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What PPEC will be Watching in 2023

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:

Extended Producer Responsibility and Recycling
 
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a policy approach in which a producer – a business that makes or sells obligated materials – is made financially and physically responsible for ensuring their products and packaging are properly managed at the end of their life.
 
While PPEC members have not historically been obligated stewards of these programs – our members typically engage in business-to-business transactions, and do not directly supply finished products to consumers – such recycling programs are critical as they are an important supply of our industry’s feedstock, allowing PPEC members to use high amounts of recycled content in the three major paper packaging grades.
 
This year will be busy with changes to existing programs and government consultations, and PPEC will be closely monitoring and participating in consultations. For more information on EPR for paper and packaging, and the status of provincial programs, please visit PPEC’s new EPR web page.
 
EPR also continues to ramp up across the border with several U.S. states enacting or developing packaging producer responsibility laws including Maine, Oregon, Colorado, and California. PPEC follows the activities of the American Forest and Paper Association and the Fibre Box Association to stay informed about U.S. EPR activity.
 
Landfill bans
 
As part of the Government of Canada’s commitment to reduce emissions by 40 to 45% below 2005 levels by 2030, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, they are looking at ways to reduce methane emissions from municipal solid waste landfills.
 
PPEC has long supported banning old corrugated boxes from landfill as it would reduce methane and ensure that valuable materials are diverted and recycled.
 
When organic waste – such as food, yard waste, and paper products – is disposed in landfills, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas.
 
A landfill disposal ban is a tool that stipulates that certain materials are not accepted for disposal; they are often used when there is a recycling program in place for that material. For example, Nova ScotiaPrince Edward Island, and Metro Vancouver have banned corrugated cardboard from their jurisdiction’s disposal sites.
 
The bottom line is that used boxes should not end up in landfill. Recycled paper packaging represents our industry’s feedstock as it is continually collected and recycled through residential and business recycling programs, allowing those materials to be remade into new paper packaging products again and again.
 
New Forestry Statistics
 
Sustainable forest management is a fundamental pillar for PPEC and its members and is essential to the Canadian paper-based packaging industry.
 
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 law. In 2019, the total forest harvest (for lumber and all paper grades including packaging) represented 0.2% of Canada’s forest land, according to The State of Canada’s Forests Annual Report, which is published annually by Natural Resources Canada.
 
The 2022 Annual Report was recently released and is a key source of data on Canada’s forests and its sustainable management, which PPEC uses to correct misinformation about the Canadian paper-based packaging industry.
 
PFAS
 
PPEC continues to monitor government activity related to PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are a class of chemicals that, in some cases, have been found to be potentially harmful to the environment and human health.
 
As perfluoroalkyl substances can provide oil, grease, and water resistance, PFAS can be found in some types of paper-based food packaging.
 
The Government of Canada is currently considering activities that would address PFAS as a broad class and published a notice of intent in the Canada Gazette. In the U.S., several states have passed laws banning intentionally-added PFAS in packaging. New York’s new law took effect December 31 and prohibits the intentional application of PFAS in packages or packaging components designed for direct food contact, which can include wrappers, bags and tubs that are made from paper, paperboard, and other materials derived from plant fibres.
 
Environmental Claims and Definitions
 
The issue of greenwashing continues to be an increasingly important priority of enforcement agencies across North America and globally. In Canada, environmental claims are overseen by the Competition Bureau who archived its enforcement guidelines on environmental claims last year. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission oversees consumer protection and competition issues, and is currently consulting on potential changes to their Green Guides which provide guidance on the use of environmental and recycling claims. And in Europe, the European Union is apparently reviewing the definition of what counts as “recyclable” as they look to overhaul their packaging waste law.
 
Given recent enforcement activity surrounding environmental claims, and confusion around some of the terminology – recovery, collection, recycling, diversion, end markets – PPEC will be looking to address some of the issues with definitions, how it impacts data, and how they relate to environmental claims over the next year.
 
Carbon and Climate Change
 
PPEC continues to monitor government and industry climate change and carbon reduction initiatives. While paper-based packaging is highly recyclable and recycled across Canada and made from a renewable resource using sustainable forest management practices, we are currently gathering available data related to carbon emissions of paper packaging material.

