic Packaging, for example) to use old boxboard as filler material in corrugated board. To make a long story short, back in the early 1990s this material went straight to the dump. Today, some 94% of Canadians can recycle it, and those that don’t recycle it can send it on for composting.

Educating people about what has been done, and is being done, is a constant and daunting challenge, and this is possibly more so today with the proliferation of social media and a far looser adherence or ambivalence towards fact-checking. Yes, this bugs me intensely! Whether it’s on forestry or waste issues, recycling or recyclability, please dig for the facts before splurging into print. At the very least, please cite your sources of information so that people can check them out and judge their credibility. Here endeth the rave!

No, I am not sailing off into the sunset. This is au revoir not goodbye. I will continue to write about environmental issues that concern me.

I had planned to do some travel after PPEC, but COVID-19 has put that on hold. COVID-19 has, however, got me into walking/jogging seven kilometres almost every morning, and I am now in better shape than I have been for years. Mental shape too. There’s nothing like an early morning jog/walk to clear your head and think about the next blog, or article, or book you want to write. Yes, I’m working on another book. No surprise, it’s on false and misleading environmental claims! So, if you have some good examples, let me know and I’ll check them out!

In the meantime, PPEC is in good hands with a new executive director coming aboard. Here’s a link to the press release. Please give Rachel your support. Au revoir!

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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What is it about pizza boxes?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

What is it about pizza boxes that they always seem to get singled out for special mention? Is it the guilt we feel at scoffing down all that cheese and pepperoni? At tearing into that soft fresh crust knowing full well that our long-delayed and somewhat erratic weight-loss program will be pushed back a few days, maybe weeks? Especially if that piping hot and mushy mess is washed down with large dollops of ice cream. To cool it off, you understand.

Stack of three pizza boxes

Whatever it is, municipalities seem to go out of their way to make an example of the poor old pizza box. It’s not recyclable, they claim. The paper mills don’t want it. It’s the mountains of grease and cheese. Put it in your organics or food waste bin. At least it will make good compost.

There is some truth to that. Paper can be composted, and for some households, composting is likely the better option. Ask the residents of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island who are hundreds of kilometres from the nearest packaging recycling mill.

But pizza boxes are perfectly recyclable too. Sure, the recycling mills don’t want the plastic centrepiece that sometimes holds the slices together in the box. (Memo to self: why isn’t this plastic do-hickey made of paper so it can be recycled with the box?). Anyway, while the mills greatly appreciate your kind offer of leftover crusts, they would really prefer that you deal with them yourself. It’s a pride thing.

But the box itself is fine. Normally it’s made of corrugated board. And in Canada anyway, that is mostly 100% recycled content. So, it’s been around before. And will be around again. What?  you say. That gooey, greasy stuff that I kindly left for the paper mill workers will be in my next box? Yuck!

No dear friend, it won’t. When it finally gets to a recycling mill, your kind gift is first dumped into a big washing machine called a pulper. It’s not that the mill is ungrateful, it’s just that pizza crust doesn’t make great paper. So, any crust you’ve kindly donated will be shaken free and exit the system. Same for the cheese. It tends to clump together and gets screened out during the pulping process. 

Aha, but what about the grease? Well, that is a little bit harder to get rid of, but if you thought the pizza was hot, wait until you hear the temperatures that paper is made at. In a typical mill recycling process, the temperature of the paper sheet reaches 220 to 240 degrees Fahrenheit, well above 100 degrees Celsius, the boiling point of water and the temperature required for sterilisation. So goodbye grease! The average grease content of a pizza box is less than 2% anyway, and at that level does not affect the strength of the new board being made[i].

And if you are still not totally convinced, there’s a further check in the system. The board goes from the mill to a converting plant where the board is blended with other paper layers to form a corrugated sheet, which will then be shaped into your next pizza box. Sorry we can’t do anything about the ice cream! But the corrugation process, as it is called, destroys any bacteria that might remain. In fact, a recent study showed that every single one of 720 corrugated boxes from six different suppliers tested at six different locations in three different regions met acceptable sanitisation levels[ii].

So, there you have it. Pizza boxes are recyclable. Now, was that vegetarian or Hawaiian?


[i] Incorporation of Post-Consumer Pizza Boxes in the Recovered Fiber Stream, Impact of Grease and Cheese on Finished Product Quality, WestRock 2020. https://www.westrock.com/greasecheesestudy

[ii] Haley study released February 2015, see blog by John Mullinder Retailers can’t duck food safety issues when pushing growers to re-use crates, March 28, 2017.

This was prevously posted on  www.johnmullinder.ca 

© John Mullinder Contact the author for permission to reprint.

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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Ontario Blue Box will struggle to make 60% diversion, and none of the ministry’s proposed new targets will be reached

Green visions, aspirational goals, and political grandstanding are all very well in their place. But at some point, we have to be realistic. The fact of the matter is that the overall waste diversion rate of Ontario’s Blue Box is unlikely to improve much over the next ten years, and the new diversion targets proposed by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) will not be achieved.

These are the stark findings of a PPEC-commissioned study by Dan Lantz of Crow’s Nest Environmental. Lantz has more than 30 years’ experience in the waste and recycling industries.

