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Archive for Blue Box

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.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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Discussing the Toronto Star’s Ontario Blue Box Article

On March 19, the Toronto Star published The Ford government is overhauling Ontario’s blue box recycling program — and critics say it will be a disaster, by Business Feature Writer Richard Warnica.

The Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) was interviewed for the article on February 4, but our comments about paper-based packaging in Ontario’s Blue Box program, including concerns over the new paper targets and the importance of the consumer role, were not included.

The focus of the detailed article is primarily about the multiple Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) model, and the confusion surrounding the final Blue Box regulation, which was released in June 2021, and sets out the framework to transition to a producer responsibility model.

The new model will transfer the full operational and financial management of the Ontario Blue Box program to producers, with implementation beginning July 2023.

It marks a significant change from the existing shared model, which sees producers pay 50% of municipal Blue Box costs. Producer responsibility for packaging and printed paper is not new, with British Columbia being the first province to implement a full 100% industry funded and controlled program in 2014, run by Recycle BC.

But back to the Star article. The general feeling is that the new regulation is confusing.

Jo-Anne St. Godard of the Circular Innovation Council (formerly Recycling Council of Ontario) said: “This is the most bizarre approach to packaging regulation and EPR we’ve seen.”

Denis Goulet of Miller Waste Systems said: It’s confusing to people who’ve been in the industry for 30 years.”

Duncan Bury, a consultant specializing in producer responsibility, said: “What they’ve developed is way more complicated than it needs to be, and I think there’s real worries about how this will actually roll out.”

Warnica writes that the confusion could have consequences, including meeting regulated timelines and potentially higher costs:

“It would force some municipalities to sign expensive contract extensions with existing suppliers…or work out new deals in a tight market already constrained by supply chain backlogs.”

Transition to Full Producer Responsibility Timeline

Multiple PROs…and David vs. Goliath?

Part of the confusion and complexity, some say, have to do with having a multiple PRO model, versus the current single PRO model, which is also the case in British Columbia.

The PROs that have registered to date include: Circular Materials Ontario, a not-for-profit created and governed by producers; Resource Recovery Alliance, owned and operated by GFL Environmental; and Ryse Solutions Inc.

Warnica’s article quotes Patrick Dovigi, CEO of GFL Environmental, who said: “The government at the time decided to go out with multiple PROs because they think it created competition…. All the multiple PROs dynamic does is create inefficiencies where all the costs really are.”

The article speaks to specific concerns regarding GFL. First, that their PRO may create a conflict of interest – ie. having a waste management company operate a PRO who is also contracting out business to waste management companies – and second, that they could have an unfair advantage given their size.

Jo-Anne St. Godard explained it this way: “I think you need to be able to have separate church and state,” going on to say “if you have a monopoly service provider, or one that has a very big dominant position, the buyers of that service may find themselves only having one price-taker effectively.”

In the article, Dovigi refers to himself as David, as in David vs. Goliath, with Goliath being the major producers.

David vs. Goliath and Blue Box recycling bin

Dovigi went on to say: “People are making me out to be the bad guy…and we’re just little GFL from Toronto.”

As the article points out, GFL is the fourth largest waste management company in North America with a market cap of $12.3 billion. GFL also completed 46 acquisitions in 2021, and are planning another 25-30 deals this year, according to Waste Dive.

But back to the issue of competing PROs. According to the article, both the Resource Recovery Alliance and Circular Materials Ontario have requested changes to the regulation, specifically “to reverse the central tenet calling for competing PROs, and to impose a single Producer Responsibility Organization to oversee the entire system.”

Though not everyone agrees with that. The Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA) reaffirmed its support for the current Blue Box regulation. OWMA wrote a letter to Minister Piccini that they do not support any amendments to the regulation “that would create uncertainty for public and private waste service providers and residential customers.”