Happy Holidays from PPEC

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:

  • Our blog continues to be a go-to resource for information and analysis on some of the most topical issues facing the paper packaging industry. This year, PPEC examined issues like sustainably managed forests, the impact of Canada’s Ban on Single-Use Plastics, the latest biennial Waste Management Survey, the inaugural Circular Economy Month, and so much more.
  • PPEC also worked to help enhance the way the paper packaging industry’s story is told by responding to media articles with more accurate and fulsome information, including responding to a New York Times Magazine article and providing the paper packaging industry’s point of view in response to the Toronto Star article on the Ontario Blue Box program.
  • PPEC launched a new tool focused on answering some of the most frequently asked questions about paper packaging and the environment.
  • Our industry’s positive circular economy story was profiled in an article published online and a printed insert in the National Post.
  • PPEC continued to be a strong advocate to government in representing the members on key environmental issues, including proposed changes to paper and packaging recycling regulations and programs. As PPEC continued to advocate for fairness in legislated paper packaging recycling programs, we participated in government consultations, provided industry’s feedback in numerous submissions, and monitored ongoing changes across the country.

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.

Happy Holidays!

From,

Article Overlooks the Importance of Recycled Content

In the November 28th New York Times Magazine article, Where Does All the Cardboard Come From? I Had to Know, writer Matthew Shaer does a deep dive on what he refers to as the “cardboard economy” – everything from the history of who invented it, how it’s made, and its global marketplace.

Image adapted from The New York Times Magazine

First off, to us at PPEC, while “cardboard” is a commonly used term that we all understand – the box our deliveries come in – the industry terms are a bit different.

A corrugated box is made from strong paper fibres, comprising a top and bottom layer of paper fibre known as linerboard, and a middle layer, called corrugating medium, which is the wavy part that gives the box its strength.

Image of linerboard corrugating medium

While a boxboard or paperboard carton typically only holds a single item – i.e. cereal or shoes – it does not require the same strength properties as a corrugated box, so you won’t see any wavy ripples in those.

But back to the article. While it is mostly focused on the scale and size of the international market for corrugated packaging – which is expected to reach an estimated $205 billion by 2025, according to the article – it does refer to some of the environmental attributes of corrugated packaging, noting that it is “more recyclable than other shipping methods,” and even likens it to a classic fairy tale:

“Corrugated packaging has a Goldilocks quality to it,” says Tim Cooper, a project director for the
market-research and testing firm Smithers. “It’s easy to produce, it’s strong and it’s sustainable,
because unlike plastic, it comes from a renewable resource.”

We agree that it is strong and sustainable, but there is nothing fictional about the environmental sustainability of corrugated packaging. What Goldilocks needs to understand is that not only is it recyclable, it is actually and actively recycled, allowing it to be reused again and again.

Using recycled content is an inherent part of the Canadian paper packaging industry’s operations. PPEC member mills have been using recycled paper fibres for decades. It makes environmental and business sense to recycle and reuse old paper packaging, including Old Corrugated Cardboard, so it can be remade into new paper-based packaging products again and again, keeping valuable raw material out of landfill.

While the New York Times article reports on its high recycling rates in the U.S., it does not discuss the importance of recycled content, making it sound like boxes are made mostly from trees.

In fact, trees are mentioned in the article 16 times, while recycling is mentioned 11 times.

The sustainable management of forests, and what happens after consumers and businesses recycle their boxes is not mentioned, which may perpetuate the myth that paper-based packaging primarily uses trees in the manufacturing process, which is simply untrue.

In Canada, the average recycled content for domestic shipments of containerboard, which is used to make corrugated boxes is 86.5%, and nearly 80% for boxboard, according to PPEC’s Recycled Content Survey.

The remaining materials used in the mix include sawmill residues and some virgin fibres from responsibly sourced forests. But to be clear, 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 law. In 2019, the total forest harvest (for lumber and all paper grades including packaging) represented 0.2% of Canada’s forest land, according to The State of Canada’s Forests Annual Report.

We don’t take issue with the New York Times article itself, it is a well-researched piece on what has become a preferred packaging choice, and we expect there will be a continued shift towards paper-based packaging, especially as governments consider banning some types of materials, similar to Canada’s ban on single-use plastics.

But, articles like this should also talk about the critical role that recycling plays in the sustainability of the paper packaging industry. That must be part of any story about corrugated and paper-based packaging because it is an inherent part of our industry’s story.

When we use and recycle paper-based packaging, we all play a part in protecting and replenishing our renewable resources, contributing to the sustainable management of Canada’s forests, and supporting the circular economy of the paper-based packaging industry through the important act of recycling.