The study examines Blue Box diversion patterns from the current program’s inception in 2003 together with industry reports on the future of given materials and an understanding of the capabilities of the recycling system and end-markets. To establish future generation and recycling rates, all on a per person or per capita basis to account for population growth, the study determines and applies mathematical formulas to predict whether Blue Box materials will meet the ministry’s two new proposed diversion target dates of 2026 and 2030. The answer is no, they won’t.

Blue Box will struggle to make 60%

Where are we now? The Blue Box program is currently diverting 57% of the printed paper and packaging that ends up in Ontario homes. Its performance, though, has been steadily declining over the years as lighter and less recycled materials make up a growing portion of the residential waste stream.

The data tell the story. In 2003, the generation of printed paper (mainly newspapers) represented almost half (47%) of the Blue Box materials in Ontario households. By 2019, printed paper’s share of generation had shrunk to 27%. Its share of what was diverted shrank too (from 61% in 2003 down to 30% in 2019).

At the same time, plastic packaging’s share of generation increased from 16% to 25% and its diversion share rose from 5% to 13%. These trends are expected to continue over the next decade and to impact diversion rates accordingly.

And while the ministry has wisely not specified a new overall Blue Box diversion target, its consultation papers make clear it would like to achieve somewhere between 75% and 80% within the next ten years. That’s not going to happen, says Lantz.

“Based on projections out to 2026 and 2030, the ministry’s targets are not realistic under the current program structure.’’ In fact, he says, unless something major changes like the Blue Box giving people more opportunities to recycle (say through an extensive depot network) and the public becomes more engaged and recycles far more than it does at the moment, then the Blue Box will continue to struggle to achieve the existing 60% diversion target into the future. He forecasts just over 58% diversion by 2030.

It’s important to note that the ministry is talking about diversion targets here, not collection targets. It is one thing to measure Blue Box performance by collecting materials at curbside and depots, as British Columbia does. But in Ontario, diversion is measured after the collected material has been processed at a material recycling facility (MRF).

The level of contamination can make a big difference as the higher the contamination the harder it is to achieve better recovery rates. So, BC’s performance (aided by the strategic location of some 250 collection depots) should not be equated with what Ontario is proposing.

Another complication is that the Ontario ministry wants more material diverted from a wider range of sources. This is fine, but broadening how much needs to be diverted (the generation base) automatically reduces the diversion rate as well, because unfortunately not all of that new source material will be diverted.

The only way the diversion rate would improve would be if the new materials achieve diversion rates above the average. Considering that some of the new materials proposed by the ministry for collection (including straws and plastic cutlery which will not be recycled at all because they are too small to be effectively captured and will just end up going to disposal), the diversion rate will not improve above what is projected in the Lantz report.

The province has not offered any estimates of how large this new supply of material will be, making it harder to calculate whether its proposed diversion rates are practically achievable or not.

90% for paper ‘just isn’t going to happen’

And if the ministry is expecting paper to ride to the rescue, forget it. Paper material is the single largest component of the Blue Box with 67% of it currently being recovered for recycling. The ministry’s proposed paper diversion target for 2026 and beyond, however, is 90%.

“Ninety per cent just isn’t going to happen,” says Lantz. There will be even fewer newspapers in future, more online and digital transactions (therefore less paper use), and very little opportunity for significant increases in paper recovery (corrugated box diversion is already at 98%, for example). This means the paper group as a whole will likely come in with a 69% to 70% diversion rate, he says. Far short of the ministry’s wished for 90%.

90% diversion for paper just isn't going to happen

“A 90% target is unreachable. This would effectively require 95% of the population capturing and putting out for recycling 97% of their paper and making sure it is not contaminated at all. And then the recycling facility would have to capture 98% of all that paper (including paper that’s shredded) and send it on to the end-market. Add in the fact that some Ontarians use paper with kindling to start their fireplaces and woodstoves in winter and burn paper, and it’s just not reasonable to expect a 90% diversion rate.”

Other material groups won’t make targets either

Rigid plastics (bottles containing water, soft drink, laundry detergent and shampoo, and mixed plastic tubs and lids, cottage cheeses and ice cream containers) currently have a diversion rate of 26 per cent. The ministry is targeting an improvement to 60% by 2030. Lantz predicts, however, that there will be little change over the next ten years, maybe an increase to 47 per cent.

As for flexible plastic packaging (currently at 8% and targeted for 40%), he says 15% may be as far as it gets, unless there is a dramatic shift to mono-materials (single-resin) flexibles, that is, stand-up plastic pouches that are much easier to capture and recycle. “Most plastics aren’t hard to sort in a material recycling facility. People just don’t put them in the recycling system like they should, and until they do, recycling rates will stay low.”

He predicts that steel and aluminum diversion through the Blue Box will improve to maybe 60% (missing the metals target). Glass packaging will also miss its target but maybe reach 75% diversion by 2030.

Many Factors

There are many factors that could influence these projections: pressure for higher recycled content levels; landfill bans or surcharges; alternative collection systems including deposit/return; and the impact of the extra tonnes the ministry wants collected from a wider range of sources.