PPEC Concerns with Paper Targets and Needing to Recognize the Role of the Consumer

When PPEC spoke to Warnica in February, we talked about our concerns with the feasibility of meeting the new Ontario paper diversion targets (80% for 2026-2029, and 85% for 2030 and beyond). The below graph plots the material composition of the Ontario Blue Box program (stacked bar) and total recycled tonnage (broken line) from 2004 to 2019. Paper is the largest component of the Blue Box (the orange and blue), but the overall composition of the paper category has been changing for years, which impacts diversion. Printed paper makes up much less of the Blue Box than it used to, and paper packaging has doubled, while overall recycled tonnes are on a downward trend.

Ontario Blue Box Material Composition and Total Recycled Tonnes Chart: 2004 to 2019

With less being collected in the Blue Box, such as newspapers, while other categories, such as corrugated boxes already achieving 98% recovery from Ontario households (according to the 2020 Blue Box Pay-In Model), it begs the question of how will the overall paper diversion rate increase to meet the government’s new, higher targets?

Confusion over targets - person with question mark with "80%" and "85%" thought bubbles

PPEC commissioned a study, conducted by Dan Lantz at Crow’s Nest Environmental, to examine Blue Box diversion data to help determine if the government’s proposed diversion targets could be achieved. The study found that the proposed targets could not be met:

“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.”

Diversion targets lowered but still out of reach

We also spoke about how the new model could help achieve harmonization through a more standardized system. There are 444 municipalities in Ontario, with 250 programs participating in the Blue Box program. That’s 250 separate programs, with different collection lists, and different approaches to educating their residents, aka the consumer.

And the role of the consumer is paramount to the success of any recycling program, including Ontario’s Blue Box program. At the end of the day, it is the consumer who makes the decision of how to dispose of their waste and recyclables. The more aware and educated they are, the more likely consumers are to clean and empty their recyclables, and separate them from waste and organics. Standardization may help deliver a more uniform educational message to Ontarians, which could help increase diversion and reduce contamination (the higher the contamination, the harder it is to achieve better recovery rates).

The latest Ontario Blue Box data shows that the recovery rate increased slightly in 2020 to 59.9%, which means that a little over 40% of what is placed in the Blue Box ends up in landfill.

It goes without saying that it is in everyone’s best interest to ensure that programs run efficiently, are able to capture the value of materials, prevent recyclables from ending up in landfill, and ensure consumers understand their role.

PPEC will continue to monitor the developments related to Ontario’s Blue Box regulation, and the transition to the new producer responsibility model.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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The Latest Ontario Blue Box Recycling Data for Paper-based Packaging

Paper-based packaging continues to be the largest captured material in Ontario’s household Blue Box program, based on new data released by the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (RPRA).

Each year, municipalities, recycling associations, and First Nation communities in Ontario report on their residential waste diversion programs to RPRA, through the annual Datacall. The most recent Datacall Report summarizes information generated by the 250 programs participating in the Blue Box Program in 2020, and highlights residential waste management trends.

Overall, the Blue Box recovery rate – the amount of designated packaging and printed materials recovered as a per cent of the amount generated – increased to 59.9% in 2020, up from 57.3% in 2019.

Of interest to the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPPEC) and its members, is Figure 3 from the report, which shows Marketed Blue Box Materials in tonnes. Paper-based Packaging has the largest component with 271,433 tonnes, representing 35.9% of the total Blue Box marketed tonnage (756,984).

Source: Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority 2020 Datacall Report

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

The second largest material is Printed Paper with 23% of marketed tonnes. However, this category – which includes newsprint, household fine paper, telephone books, and catalogues – continues to decline year over year.

Table 4 of the Datacall Report shows Marketed Blue Box Tonnes from 2015 to 2020, with Printed Papers showing a nearly 62% decline in tonnage over the five-year period.

Meanwhile, paper-based packaging – which includes old corrugated cardboard, old boxboard, and a portion of residential mixed papers and mixed fibres packaging – shows a nearly 73% increase in tonnage over the same period. The most recent year shows a 13.1% increase, which may be attributed to the rise in e-commerce shipments due to the pandemic.