Statistics Canada’s New Waste Management Survey Results: Paper Represents 35% of Diversion

On November 15, 2022, Statistics Canada released the results of its biennial Waste Management Survey, containing waste diversion data for 2020, broken down by material type and diversion source (residential and non-residential).

The new data shows that Canadian households and businesses diverted 9,903,027 tonnes of waste in 2020, and of the total amount diverted, 3,502,683 tonnes were paper fibres (which includes newsprint, cardboard and boxboard, and mixed paper), representing 35% of the total amount diverted in 2020.

While paper diversion represents the majority of materials diverted from landfill in Canada, paper diversion has been trending slightly downward year over year since 2014, which could be partly attributed to the continued decline of newsprint materials due to the shift from print to digital.

The next leading category of materials diverted in Canada for 2020 was organics with 32% of the total share of diversion.

Digging deeper into the paper diversion data, of the 3.5 million total tonnes diverted in Canada in 2020, about 44% was diverted through residential sources (ie. Blue Box residential municipal recycling programs), while the remaining 56% was diverted through non-residential sources (ie. Industrial Commercial and Institutional (IC&I) collection).

Below is a breakdown of the sources of paper diversion by province, with the two most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec, diverting the most paper fibre from both residential and non-residential (IC&I) sources.

Of the other 33% of diverted materials, Statistics Canada reported that “diverting plastic waste to avoid its disposal has become a challenge because of the many types of hard-to-recycle plastics being produced for consumption and entering the waste stream.” Of the 9.9 million total tonnes of waste materials diverted in Canada in 2020, 368,343 tonnes of plastics, or about 3.7%, were diverted.

The Government of Canada has been working to address plastic waste as part of its Zero Plastic Waste Agenda. PPEC continues to monitor government and industry activities related to plastics and we recently wrote about how Canada’s new ban on single-use plastics may impact the paper packaging industry. And while the plastics industry is looking to create a circular economy for its materials through various initiatives, including the Canada Plastics Pact, the paper packaging industry has long held a large-scale circular economy for its materials.

Using recycled materials is an inherent part of our members’ operations. For decades PPEC members have used recycled paper materials as its primary feedstock in making the three major paper packaging grades in Canada (containerboard, boxboard, and kraft paper). They use old corrugated cardboard and other paper-based materials, collected from the backs of factories, supermarkets, office buildings, and from residential recycling programs to make new paper-based packaging.

PPEC’s membership represents several different components of our industry’s recycling supply chain, not just as providers of recyclable paper-based packaging, but also as processors of collected paper materials, and as mills who are recycling and reusing the collected materials, which allows them to be remade into new paper packaging products again and again, keeping valuable raw material out of landfill.

Celebrating Circular Economy Month

Earlier this year, the Circular Innovation Council announced that October marks the inaugural Circular Economy Month. As the Council continues to build on the success of their annual #WasteReductionWeek, they are now expanding the focus to circular economy for the entire month.

In their announcement, they shared “For 20 years Waste Reduction Week in Canada has focused on the concepts of waste reduction and recycling as a key component of our transition to a circular economy…Circular Innovation Council is extending Waste Reduction Week in Canada beyond the third week of October into Circular Economy Month to educate and excite Canadians about the opportunities and benefits of the circular economy.”

SourceCircular Innovation Council

As paper-based packaging is one of Canada’s first circular economies, PPEC is excited to support this campaign. We recognize that focusing on the circular economy is a continual, year-round activity, and there is no doubt that drawing additional attention to it and creating a larger discussion throughout October will be beneficial to raising awareness and enhancing education. 

What is a circular economy, and why is it important?

The Ellen Macarthur Foundation states that “a circular economy is a systemic approach to economic development designed to benefit businesses, society, and the environment. In contrast to the ‘take-make-waste’ linear model, a circular economy is regenerative by design and aims to gradually decouple growth from the consumption of finite resources.” 

And according to the report, “Turning Point – The Expert Panel on the Circular Economy in Canada” from the Council of Canadian Academies, “Only 6.1% of materials entering the Canadian economy come from recycled sources…For Canada to maintain its strong economy and global competitiveness, meet its commitments to reducing carbon emissions and maintaining biodiversity, and keep its people prosperous and healthy, it is critical that Canada’s economy to become more circular.” 

We all have a role to play to play in developing and supporting the circular economy – from businesses actively working to reduce their climate footprint, to governments developing evidence-based policies, and to consumers understanding the environmental impacts of their purchases.  