There are also behavioural changes that could influence the results. “It often boils down to that flick of the wrist decision where the householder decides whether to put something into the garbage or into the box,’’ says Lantz. “We need to be much clearer about what goes where, and to give people more opportunities to make the right decision.”

Lantz suggests the province should set disposal targets instead, thereby reducing the burden on municipalities that have to handle the recyclables that householders place in the garbage. Environmentally, he says, it would be better if we reduced consumption at the front end. “Setting unreachable diversion targets that effectively allow unfettered consumption, and relying on recycling to overcome that consumption, is not the best approach.”

The targets and the diversion predictions
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John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

More Posts - Website

How about a different approach to recycled content and the circular economy?

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Recycled content is the key component in the creation of a circular economy. It keeps raw materials flowing within the economy longer, reduces the pressure to extract more virgin materials from the earth, and delays their eventual disposal as waste. Recovering more materials for further use also creates jobs. A circular economy is something that companies and governments say they want to encourage.

Recycled content and the circular economy
Re

Voluntary and Mandatory Approaches

The strategies to encourage recycled content range from voluntary approaches through to government mandated minimums and the threat of banning product sales if those minimums are not met.

With a voluntary strategy, the government adopts a hands-off approach, allowing the marketplace to determine what happens. In the Canadian province of Ontario, the paper packaging industry has gone from below 50% recycled content to all but one mill today producing 100% recycled content boxes and cartons. This is presumably the type of ‘’circular economy” that Ontario wants. The ‘problem’ is that the approach is slow. It took some 25 years to get there.

The mandatory approach, on the other hand, is where the government regulates or legislates a framework of minimum recycled content targets, with fines or penalties or sales bans for non-achievement.

One of the problems with government mandates, however, is that they apply only to that government’s jurisdiction. For example, an Ontario mandate would not apply to other provinces. There may also be international trade implications for material being shipped into Ontario. Another complication is that most design decisions on recycled content are not made in Ontario but rather at company head office (in the US or Europe) with packaging design undertaken at global not local (Ontario) scale.

Also, the last thing industry wants is provinces or states leapfrogging over themselves to set successively higher (and perhaps public relations inspired) targets for industry to achieve in different jurisdictions. A federal mandate would be preferable, but that would mean getting all provinces/states to agree (which may prove difficult and time-consuming). 

Mixed Approaches

Some governments have chosen to mix voluntary and mandatory approaches to increasing recycled content. They have done this by including incentives within regulated programs. The choice is voluntary and at a company’s own pace.

An example of this is the current suggestion by the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) where companies are offered discounts on Blue Box diversion targets when they can prove use of Ontario Blue Box recycled content.

This approach does have several benefits. It gets the government out of the role of playing policeman and sorting out the technical issues of how to actually set specific recycled content targets for different materials that are sensible and fair. It also means the province does not need to enforce the achievement of these targets because they are voluntary. The onus is on the brand owner/retailer/publisher to prove the claim, with the added expense of mandatory auditing of company reports.

Administratively challenging

The current Ontario proposal, however, is administratively challenging at best, and impossible at worst.

Let’s follow the path of some recovered Ontario Blue Box paper. First it goes from a municipality or a service provider to either a broker or a MRF (processor). That first step is relatively easy to track. Then it gets complicated. Because the broker and the processor have other clients, other suppliers of recovered paper fibre. It could be Blue Box fibre from Quebec or Manitoba; it could be used boxes and office paper recovered from industrial, commercial and institutional (IC & I) sources within Ontario or maybe shipped in from Manitoba or Quebec or the United States. It could be pre-consumer clippings and cuttings from those same disparate sources (Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, the US).

The same diversity of sources applies at the mill level when the recovered fibre gets there from the processor. The mill is interested in the quality of the different fibres it uses to make its product, not in placing a special watch-out for the fibres coming in specifically from Ontario’s Blue Box program.

From all those different fibres, the mill (which may or may not be located in Ontario) makes board or paper that is shipped to converters who then turn it into the end-product (a newspaper, printing and writing paper, corrugated boxes, boxboard cartons and so on). These converters could be in Ontario or the US and they have other mills supplying them with other recovered fibre feedstock as well, making it very difficult to single out only those fibres coming from Ontario’s Blue Box.

More Complicated

It gets more complicated. A corrugated box comprises two parts (linerboard and corrugating medium). Each of these can be made from recycled content but each could come from different mills and be blended at the same or different converting plants. So, the medium of the box could have a portion of Ontario Blue Box fibres in it but the linerboard none. However, it’s all blended into one box for the customer. How do you keep track of that? And the customer (the brand owner/retailer) could be located in Canada, the US, Asia, Africa or Europe. And can ship the box anywhere in the world.

Tracing specific fibres such as from Ontario’s Blue Box once they enter the regional and international fibre recovery streams is thus extremely problematic. And what about corrugated boxes shipped into Ontario from China? They might have recycled content in them (which is a good thing) but not Ontario-processed recycled content.  What about old corrugated boxes that are collected through the Blue Box in Ontario but shipped across the border to the US for recycling there? There is no credit for the use of that Ontario-derived recycled content.