Source: Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority 2020 Datacall Report

RPRA’s Datacall Report states that 99.8% of Ontario households have access to recycling corrugated and boxboard paper-based packaging. And not only do they have access, Ontario households are actively doing their part to recycle these materials.

The Ontario household recovery rate for Corrugated Cardboard is 98%, and 47% for Boxboard, according to Stewardship Ontario’s 2022 Blue Box Fee Calculation Model.

RPRA’s Datacall Report also offers insights into 10-year trends, including declining newsprint and rising program costs. Overall, Blue Box marketed tonnage decreased by 14.7% from 2010 to 2020, largely due to the continued decline of printed paper in Ontario, which has seen a 64% decrease over the last 10 years. Meanwhile, Net Blue Box costs have increased 35.2% from $203 million in 2010, to $349.8 million in 2020, while revenue received by programs is declining.

The Ontario Blue Box program is currently undergoing transition to a full producer responsibility framework, which will see producers take over 100% operational and financial management of the program by December 31, 2025.

Paper-based packaging is collected for recycling at both the household level, and from the backs of factories, supermarkets, and office buildings (also known as the Industrial, Commercial and Institutional sector). And as recycling plays an important role in the sustainability of Canada’s paper-based packaging industry – allowing PPEC member mills to maintain high levels of recycled content – PPEC closely monitors recycling and waste diversion statistics published by provincial stewardship organizations, Statistics Canada, and other organizations.

PPEC is proud of our industry’s circular economy approach to managing paper packaging products, which are continually collected and recycled through residential and business recycling programs across Canada, allowing them to be remade into new paper-based packaging products again and again.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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This National Pizza Day Don’t Forget that Pizza Boxes are Recyclable in Canada

It is National Pizza Day on February 9, 2022, and the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) wants to celebrate by reminding you that pizza boxes are recyclable in Canada! You thought we were going to say eat pizza, right? You can do that, too, but don’t forget to recycle that box once you’re done!

Pizza boxes are normally made from corrugated board, and in Canada, corrugated board is made mostly from recycled content. So, once that empty and clean pizza box is placed in the recycling bin – where it is then collected, sent for processing, baled, and sold – that recycled material then makes its way back to our members’ paper packaging mills, where it will get remade into a new pizza box, or another type of paper-based packaging.

That recycled pizza box represents an important slice 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 containerboard – which is used to make corrugated board – is close to 87%, based on PPEC’s 2020 Recycled Content Survey.

In general, paper can be recycled up to seven times, while corrugated box fibres can be used up to ten times, to make new boxes and other paper-based packaging products. We already thought those numbers were quite good, but a new 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, suggesting that paper and board fibres are even more durable than previously thought.

Thanks to the important act of recycling, it’s likely that your pizza box has had multiple lives, and we want that to continue. But unfortunately, there has been some confusion over the years when it comes to their recyclability.

National Pizza Day - three images of Pizza boxes Recyclable and Compostable

In the past, it has been suggested that pizza boxes should not be placed in blue box recycling bins because of the grease and cheese scraps. But that’s not true. If you remove the food scraps (eat those crusts!) and any plastic (like that three-pronged pizza saver which is meant to prevent the box top from sagging), that corrugated pizza box is recyclable in Canada.

And when it gets to the recycling mill, the empty pizza box goes into a pulper – which is like a big washing machine – where any non-paper materials are removed through a series of cleaning and screening processes. The paper fibres are then pumped onto a fast-moving screen to form paper or board. The rest of the process involves removing the moisture out of the paper or board so that it can be wound onto big rolls or cut into sheets, which are then shipped to a converter or a box plant, where it is remade into new paper-based packaging.