The Stanford Graduate School of Business agrees as their recent white paper, the Road Toward a Circular Value Chain, states, “…businesses alone cannot win this battle. A successful transition to a circular economy requires all stakeholders…to take action, so that we can leave future generations a better world to live in.” 

Paper-Based Packaging: A Canadian Circular Economy Success Story

Our industry’s circular economy starts with PPEC members and the mills that produce the raw material, which is mostly made up of recycled content. 

From there, converters turn it into recyclable paper-based packaging, which is used by businesses, government, institutions, and consumers. Once used, it is recycled, making its way back to the mill to be remade into new paper packaging products. And the process starts all over again.

Recycling is a critical component of the Canadian paper packaging industry’s circular economy. Recycled content keeps raw materials flowing longer, reducing the need to extract virgin materials. And the average recycled content for domestic shipments of the three major paper packaging grades – containerboard, boxboard, and kraft paper – is close to 82%, based on PPEC’s 2020 Recycled Content Survey

And while research shows that paper can be recycled up to seven times, and corrugated box fibres up to ten times, a recent study from Graz University of Technology in Austria found that fibre-based packaging material can be recycled at least 25 times without losing mechanical or structural integrity. While this new research suggests that paper and board fibres are even more durable than previously thought, we know that we still have work to do to try to better understand how many times paper fibres can be recycled in Canadian recycling systems.  

That circularity only comes with each player playing their part – from the businesses like PPEC members making it a priority to use recycled content in their operations, to consumers actively and responsibly recycling their paper-based packaging.

Using less and making less – just makes sense all around. Paper packaging is a circular economy that utilizes renewable resources that are regenerated, promotes the use of recycled content, and minimizes waste.

Sustainable Forest Management and Climate Change

The Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) has enjoyed celebrating National Forest Week (NFW), which took place this week (September 18-24, 2022), as the sustainable management of Canada’s forests is fundamental to PPEC and its members. Sustainable forestry not only plays an important role in the industry’s circular economy, but it is also fundamental to helping mitigate climate change, which is fitting as this year’s theme of NFW is “Canada’s Forests: Solutions for a Changing Climate.”

Canada’s Forests and Climate Change

Forests are affected by natural disturbances such as insect infestations, diseases, fires, flooding, wind, as well as by timber harvesting, forest management practices, and land use decisions.

And climate change can further impact the frequency and severity of natural disturbances as changes in weather and temperature can cause droughts, extreme precipitation, and warmer and drier conditions. These all affect forest health, from increasing the chance of insect infestations and disease, which can damage trees, or cause wildfires, which can release greenhouse gas emissions.

Healthy and sustainable forests have a role in helping to mitigate climate change, as trees capture and store carbon, acting as carbon sources or carbon sinks: a forest is considered a carbon source if it releases more carbon than it absorbs, and a carbon sink if it absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases.

Sustainable forest management practices can be used to increase carbon sequestration in the forests and in wood products, while deforestation can result in carbon emissions.

Forest Facts and Deforestation

According to the most recent data from Natural Resources Canada’s State of Canada’s Forests 2021 annual report, Canada’s forest land is nearly 362 million hectares (ha), with an estimated 757,000 ha, or 0.2%, of forest harvested in 2019.

The Report notes that the area of forests harvested each year is significantly smaller than the areas affected by insects and fires. According to the data, the area defoliated by insects and containing beetle-killed trees was 14,473,760 ha in 2019, while forest fires consumed 227,476 ha in 2020.

Source: State of Canada’s Forests 2021 Annual Report, Natural Resources Canada

And when it comes to deforestation, 49,046 ha, or 0.01%, of Canada’s forest were converted to other land uses in 2019. The main sectors contributing to deforestation include agriculture (46%), mining, oil and gas (31%), and the built up sector (19%), which includes industrial, institutional or commercial developments, as well as municipal urban development, recreation (ski hills and golf courses) and transportation.

How Canadian Paper Packaging is Made

The Canadian paper packaging industry doesn’t use much in the way of freshly cut trees, and the little that is harvested (that 0.2% in 2019) must be successfully regenerated. In 2019, 550 million seedlings were planted in Canadian forests, up from over 440 million seedlings planted in 2018.

In Canada, paper packaging is made from virgin, recycled, or blended pulp (a mix of the two); with all paper fibre sources verified to be responsibly sourced by independent, third-party certification bodies. Most domestic shipments of the three major paper packaging grades made in Canada – containerboard (used to make corrugated boxes), boxboard (used to make boxboard cartons, e.g., a cereal box), and kraft paper (used to make paper bags) – are made from recycled content (81.7%).