There are possible ways around some of these complications. If a mill can create a paper trail linking say 25% of its annual feedstock to Ontario’s Blue Box, then could 25% of its annual output be considered to be Ontario Blue-Box sourced? Could that 25% be pro-rated across all its customers? Or 25% allocated to those customers who are placing paper into the residential Ontario marketplace and therefore obligated under the Blue Box regulations?

Complete accuracy is not possible under the current proposal. And, as one insider has noted, it leaves lots of opportunity for fraud and gaming the system. Is there another way of looking at the problem?

How about a tax rebate or credit?

The current Ontario approach to recycled content seems unnecessarily complicated in a Blue Box program that is already highly complex. Recent research also indicates that EPR fees or adjustments for things like recycled content provide little incentive to brand owners to change packaging design or to influence consumer behaviour in purchasing.[i]

So why not look at an alternative approach (a tax rebate or credit) that focusses on supporting Ontario recycling businesses, on creating Ontario jobs, on companies that use Ontario Blue Box material as feedstock? Encourage them to enhance Ontario’s circular economy. Think globally but act locally.

The advantages are these:

  • The credit/rebate focusses on one thing only: increasing the use of recycled content in Ontario. It does not get cluttered or distracted by other waste management objectives (see the quotation from the Eunomia report to the EU commission in the footnote).
  • It can apply beyond the Blue Box (bringing in the IC & I sector) so it is broader in scope and in line with the province’s overall goal of a comprehensive waste management (and circular economy) policy.
  • It retains a voluntary approach with incentives for companies to act.
  • It applies to Ontario specifically but is transferable to other provinces (so could become national).
  • It doesn’t have to be in the current Blue Box regulation (greatly simplifying it).
  • Depending on how the credit/rebate is structured, the people who are actually building the recycling infrastructure in Ontario could benefit (the paper, plastic, glass and metal plants) rather than a brand owner head office in the US or Europe. It would make local (Ontario) businesses more competitive in what are global markets for recycled materials.
  • The credits could go to companies located in Ontario only (unless expanded across Canada). The system could therefore help keep existing industries in Ontario (meaning green jobs). For example, one paper packaging mill in Ontario (using 100% recycled content) recently closed.
  • It will create jobs (by encouraging recyclers to stay in Ontario and to invest in recycling infrastructure here).
  • It could have declining levels of tax credit (higher for sourcing from Ontario’s Blue Box, lower for feedstock imported from other jurisdictions).
  • It could be a joint governmental effort (Environment, Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, Finance). Make Ontario the recycling hub of Canada or go for a national approach. A federal climate change project? We need to look beyond a narrow environmental approach, beyond our own provincial borders on this one. The idea needs work and it needs champions.

[i] From the Eunomia report for the Director General Environment for the European Commission: “It is better to focus a policy instrument on doing one thing well, than on seeking to achieve multiple objectives. A tension can be created within an EPR scheme if it is seeking to do too many things. A focus on seeking to meet recycling targets in a way that is cost-effective and fair to different packaging formats gives a clear steer to the way in which an EPR scheme should use fee modulation. However, to also introduce an incentive for recycled content can disrupt the efficient operation of the price signals.” (Study to Support Preparation of the Commission’s Guidance for EPR Schemes).

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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Good news and bad news on Ontario’s Blue Box

The good news is that Ontario householders are generating less paper, plastic, glass and metal waste these days, 14% less than they were back in 2003. That is the year the province regulated industry to share the net cost of the province’s popular Blue Box program and waste statistics became more widely available.

Of course, the number of people living in the province has increased since 2003, which normally means more waste is generated, but on an individual basis Ontarians have done well here too, reducing their generation of Blue Box waste by an impressive 27% over the period.

Generating less waste in the first place (the first of the three Rs, reduction) normally means sending less waste to garbage. Which, in this case, is also true. Ontario households dumped 22% less printed paper and packaging in 2019 than they did some 16 years ago. As individuals, Ontarians were even better, dumping 34% less than before.

This is all good news. The ‘bad’ news is that waste performance is usually measured by weight (as above): by kilograms per person, tonnes per household. Unfortunately, measurement by weight distorts the overall picture somewhat because it is not the weight of materials that fills up recycling trucks and landfills, it is how much space they take up (their volume). Landfills get fat, not heavy, as they say.

This caveat on measurement, weight instead of volume, helps explain the other piece of bad news: that Ontario’s Blue Box today is sending less material on for recycling than ever before. In 2003 the system was estimated to be recovering 53% of all Blue Box materials. In 2010 it peaked at 68%, but ever since then it has been on a progressive downward slide to its current 57% (the first time it has been lower than the province’s required 60% target since 2005).

generating waste is declining

Why? In addition to some straight out elimination of printed paper and packaging there has been a significant light-weighting of materials over the years (reducing the size and shape of newspapers, using lighter and thinner variations of paper, plastic, glass and metal, cutting out a layer here, a flap there).