But what about the greasy residue you sometimes see on a pizza box? Well, in a typical mill’s recycling process, the temperature of the paper sheet reaches up to 240 degrees Fahrenheit – well above 100 degrees Celsius, the boiling point of water and the temperature required for sterilisation – which gets rid of the grease. Though there is not much grease to begin with, as the average grease content of a pizza box found in the recycling stream is approximately 1-2% by weight level, according to WestRock’s Incorporation of Post-Consumer Pizza Boxes in the Recovered Fiber Stream Study.

Paper-packaging is a successful recycling story in Canada and pizza boxes are no exception.

Not only do 96% of Canadians have access to recycling for corrugated boxes, determined through an independent third-party study commissioned by PPEC, but Canadians actively do their part by 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 Blue Box program, which has a 98% recovery rate for corrugated.

However, it should be noted that for some Canadian communities, composting paper packaging (including pizza boxes) may be more convenient, such as in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, who are hundreds of kilometres from the nearest packaging recycling mill.

Happy National Pizza Day from PPEC, and don’t forget to recycle your empty pizza boxes so they can be recycled into new pizza boxes!

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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What PPEC will be Watching in 2022

As the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) continues to work on achieving its mission to promote the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of the Canadian paper packaging industry, we will also be closely monitoring the following key issues in 2022.

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 responsible for ensuring their products and packaging are properly managed at the end of their life.

In Canada, EPR recycling programs for residential packaging and printed paper (PPP) are currently legislated in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.

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 consumer – such recycling programs are critical to our industry, and on behalf of its members, PPEC participates in government discussions related to new or changing recycling regulations.

This year will be busy with changes to existing programs and new government consultations, and PPEC will be closely monitoring:

  • Ontario as the Blue Box program transitions to a full producer responsibility model, regulated in June 2021, which means it is moving to a full 100% operational and financial management model, with implementation beginning July 2023. Under the previous regulation, producers were responsible for funding 50% of program costs; while the new model requires producers to establish and fund a collection and management system to manage Blue Box materials.
  • Alberta introduced the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Amendment Act which will enable the development of EPR regulations for designated categories of materials. The government is currently conducting a stakeholder consultation.
  • New Brunswick amended the Designated Materials Regulation under the Clean Environment Act in October 2021, to establish an EPR program for packaging and paper products. Recycle NB will oversee the PPP program, and under the amended regulation, brand owners are required to register with Recycle NB by February 11, 2022. The program is proposed to begin in the spring of 2023.
  • Nova Scotia introduced The Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act, which includes a provision to develop and legislate an EPR program for paper and packaging in Nova Scotia, with new EPR regulations expected to be developed by 2023. A 90-day government consultation is expected to launch in early January.
  • Quebec will begin its transition period to an EPR model for its curbside recycling system in 2022, with implementation by 2025. Companies who already finance the Quebec curbside recycling system will be given control over its the system and its management, in partnership with municipalities. Under the current system, companies finance 100% of the costs of municipal collection services for recyclable materials, without control over system management.
  • Manitoba’s PPP stewardship organization, Multi Material Stewardship Manitoba (MMSM), submitted the draft Transition Plan to Minister of Conservation and Climate November 2021, outlining how it proposes to transition the current shared responsibility model for the delivery of residential recycling of PPP, to one that is fully operated and financed by industry. It is expected that there will be additional consultations this year.

PPEC is proud that paper-based packaging is highly recyclable across Canada in provincially legislated Blue Box-type programs. Not only do Canadian residents have access to these programs, but they actively recycle their paper-based packaging, allowing PPEC’s paper packaging mill members to maintain high levels of recycled content in Canadian made paper packaging, illustrating our home-grown circular economy where used paper is recycled 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 made with recycled content, the paper fibres it was originally made from came from a tree. However, less than half of one per cent of Canadian commercial forests are harvested for paper-based packaging, and every hectare that is harvested must be successfully regenerated.

The State of Canada’s Forests Report, published annually by Natural Resources Canada, is an important resource to PPEC, as it is a source of key data on Canada’s forests and its sustainable management, which we use correct misinformation and dispel myths surrounding the paper-based packaging industry and trees.