Mills also use sawmill residues – such as wood chips, shavings, and sawdust left over from sawmill operations – and some supplement their pulp with virgin fibres from trees, which represents about 12% of the average paper-based box, carton, or bag.

PPEC-member mills have independent, third-party certification that verifies all their paper fibre sources – which include recycled fibres, wood chips, and sawmill residues – are responsibly sourced. Each mill member has independent chain-of-custody certification for their operations in Canada by a recognized forest certification standard such as FSCSFIPEFC, and CSA Z809.

When we use and recycle paper-based packaging, we all play a role in protecting renewable resources, contributing to the sustainable management of Canada’s forests, supporting the circular economy of the paper-based packaging industry, and helping to mitigate climate change.

Canada’s Forests: Solutions for a Changing Climate

Sustainable forestry is not only about replanting trees to replace those that are harvested – though regeneration is very important in helping to create permanent additions to Canada’s forests – but it is also about learning how to retain and encourage the carbon-capturing ability of forests, so they can be effective carbon sinks, removing carbon from the atmosphere.

Carbon storage by forests is just one of the many recommendations from the United Nations report, Forest Products in the Global Bioeconomy: Enabling substitution by wood-based products and contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals, which also speaks to the role renewable forest products have in helping to combat climate change:

There is strong evidence at product level that wood products are associated with lower GHG emissions over their entire life cycle when compared to products made from non-renewable or emissions-intensive materials. A review of 488 substitution factors obtained from 64 published studies indicates that the use of wood and wood-based products is generally associated with lower fossil and process-based emissions when compared to non-wood, functionally equivalent products.”

As more countries aim to achieve net-zero emissions, including Canada, it will be important to continue learning and better understand the role that forests, and sustainable forest management, has in mitigating climate change.

How Does Canada’s Ban on Single-Use Plastics Impact Paper Packaging? 

There have been a lot of recent developments related to Canada’s Zero Plastic Waste Agenda and the federal government’s ban on single-use plastic products, which is why it is a perfect time to share this blog examining some of the latest news, key activities, and the potential impacts on the paper packaging industry.

Ban on single-use plastic

On June 22, the Single-use Plastics Prohibition Regulations were published, which prohibit the manufacture, import, sale, and export of the following single-use plastic items: checkout bags, cutlery, foodservice ware made from or containing problematic plastics, ring carriers, stir sticks and straws.

The ban comes into effect December 2022, with sale of the prohibited items effective December 2023, and the ban on exporting the prohibited plastics by the end of 2025.

There are some exceptions to the ban, which are outlined in this technical guidance document.

Consultations on plastics labelling rules and data collection

On July 25, the federal government launched two consultations related to their work on combating plastics pollution, including the development of labelling rules for recyclability and compostability, and the development of a federal plastics registry.

The government’s news release, Government of Canada takes next steps forward on better plastic recyclability, compostability, and tracking and associated backgrounder, states that “Labels on plastic packaging that claim recyclability or compostability are often inaccurate,” – speaking of which, have you read PPEC’s blog on environmental claims? – and that new rules would prohibit the use of the recycling symbol, and other claims, unless at least 80% of Canadians have access to recycling systems that accept plastic packaging and have end markets for them.

The government also intends to regulate the use of terms such as “compostable,” “degradable,” and “biodegradable” in the labelling of plastic packaging and single-use items; and plans to develop a registry that would require producers to report annually on the quantity of plastic products they place on the Canadian market, and how these products are diverted from landfills after use.

Plastics ban and paper packaging

Going back to the single-use plastics ban, the government’s guidance document for selecting alternatives provides info on how to transition away from the banned items, offering that plastics could be reduced by using other materials including wood, paper, and moulded pulp fibre.

So, what does this mean for paper-based packaging?

Both from a broader perspective, but also with regards to the specific newly banned items, there is a market shift towards using more sustainable and renewal packaging materials. Companies such as P&GCarlsbergAmazonMcDonald’s, and Nestlé, to name a few, have all recently made announcements regarding changes in some of their packaging, with a clear shift towards paper-based packaging.