But there has also been a major change in the type of material ending up in the home. Gone are many newspapers (replaced by digital alternatives). And when did you last see a telephone directory delivered to your doorstep? The generation of printed paper has plummeted 36% over the last 10 years alone. And these, of course, are heavier materials.

At the same time, there has been a major increase in the amount of lighter weight plastics in the home (up 20% per person since 2010). The biggest increase has been in the catch-all category of “other plastics” (things like yoghurt containers, hand cream tubes, margarine tubs and lids, blister packaging for toys and batteries, egg cartons, and laundry detergent  pails). Most of these (65%) currently end up in the garbage.

So, there you have it. We are generating less waste but the waste we are generating today tends to be lighter and less recyclable. Which is why the overall Blue Box recycling rate is trending downwards. This has major implications for meeting the province’s proposed new waste diversion targets. Are they realistic? Or are they just a political green wish? Stay tuned.

Source: Stewardship Ontario

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

More Posts - Website

Almost 80,000 more tonnes of plastic in Ontario homes than 10 years ago

An analysis of the last 10 years of data on Blue Box-type materials generated by Ontario households shows a 34% increase in the amount of plastic packaging ending up in the home. And most of it (70%) did not get sent on for recycling.

The major increase is in the catch-all category of “other” plastics, things like yoghurt containers, hand cream tubes, margarine tubs and lids, blister packaging for toys and batteries, egg cartons, and laundry detergent pails. The amount of “other” plastics in the home increased by 67% between 2010 and 2019. There have also been big increases in the tonnages of PET drink bottles (up 54%) and mostly non-recycled plastic laminants (up 30%). Other materials to register significant increases over the period are aseptic cartons (up 46%), boxboard cartons (up 29%) and coloured glass (up 25%).

Increase in plastic packaging

What is missing from Ontario homes compared to 10 years ago is a lot of paper, almost 200,000 tonnes of it. Most of this is newspapers no longer being published (generation is down 35%), but telephone directories, magazines and catalogues, and printing and writing paper have also taken a big hit (down 87%, 51%, and 23% respectively).

These changes in what Blue Box materials end up in the home impact how much is recovered for recycling (Ontario’s Blue Box recovery rate has dipped below the provincial target of 60% for the first time since 2005); and how much the recycling system costs. For example, most paper packaging is recyclable and relatively cheap to recover. Plastics packaging, on the other hand, is currently not widely recycled at all (only 31% in 2019 compared to paper’s 68%) and is two and a half times more expensive to recycle. But that subject deserves a blog all by itself!

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

More Posts - Website

Executive Director (Part-time)

An opportunity has opened to lead the Canadian paper packaging industry on environmental issues.

The Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) was formed in 1990 as an umbrella organisation to focus on environmental issues affecting the sector. Its membership includes over 90% of the packaging mills in the country and most of its packaging converters.

PPEC has achieved a number of world or North American ‘firsts’ over its 30-year history and is widely respected as being pro-active and progressive. It lobbies governments on recycling and solid waste policy issues; networks with other industry players (its customers and its customers’ customers, industry stewardship bodies, municipalities, environmental groups, and sister associations in the United States); co-ordinates action industry-wide; develops practical solutions to problems; and promotes the industry’s environmental performance and achievements through its two websites and regular blogs.

This is a part-time position (three days a week or equivalent) with office and financial support staff provided. The successful candidate will report to a Board of Directors and be responsible for all the council’s work, including the hiring of specialists or consultants where applicable.

The council is looking for an energetic self-starter with 8-10 years  experience in environmental issues and superior communication skills (including social media). Previous work for an industry association, being bilingual, and knowing something about the paper industry or packaging would be an advantage but is not a requirement.

Salary for this contract position is $75,000 with health and pension benefits. The council’s office is in Brampton, Ontario but off-site work (home-based) is an option.

About us

PPEC is the national trade association representing the environmental interests of Canada’s paper packaging industry. It represents its members to federal, provincial and municipal governments, to industry forums and to environmental and consumer interest groups, serving both an advocacy and a policy input role.

For more information, please contact:

Geoff Love

Love Environment Inc loveenvironment@wightman.ca 647-248-2500

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

More Posts - Website

Suzuki dead wrong on paper’s circular economy

As a long-time admirer of Canadian broadcaster and author David Suzuki’s pungent style, it’s tough to have to point out three major errors in his latest opinion piece. I do so because his claim that paper does not represent a circular let alone a sustainable economy is dead wrong and based on patently false information.

David Suzuki
Suzuki: three major errors

FALSE CLAIM # 1: That vast amounts of boreal forest (are) pulped for toilet paper.’’