The 2021 Annual Report has been delayed due to the pandemic but is expected to be released within the next few months; the scheduling of the tabling date of the report is also dependent on Parliament’s agenda and procedures.

Compostability Initiatives

Of the many environmental-attributes of paper-based packaging, not only is it made from a renewable resource and is easily recyclable and recycled, some types of paper-based packaging can also be composted, where facilities exist.

PPEC monitors composting-related initiatives, and most recently, in December 2021, a few national compost organizations, including the US Composting Council and the Compost Council of Canada, established the International Compost Alliance, a voluntary partnership to advance awareness and understanding of the benefits and use of compost on a global scale.

PPEC is looking forward to learning more about this new partnership and their aim to maximize the recycling of organic wastes and advance the manufacturing of certified, high-quality composts.

In the meantime, PPEC will continue to provide clarity on paper-based packaging that may be both recyclable and/or compostable. For example, in Ontario, paper flour bags can be recycled in the Blue Box program, but if they have some food residue, they can be placed in the Green Bin for composting.

For additional information, the Compost Council of Canada has an interactive map of Canada with information on composting facilities, and any related regulations or guidelines, organized by province and territory.

Carbon and Climate Change

Coming out of the COP26 climate summit, and the federal government’s recent Speech from the Throne and their commitments on taking bolder climate action, PPEC will continue to monitor government and industry climate change initiatives and announcements; as well as stewardship organizations who have begun tracking greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across their recycling activities.

Paper-based packaging is made from a renewable resource and is a sustainable material, one that it is highly recyclable and recycled across Canada. In general, paper can be recycled up to seven times, while corrugated box fibres can be used up to ten times, to make new shipping boxes and other paper-based packaging products. Canadian paper packaging mills average recycled content of domestic Canadian shipments of the three major paper packaging grades is close to 82 percent.

And Canadians play a critical role when they recycle their paper-based packaging, which allows recycled fibres to make their way back to the mill to be remade into new paper packaging products, avoiding GHG emissions that would have resulted if the material ended up in landfill.

Sustainable forest management practices can also help sequester carbon (the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide) as forests act as either carbon sources or carbon sinks: a forest is considered to be a carbon source if it releases more carbon than it absorbs, which can result from old age, fire, or insects; or it’s considered to be a carbon sink if it absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases through photosynthesis. According to Natural Resources Canada, our country’s managed forests have primarily been a carbon sink, but recently there has been a shift and they have become carbon sources, releasing more carbon than storing it, due in large part to wildfires and insect outbreaks, a likely result of a changing climate.

To date, PPEC has not collected data from its members on their carbon emissions, but we are currently conducting preliminary research related to the Canadian paper-based packaging industry, based on available data, and will be sharing that information in future PPEC communications.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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Ontario Blue Box program falls below 60% recycling target

Stewardship Ontario’s new 2020 Annual Report provides the most recent data on the performance of the Ontario Blue Box program.

Over 729,000 tonnes of packaging and printed paper were recycled in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, resulting in a 57.3% recycling rate, down from 60.2% in 2018. The Ontario government’s mandated recycling target is 60 per cent, under the previous regulation.

Recycled Tonnes - Stewardship Ontario
Source: 2020 Annual Report, Stewardship Ontario

One of the main reasons noted for the decline in recycled tonnes is due to a reduction in newsprint.

The below Material Composition chart illustrates the decline in the printed paper category (which includes newspapers, magazines, and catalogues), showing it’s gone from 55% in 2004, down to 30% in 2019. Meanwhile, paper packaging has doubled from 20% in 2004, to 40% in 2019.

Material Composition - Stewardship Ontario
Source: 2020 Annual Report, Stewardship Ontario

And access to recycling programs remained high in 2019, with 94% of Ontario households having access to Blue Box programs. Not only do Ontario residents have access, but they actively recycle their paper-based packaging, allowing PPEC’s paper packaging mill members to continue to maintain high levels of recycled content in Canadian made paper packaging.