This ban will likely see that trend continue, and groups like Fisher International believe the Pulp and Paper industry has an opportunity to step in to provide alternatives, which they wrote about in Canada’s New Plastic Ban Could Drive Renewed Interest in the P&P Industry. While their article raises a lot of important questions for the industry to consider – such as impact on future pulp prices, capital investment needs, and the state of sustainably-managed forest supply – it doesn’t speak directly to the environmental attributes of paper-based packaging, so let’s take a minute to talk about that.

The major paper packaging grades made in Canada – corrugate boxes, paperboard boxes, and paper bags – are produced primarily with recycled content. While the paper fibres originally come from trees, hardly any of Canada’s commercial forests are harvested for paper packaging; and by law, every hectare that is harvested in Canada must be successfully regenerated.

A mill produces the material used to make paper packaging, using mainly recycled content, and then a converter turns it into paper packaging. After having used the packaging, the customer recycles it, and the recycled product goes back to the mill, where it is remade into new paper-based packaging. And the cycle repeats itself again and again.

Just how many times is ‘again and again’? Initial research had shown that paper could be recycled up to seven times, and corrugated box fibres up to ten times, but a recent study from the Graz University of Technology in Austria found that fibre-based packaging material can be recycled at least 25 times without losing mechanical or structural integrity.

When it comes to residential recycling programs that accept paper-based packaging, we know that 96% of Canadians have access to recycling for corrugated boxes and paper bags, and 94% for boxboard cartons, determined through an independent third-party study commissioned by PPEC.

For recycling, PPEC has estimated a national recovery rate for corrugated boxes of at least 85%, with recycling even higher in certain provinces, such as Ontario’s residential Blue Box program, which has a 98% recovery rate for corrugated (according to the most recent pay-in-model information previously made available from Stewardship Ontario).

In 2019, it was estimated that Canada generated 1.89 million tonnes of plastic packaging, of which 12% was recycled, according to research from the Canada Plastics Pact (CPP).

While we know efforts are underway to transition to a more circular economy for plastic packaging in Canada by groups like the CPP, PPEC is proud that paper packaging is one of Canada’s original circular economies.

Little Green Lies: Q&A with Author John Mullinder

The Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) sat down with its former and long-standing Executive Director, John Mullinder, who helped formed PPEC in 1990, and retired in February 2021.

Photo of John Mullinder

John recently published his new book, Little Green Lies and Other BS, which focuses on environmental claims and advertising; it is a follow up to his first book, Deforestation in Canada and Other Fake News, published in 2018.

Little Green Lies Book Cover

Little Green Lies is well researched and organized, covering about 40 different subjects in alphabetical order from “Ancient” Forests to “Zero” Waste.

PPEC chatted with John about his new book, and excerpts from our conversation follow, edited for length.

Hi John! Can you please give our readers a brief description of your new book and why you wrote it?

One of my reviewers described it as “an entertaining and informative dictionary of environmental buzzwords (and claims) that are widely used (or made) but often poorly understood.” The book examines those buzzwords, what they mean and whether the current use of these terms is accurate, misleading, confusing, deceptive or just plain wrong, and includes 38 pages of sources for the information (that’s the dictionary part).

I wrote it because there is so much misinformation, and sometimes deliberate greenwash, about these buzzwords and claims, and I want to set the record straight.

What can readers hope to learn from this book?

Not to accept all environmental claims as apple pie. To question the use of particular buzzwords. To understand and analyse the context in which claims are made, whether they are made by businesses, governments, or environmental groups. And to avoid making those same claims themselves.

The book doubles as an educational tool for staff, customers, journalists, policy advisers.

Or as one of my reviewers wrote: “This is a great reference book that will help you sort the facts from the fiction. If you’re a writer, editor, public relations professional, legislator, educator, work for an NGO, or are simply a consumer who wants to know the truth, this book should be on your shelf or Kindle list.”

What can people expect to learn from reading Little Green Lies (image)

How does this book differ from your first book, Deforestation in Canada and Other Fake News?

The focus of “Deforestation in Canada and Other Fake News” was to debunk two commonly-held myths: that Canada is running out of trees, and that massive deforestation is taking place in our own backyard. Both not true.

While “Little Green Lies” does cover these issues as well, it is far broader, examining a wide range of forestry and paper issues, packaging, recycling, and waste. It is also more international, incorporating as much global and US data and perspectives as possible, not just Canadian data.

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to forestry – particularly related to deforestation and “ancient” forests – where does the confusion come from, and how do we address it?