This is a gross, Trumpian-like exaggeration. To claim that “vast amounts’’ of boreal forest are pulped for anything, let alone toilet paper, is absurd. According to Canadian Forest Service estimates, a mere 0.16% of Canada’s boreal is harvested in any one year. Yes, 0.16%. Now I will readily admit my math was not great in high school, but I do not think that 0.16% comes anywhere close to qualifying as a “vast amount.”  Seriously? 0.16 per cent?[i]

And that harvest is mostly for lumber: to build houses, hospitals, schools, and so on. What’s left over (wood chips, shavings, and sawdust) is certainly used for other purposes (to supply energy to a mill and to the local community, and to make paper products) but the prime purpose of that harvest is for the lumber, not paper products. That’s why when people are not building houses (for example, in a recession) that overall harvest numbers go way down.[ii]

Calculating the portion of boreal harvest that goes specifically to make toilet paper is rather tricky because the sawmill residues that are used are later converted to paper both inside and outside Canada, and into other products as well (printing and writing paper, towelling, and even some packaging grades). However, assuming that other countries use pulp in a similar way to Canada, the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) estimates that less than 5% of Canadian-produced wood pulp, and less than 1% of total harvested wood (not just from the boreal), ends up in toilet paper each year.[iii]

So, this hugely exaggerated claim about ‘’vast amounts’’ of the boreal being “pulped for toilet paper’’ is basically, well, crap. And let’s not forget that it’s the law in Canada for any harvested area to be successfully regenerated after harvest, either naturally or artificially through tree planting or seeding. Canada does this by planting over a thousand new seedlings a minute. Sounds pretty circular to me.

FALSE CLAIM # 2: Cutting down forests that have never been logged to produce more toilet paper, packaging and other paper products we barely recycle can never be circular let alone sustainable.”

Suzuki, like Vancouver-based environmental group Canopy before him, is obviously sadly misinformed about the extensive use of sawmill residues and recycled paper in Canada.[iv]  I readily agree that most toilet paper is not recycled after use (for obvious reasons) but Canada, in fact, has a pretty decent record in recycling used paper products. According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, North America’s overall paper recovery rate is almost 70%, one of the highest in the world.[v]  In Statistics Canada’s bi-annual surveys of waste diversion, paper leads all other materials, representing almost 40% of Canada’s total recycling effort.[vi]  And on the packaging front, Suzuki is obviously ignorant of the fact that most Canadian packaging is not made from virgin trees at all. Most of it is 100% recycled content, the very embodiment of a circular economy. The recovery rate of old corrugated boxes in Ontario’s Blue Box, for example, has been an amazing 98%, four years running. Please get your facts straight before you make such inaccurate claims.

FALSE CLAIM # 3: “A 2020 draft forest sector strategy for Ontario projects a 35 percent increase in tissue production and a 25 percent increase in packaging.”

Sorry David, it does not. You screwed up. The draft forest sector strategy you refer to mentions global demand for pulp over the next decade, not Ontario demand. Ontario may be large to us, but it’s piddly on the world stage.[vii]  Besides, if packaging production were to increase by that much in Ontario, it would be 100% recycled content packaging anyway. Sorry, but you goofed big time here.

Put all these facts together and Suzuki’s flimsy argument totally collapses. In fact, of any industry in Canada the paper guys probably have the best case to make for being sustainable and circular. Unlike most other resources, the one paper uses, is renewable. Canada is also far and away the world leader in forests certified as being sustainably managed. Most Canadian mills have independent third-party chain-of-custody (responsible sourcing) certification; and the industry (especially the packaging sector) is high in recycled content and paper recovery. Combined, these factors arguably make the industry one of the largest and most successful examples of a circular economy in Canada today. Next time please get your facts straight before you splurge into print.


[i] Canada’s total forest lands comprise some 12 distinct terrestrial ecozones with the rate of harvesting in each varying but averaging about 0.22% overall (The State of Canada’s Forests Annual Report, 2019). The boreal forest is found in seven of these ecozones (the Taiga Plains, Taiga Shield, Boreal Shield, Boreal Plains, Taiga Cordillera, Boreal Cordillera and the Hudson Plains). While the boreal makes up a large area of the total forest (82%), it accounts for only three-fifths of the area harvested, according to a Canadian Forest Service analysis covering the years 2000 to 2015. The numbers are 453,600 hectares harvested out of 285 million hectares of boreal forest (or 0.16%).

[ii] “If the lumber market takes a downturn as it did during the recession of 2008-2009, then there is no point in harvesting trees. In fact, the harvest on provincial land in the recession year of 2009 was the lowest since 1990.” (Quotation from Deforestation in Canada and Other Fake News by John Mullinder, based on National Forest Inventory data, Table 6-2).

[iii] FPAC estimates, FPAC Environment Survey. Also note that about 60% of toilet paper in Canada comes from recycled paper.

[iv] More than 90% of the raw materials used by the Canadian pulp and paper industry are sawmill residues and recycled paper: Rotherham and Burrows (2014) Improvement in efficiency of fibre utilization by the Canadian forest products industry 1970-2010. Forestry Chronicle 90 (66).

[v] World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Facts & Trends: Fresh & Recycled Fiber Complementarity (2015).

[vi]  Statistics Canada, Materials diverted, by type, Table 38-10-0034-01. 

[vii] Total Expected Growth in Global Forest Products Demand in Next Decade, Duncan Brack, UN Forum on Forests, April 2018.

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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Let’s get the facts straight on Ontario’s Blue Box

The current debate over what to do about Ontario’s Blue Box frequently confuses at least four distinct but interrelated issues: waste management in general; the recycling option; the relative roles of industry and householders; and the nature of the Blue Box program itself.

