The major paper packaging grades made in Canada – which include containerboard (used to make corrugated cardboard boxes), boxboard (e.g., cereal or shoe boxes), and Kraft paper (used for bags and sacs) – are made from a highly recyclable and renewable material that is used repeatedly through the process of recycling.
While most paper packaging made in Canada is produced with recycled content, the paper fibres it was originally made from came from a tree. However, the Canadian paper packaging industry doesn’t use much in the way of freshly cut trees, and the little that is harvested must be successfully regenerated by Canadian law.
While the purpose of some of these media articles is to share environmental concerns surrounding various packaging materials, the articles do not provide information about the function of packaging, or the proliferation of packaging, which should be recognized in any story about packaging.
It’s clear that consumers want convenience but there are trade-offs in society’s decisions. We all have choices we make when making purchasing decisions, just as we have choices in managing our waste.
Everyone has a role to play in minimizing waste and diverting recyclable materials from landfill – businesses that make and sell products and packaging, waste management industry (recyclers, haulers, MRFs), and consumers. Ultimately it is the consumer who decides how to treat their waste and they need to do their part of properly cleaning and sorting their recyclables from their waste and organics to ensure everything that can be recycled is recycled.
Yes, the federal government’s plastics ban will see businesses shift to other packaging alternatives, including paper-based packaging, and our industry will look to meet the demand as needed, creating paper packaging products that are responsibly certified, sustainable, and recyclable.
Paper-based packaging continues to be a success story in Ontario’s household Blue Box program, as measured by marketed tonnage, based on new data released by the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (RPRA), the regulator mandated by the Government of Ontario to enforce the province’s circular economy laws.
RPRA’s new Datacall Report summarizes information generated by the 246 programs participating in the Ontario Blue Box Program in 2021, and highlights residential waste management statistics and trends.
Overall, the program saw a decline in the provincial diversion rate to 49.1%, a stat the program has mostly hovered at for the past 10 years as shown in Figure 1 (all charts in this blog are from RPRA’s Datacall Report).
Diversion is measured after the collected material has been processed at a material recycling facility (MRF). So that essentially means that nearly half of what is placed in the Blue Box does not get recycled, which could be for a number of different reasons, such as contamination (food soiled materials, such as used yogurt or peanut butter containers, for example), materials that are not readily recyclable (e.g., hangers, toys), or residents not properly separating their waste and incorrectly placing non-recyclables (i.e. organics, waste) in their Blue Boxes.
Of interest to the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) and its members is marketed Blue Box tonnage (Figure 3), which represents materials that have been sorted and processed by a MRF, and then baled, sold, and used in place of virgin materials.
These are materials that are actually recycled and paper-based packaging – which includes old corrugated cardboard, old boxboard, and a portion of residential mixed papers and mixed fibres packaging – leads the way in the most marketed materials with 289,689 tonnes marketed in 2021 (up from 271,433 tonnes in 2020), representing 39% of the total Blue Box marketed tonnage (736,379).
Paper-based packaging leads the way in the most marketed materials with 289,689 tonnes marketed in 2021.
The second largest material is printed paper – newsprint, household fine paper, telephone books, and catalogues – with 20% of marketed tonnes. However, this category continues to decline year over year as more homes go paperless (when was the last time you saw a telephone book?!).
Printed papers have experienced a nearly 66% decline in tonnage from 2016-2021, as shown in Table 4, while paper-based packaging has increased by 72.5% over the same period.
In analyzing the latest Ontario Blue Box data, it’s clear that paper is a success story. More than two-thirds of all paper that Ontario households generate is not just collected but actually recycled through Ontario’s Blue Box program. And much of the recovered paper fibres are supplied to PPEC member mills who use it to produce new paper packaging products, including boxes and cartons, made primarily of recycled content.
The Ontario Blue Box program begins its transition to a new producer responsibility regulatory framework starting this July, which will see producers take over 100% of the operational and financial management of the program by December 31, 2025.
There is no doubt that paper-based packaging will continue to be an important component of the Ontario Blue Box program – and PPEC expects to see a continued increase in paper packaging as brands shift from other types of packaging to sustainable, renewable, and recyclable paper-based packaging – but we will be watching the transition closely. The hope is that a shift to a producer responsibility will result in improved end markets, better sorting by residents, less contamination, and overall higher diversion and recycling rates in Ontario.
Bales of Old Corrugated Containers (OCC), collected from commercial sources and processed at the Cascades Recovery+ facility in Scarborough, Ontario, are ready to be sent to a mill, where they will be recycled so they can be remade into new paper-based packaging. Photo taken by PPEC on April 14, 2023.
And when it comes to provincial performance, the data shows that several provinces divert more paper fibres from non-residential sources (orange line) than from residential sources (blue line).
As the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) continues to work on achieving its mission to promote the environmental sustainability of the Canadian paper packaging industry, we will also be closely monitoring the following key issues in 2023:
On behalf of the team at the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC), we would like to take this opportunity to say Happy Holidays and thank you for your unwavering support over the last year.
As we wrap up a very busy year, we wanted to reach out and share a few of the positive actions that PPEC took throughout 2022:
We’re excited about 2023, and we look forward to continuing our work as the trusted and credible environmental voice for the Canadian paper-based packaging industry. Together, we can promote the industry’s environmental sustainability achievements and our strong, relevant, and impactful circular economy story.
Thank you once again for your support and best wishes for a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season.
PPEC Holiday Closure
In celebration of the holiday season, the PPEC office will be closed December 26-30, 2022. The office will reopen on January 2, 2023.