There is widespread confusion about each of these because people work to different definitions of them. And the media makes it worse by not explaining what the terms mean and/or misapplying the meaning of the words. We (and I mean collectively) need to develop broadly agreed-upon definitions that we can all work to, and to publicize them widely, especially to journalists. The United Nations, for example, has a very clear definition of deforestation.

UN definition of deforestation

With increased activity and attention on corporate greenwashing — the practice of making false or misleading environmental sustainability claims — and with the Competition Bureau of Canada archiving its Environmental Claims Guide, do you believe there are enough resources available to provide clarity on claims and misleading marketing practices?

Absolutely not. And even the advice that is out there (the archived guidelines you refer to) are inadequate. This is one of the reasons they were archived as a matter of fact. Greenwashing is a major issue and it needs sufficient resources allocated to it, urgently. Or nobody will believe anything. And that is a slippery slope.

PPEC has long called for disposal bans on paper-based packaging, considering such materials are recyclable and end markets exist; why do you think there is resistance to implementing such bans?

What really gets up my nose are provinces spouting off about how we should all move to a circular economy while they do little or nothing to change the economics that make it cheaper to send stuff to landfill rather than to recycle it.

The circular economy is all about reusing materials again and again, and the provinces have the power to do something about this. They need to demonstrate some political fortitude and be willing to take on the commercial interests of municipalities and waste haulers who happen to own landfills.

Ban old boxes from landfills, says paper industry

Do you have any comments on the state of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies and legislation in Canada as they relate to the paper-based packaging industry? And how does the consumer/resident – who ultimately decides how to dispose of their waste and recyclables – fit into the concept of EPR?

I think we have to be very careful in claiming EPR as the solution for materials ending up in landfill. Any costs that producers incur through EPR schemes will inevitably be passed on to consumers. What’s important for industry (including the paper industry) is that any fee structure be fair and evenly applied. Non-performers must be penalized for any scheme to work.

And a major education job is required to get the consumer in the loop. For example, about 40% of Ontario Blue Box recyclables go straight to the trash because householders are confused about whether certain materials are recyclable or not. Much (but not all) of this trashed material is perfectly recyclable.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your new book Little Green Lies?

I know this will sound a bit like a sales pitch (it is!), but I think the book provides a sound basis for critically examining many of the environmental claims we see and hear today (whether they are from industry, governments, or environmental groups). The sources for the information I provide are all there. Facts do matter. 

Government Amends Ontario Blue Box Regulation

The Government of Ontario made amendments to the Blue Box Regulation, which came into effect on April 14, 2022.

The amendments do not change the original intention of the regulation – to transition the existing Ontario Blue Box model from a shared funding model to a full producer responsibility model – and do not impact collection requirements, diversion outcomes, or key dates (transition will still begin July 1, 2023). The amendments were made to clarify the process for creating the province-wide system for collecting Blue Box materials. The key changes include:  

  • Removing the rule creation process, including the allocation table, from the regulation.
  • Allowing producer responsibility organizations PROs to collaborate on a province-wide collection system; and requiring PROs that represent producers that supply more than 66% of Blue Box tonnes to submit an operational plan to RPRA for how they will operate the system by July 1, 2022.
  • Exempting newspaper producers (whose supply accounts for at least 70% of their total Blue Box supply) from collection, management, and promotion and education requirements for two years; newspapers will remain an obligated material under the regulation, and will continue to be collected in the Blue Box system.

RPRA Webinar May 18 

The Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (RPRA), which is the regulator mandated by the government to enforce the province’s circular economy laws, is hosting a virtual Q&A for stakeholders on May 18 at 11:00am EST to review the amendments; to register click here.

Newspaper Associations Support Newspaper Exemption

On the news of newspaper producers being exempted from the Ontario Blue Box amended regulations, both the Ontario Community Newspaper Association (OCNA), who represent provincial community newspapers, and News Media Canada, the voice of the print and digital media industry in Canada, expressed their support for the government’s decision.

Alicia McCutcheon, president of the OCNA said: “We do applaud the Ford government for doing this… We’ve never viewed ourselves as the same as the tin can or the plastic wrap people of the world, we’re not packaging,” according to the National Post’s Newspaper lobby group ‘applauds’ exemption from Ontario’s new recycling program.

And Paul Deegan, president of News Media Canada, issued a statement:

Canada’s newspaper publishers applaud the Ontario government’s leadership in recognizing that newspapers are not packaging and should be exempt from extended producer responsibility fees. We hope other provinces will follow Ontario’s lead in eliminating this punitive measure. The unintended consequence of EPR on newspapers is to reduce the number of pages in a newspaper or for the paper to simply close or go online only…. Newsprint has the highest level of collection of all recyclable materials, a stable end market, and high commercial value.” 