First, the broader context. The Blue Box program is just one waste collection system, among many. Others include the deposit/return systems for beverage containers run by the Beer Store and the province itself through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario; some industry stewardship programs; private sector recycling efforts; and numerous return-to-retail options.

The Blue Box program does not, and was never intended to, address the almost 13 million tonnes of waste that Ontario generates every year.[1] To suggest, as some critics have, that the Blue Box is somehow failing because it focuses on only about 10% of Ontario’s generated waste, totally ignores its objective and scope.

What are these critics suggesting? That we should load up our Blue Boxes with meat scraps and leaves, rusty fridges and stoves, and old planks of plywood? These are best handled in other ways (used tires, laptops and cellphones, for example, already have separate, industry-led stewardship programs).

But the province does need to act more urgently on this front because it will run out of landfill space within 12 years. Typically, it takes between five to 10 years of consultations and reviews just to get all the approvals in place to site a new one.[2] Remember NIMBY and NIMTOO (not in my backyard and not in my term of office)? The clock is ticking on this one.

Disposal bans and landfill surcharges have been adopted in other provinces and regions, with varying degrees of success. For its part, the paper packaging industry has for seven years now lobbied successive Ontario ministers of the environment to introduce disposal bans, specifically on organics and paper (which give off greenhouse gases when left to rot in landfill). The province has talked a lot but done little.

Blue Box is a residential system

Second, the Blue Box program is a residential waste collection system. It focuses on what is in Ontario homes. It was never intended to collect materials from factories or supermarkets, offices or hospitals. And for good reason. The wastes from these operations are quite different in both nature and percentage composition. A Blue Box for wire strapping, chemicals, steel drums, and wooden pallets, as well as for paper, plastic, glass and metal? It doesn’t make sense. And who would do the collection? Municipalities?

These wastes are best left to ‘industry’ to manage. Sure, existing regulations need to be tightened and broadened, and here again, disposal bans and higher landfill fees, would be useful. At the moment it’s far cheaper to dump stuff than to recycle it. Industry needs an economic incentive to do the right thing. Again, the province holds most of the cards here but has done little.

False claims

Third, it would be remiss of me not to address some of the false claims being made about the relative contributions of residential and industrial waste. It is not true, for example, that “two-thirds of Ontario’s waste is generated in the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC and I) sector.” In fact, the consumption blame is pretty evenly spread. According to Statistics Canada (2016 data), almost half (46%) of Ontario’s waste was generated by the residential sector, with 54% coming from industrial (or IC and I) sources.[3]  Industry may be doing a far poorer job of diverting this material from landfill (extensive data is lacking), but overall, it is not consuming a huge amount more than householders. And it is our collective excessive consumption habits that are causing the waste problem in the first place.

Nor is it true that packaging is likely a major component of this industrial waste, as some critics have charged. Packaging represented only 13% of total solid waste according to Statistics Canada’s last national packaging survey way back in 1996. Over 70% of all packaging consumed in Canada was re-used or recycled, it found. And industry, not householders, was responsible for almost 75% of the packaging that was recycled.[4]  While there has certainly been an increase in residential recycling of packaging over the years, we seriously doubt that industry has stopped doing what it was doing before. Bring on some credible data!

Blue Box is a recycling program

Fourth, Ontario’s Blue Box is a recycling program. It is not a reduction program, although materials have been light-weighted over the years, more likely to save on costs than to avoid Blue Box fees. Nor is it a re-use program, although some of the materials do get re-used in one shape or another. And while the recyclability of a material is clearly a good thing, it is not the only factor to be considered when analysing a material’s overall environmental impact.

The Blue Box cannot achieve all of these very desirable outcomes by itself, and it should not be expected to. It is a recycling program, focussed on gathering dry recyclables (paper, plastic, glass and metal) from residential households and sending them on to end-markets to be made into new products and packaging. Its current universe is some 1.3 million tonnes of waste (10% of Ontario’s total generated waste) and while recovery has flatlined a little bit recently, the Blue Box is still sending just over 60% of Ontario’s dry household waste on for recycling. It is responsible for 25% of Ontario’s total recycling effort (not 7% as some critics recently claimed).[5]

Paper the key

And key to understanding the Blue Box recycling program is that 73% of it is paper. Paper is the success story of Ontario’s Blue Box. More than 70% of all the paper that Ontario households generate is recovered through Old Blue. Several paper materials (corrugated boxes, magazines and catalogues, and newspapers) have recycling rates in the high 80s and 90s. And while the revenues for paper grades fluctuate and are currently somewhat subdued, they totalled some $43.7 million in 2018 or 51% of total Blue Box revenues.[6]

What's being collected through Ontario's Blue Box
What’s being collected through Ontario’s Blue Box
Source: Stewardship Ontario (2018 data)

Most of this recovered paper is supplied to Ontario packaging mills that use it to produce new, 100% recycled content, boxes and cartons. Ontario thus already has a home-grown circular economy where used paper is recycled over and over again. It is in nobody’s interests to destabilise this situation by penalising the local paper industry, even inadvertently.

The materials that are not doing very well in Ontario’s Blue Box system are widely known (mostly plastics) and are the target of much of the bad press about the Blue Box. But we have to be very careful when coming up with solutions to the plastics’ problem that we don’t imperil the Blue Box itself. One solution is for companies to get out of plastics entirely. Another is to launch re-use programs. A third is to introduce deposit-refund schemes that have far higher material recovery rates than Ontario’s current broader-based multi-material approach. Then there are return-to-retail options, landfill bans and surcharges, minimum recycled content requirements, diversion targets, and EPR fees. But these options, my friends, deserve a whole new blog by itself. Stay tuned.


[1] Statistics Canada, Disposal of waste, by source (Table 38-10-0032-01) and Materials diverted, by source (Table 38-10-0033-01). Ontario generated 12,785,183 tonnes of waste in 2016 (comprising disposal of 9,475472 tonnes and diversion of 3,309,711 tonnes. Ontario’s overall waste diversion rate was therefore 26% (not 7% as recently claimed).

[2] Ontario Waste Management Association, Ontario Needs New Landfills, July 10, 2020

[3] Statistics Canada, ibid. Generation equals what was disposed plus what was diverted. In 2016, Ontario residences disposed of 3.7 million tonnes and diverted 2.1 million tonnes for a total waste generation of 5.8 million tonnes. In the same year, ‘industry’ disposed of 5.7 million tonnes and diverted 1.2 million tonnes for a total waste generation of 6.9 million tonnes. Ontario’s total waste generation was therefore 12.7 million tonnes, with residences contributing 46% and ‘industry’ 54%.

[4] This Statistics Canada monitoring exercise over 10 years, and its final result, while now very dated, covered 31 separate industry sectors of the economy and 32 different packaging material types, using surveys as well as information derived from Statistics Canada’s international trade   merchandise data and a national study of household packaging recycling. Some 10,000 surveys representing a total survey frame of almost 400,000 businesses were sent out, with the 61% response rate regarded by Statistics Canada as “consistent with other similar surveys.’’ (Milestone Report, Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, CCME, pages 6-7). Two significant findings of the National Packaging Monitoring System (NPMS) were that over 70% of all packaging consumed in Canada was re-used or recycled, and that industrial recycling of packaging (mostly corrugated boxes) accounted for almost 75% of all packaging recycling (Tables 1 and 29).

[5] Stewardship Ontario, Blue Box data. Table 1: Generation and Recovery (2016 and 2018). Ontario’s waste generation in 2016, according to Statistics Canada, ibid., was 12,785,183 tonnes. The Blue Box in that year sent 836,227 tonnes for recycling. Therefore, the Blue Box was responsible not for 7% of Ontario’s recycling diversion (as claimed recently) but rather 25% of it (836,227 divided by the 3,309,711 tonnes that Ontario recycled).

[6] Stewardship Ontario Blue Box data (2018). Table 1: Generation and Recovery and Table 2: Gross and Net Costs.

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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The future is wood and paper

The drive to get out of fossil fuels is picking up pace. And the most likely beneficiaries are wood and paper. This may come as a surprise to some people who see steep declines in newspaper consumption and a complete fall-off in letter writing (remember that?). But, in fact, while the current pandemic has certainly boosted the use of corrugated boxes to deliver supplies right to your home, the Canadian forest and paper industries have been busy reinventing themselves for many years now.

Here are just three examples recently highlighted by Natural Resources Canada:

18-storey building on the University of British Columbia campus
Image Credit: KK Law / naturally:wood
  •  Mass timber construction. This relies on multiple layers of laminated and compressed smaller pieces of wood making large panels that meet the safety and strength requirements for building tall structures. “Wood has an amazing capacity to store carbon and if you use wood for something like a building, you are storing the carbon for as long as the building exists,’’ says architect Michael Green, adding that the use of sustainable forest practices is a given. Several tall wooden buildings have now been constructed, including an 18-storey one on the University of British Columbia campus.
  • Replacing traditional plastic. McGill University chemists have found a way to convert cellulose from wood waste and paper industry pulp into biodegradable high-performance ingredients that can out-perform microplastics, a ‘’natural alternative to mineral, ceramic and artificial ingredients, ” says Mark Andrews, Anomera’s chief technology officer. Goodbye to plastic microbeads used in cosmetics and skin-care products.
  • Reclaiming local wood. An Urban Wood Directory, created by the City of Toronto, connects Toronto area residents and businesses with a wide range of local urban forest management services and wood producers, from arborists to furniture designers. Barnboard Store, for example, supplies reclaimed barn board beams and line edge slabs, and builds custom furniture. Century Wood specialises in flooring while Timbercraft reclaims barn materials for both flooring and furnishing.

P.S. On the subject of renewal and revitalisation, the environmental council I have headed for almost 30 years (gasp!), is looking for someone to take over my role (or parts of it). This is not goodbye (yet) but life does creep up on you. Suddenly you are 40 and then you’re 50! I wish to spend more time doing my own thing (writing) but will be around (hopefully) to mentor anyone who is interested in taking over. So if you are energetic and a self-starter who yearns for independence, responsibility, and a challenge, this could be the job for you.

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

More Posts - Website