Newsprint and the Ontario Blue Box Program

Stewardship Ontario’s 2020 Annual Report states that: “Historically, newspapers have represented a large volume of material in the Blue Box and, because of their high recycling rate, boosted the performance of the Blue Box program overall.”

In 2010, newsprint accounted for over 55% of the total Blue Box marketed tonnes, but it now makes up 23% of tonnage, according to RPRA’s 2020 Datacall.

2020 Marketed Ontario Blue Box Materials (in tonnes,, expressed as a percentage)

Marketed tonnes represent the tonnage sorted and processed by a Material Recycling Facility, which are then baled, sold, and used in place of virgin materials. 

Paper-based Packaging – which includes old corrugated cardboard, old boxboard and a portion of residential mixed papers and mixed fibres packaging – has the largest component of Ontario Blue Box marketed tonnes (271,433 tonnes), representing 35.9% of total Blue Box marketed tonnage (756,984). 

As for the performance of Ontario’s Blue Box program, the 2019 recycling rate was 57.3%, down from 60.2% in 2018, the decline explained by Stewardship Ontario in their 2020 Annual Report:

“The reduction of newsprint, magazines and catalogues and other printed paper materials, along with higher residue rates and higher contamination standards imposed by end markets, are the main reasons for the overall decline in recycled tonnes.”

Table 4 of RPRA’s 2020 Datacall Report shows Marketed Blue Box Tonnes from 2015 to 2020, with Printed Papers – which includes newsprint, household fine paper, telephone books, and catalogues – showing a nearly 62% decline in tonnage over the five-year period; while Paper-based Packaging is up nearly 73% over the same period.

Marketed Ontario Blue Box Tonnes, 2015-2020

PPEC Commentary

It will take some time to understand the implications of the regulatory amendments, and any impacts they may have on the transition to a producer responsibility model for the Ontario Blue Box program. PPEC continues to remain concerned about the feasibility of meeting the paper targets under the new transitioned program, which we have previously written about. We will continue to monitor developments.

What Does “Old” Mean When it Comes to Canada’s Forests?

On April 7, 2022, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tabled Canada’s 2022 Budget. The federal government’s environmental and climate change initiatives are outlined in Chapter 3 of the budget, including the proposal to establish a $55.1 million Old Growth Nature Fund to conserve and protect British Columbia’s old growth forests. The funding is proposed to be provided over a three-year period, starting in 2022-23, and conditional on the B.C. government making a matching investment.

The Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) is a strong proponent of environmental conservation and the protection of forests, and we often write about the importance of sustainable forest management in Canada.

But the federal government’s budget got us thinking: what does “old” mean when it comes to Canada’s forests?

The Government of British Columbia’s website states that their coastal forests are “considered to be old growth if they contain trees that are more than 250 years old,” going on to explain that some types of interior forests “are considered to be old growth if they contain trees that are more than 140 years old.”

So just how old are Canada’s forests?

According to the statistical data provided by Canada’s National Forest Inventory, over 60% of Canada’s forests are less than 100 years old; while a quarter are between 101-140 years old, 5.6% are over 140, and 4.1% are over 200 years old.

Area of forest land by age class in Canada expressed as a percentage

In British Columbia, there are about 11.1 million hectares of old growth forest, representing about 18% of the total forest area of 60 million hectares. The province is currently undergoing a shift in how it manages old growth forests, implementing recommendations from its Old Growth Strategic Review.

In Canada, the majority of forests are publicly owned, with provincial and territorial governments responsible for forest management under various regulations and policies. And by law, all forests harvested on public lands must be successfully regenerated. The most recent data available from The State of Canada’s Forests 2021 Annual Report states that about 550 million seedlings were planted in Canadian forests in 2019 (up from over 440 million seedlings planted in 2018), which is the equivalent of 1,048 seedlings planted every minute.

Number of tree seedlings planted in Canadian forests every minute in 2019

And while any trees that are harvested must be replanted, the Canadian paper packaging industry does not use much in the way of freshly cut trees to begin with: Canadian-made containerboard (used to make corrugated boxes), boxboard cartons, and kraft paper bags are made with over 80% recycled content.

Recycling allows old paper packaging to be continually collected from Canadian residents and businesses so that it can be remade into new paper-based packaging products again and again.