PPEC has been monitoring the activities related to the Ontario Blue Box program and its transition to the new producer responsibility framework. We have recently participated in webinars hosted by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (July) and the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (August).

PPEC’s key issues concerning the new regulation include the addition of packaging-like products to the Ontario Blue Box program, and the new paper-based recycling targets.

Under the Blue Box Regulation, there are several newly obligated packaging/products including packaging-like products, examples of which that have been provided by RPRA include paper bags and cardboard boxes.

PPEC is monitoring this closely as it pertains to PPEC’s members, who have not historically been obligated stewards of the Ontario Blue Box program. As our members are not directly supplying finished products into the consumer marketplace – and are typically engaging in business-to-business transactions with distributors – we expect this to remain the same, and we will continue to follow this as new information becomes available.

Of importance to PPEC and its members are the new government mandated paper diversion targets laid out in the final Blue Box Regulation: 80% for 2026-2029, and 85% for 2030 and beyond.

PPEC is concerned with the feasibility of achieving the government’s new targets.

As noted above, the overall composition of the paper category has been changing over the years, with newspaper generation continuing to decrease, while other categories, like corrugated boxes, already have high diversion rates, which we believe leaves little room for improvement.

Diversion Targets - Stewardship Ontario

It remains to be seen how the program will achieve the high diversion targets for paper. The hope is that a new producer responsibility model will achieve greater economies of scale, by gaining new efficiencies with collecting, processing, and marketing a more consistent and standardized set of Blue Box materials across the province. This should also result in lower contamination levels, as well as improved consumer behaviour at the household level in source separating wastes from organics and recyclables.

PPEC will be watching the diversion data in the coming years, and we will continue to monitor news related to the transition of the Blue Box program closely.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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Ontario Blue Box Update: GFL acquisition of CSSA and new PROs established

In June, the Ontario government released the final Blue Box regulation, which sets out the framework to transition to producer responsibility, and transfer the full operational and financial management of the Ontario Blue Box program to producers – the businesses that make and sell obligated materials into the Ontario marketplace – with implementation beginning in July 2023.

Chart of Transition to Full Producer Responsibility
Source: Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks

Since the release of the regulation, there has been lots of news that PPEC has been monitoring, summarized below.

GFL acquires CSSA and forms new Blue Box PRO

On July 6, GFL Environmental Inc., a North American waste management services company, announced it acquired the Canadian Stewardship Services Alliance (CSSA), and formed the Resource Recovery Alliance (RRA), in response to the Ontario government’s shift to full producer responsibility for the Ontario Blue Box program.

CSSA was established to provide management and administrative services to obligated producers, and Producer Responsibility Organizations (PROs), providing support for provincial recycling programs across Canada, including Ontario’s Blue Box program, currently operated by Stewardship Ontario.

GFL’s RRA will become a new PRO for the Ontario Blue Box program. In an article in Recycling Product News, GFL’s Patrick Dovigi talks producer responsibility and the Ontario Blue Box transition, he said that “The end goal of RRA in Ontario is, number one, to work collaboratively with all producers. Number two, it is to meet or exceed the recycling diversion targets set by the province in the most efficient and cost-effective way. With our experience, from collection to processing, we think we can be a value-added partner, not only to our PRO, but for other PROs and whoever else is involved.”

In the Globe and Mail’s article “GFL eyes bigger role in Ontario recycling regime, but plan raises alarms for large producers of recyclable waste,” GFL also said “the new initiative will help it expand in the United States, where jurisdictions are also considering switching to EPR.” Most recently, Maine signed legislation establishing EPR (extended producer responsibility) for packaging, the first bill of its kind to become law in the U.S.

The acquisition of CSSA is subject to closing conditions and is expected to close in the third quarter of 2021.

Response to GFL announcement: concerns over competition and data

There are some concerns that GFL “could end up with an unfair advantage under the new rules,” given their size.

Under the new regulation, a PRO or group of PROs that has two-thirds of the producers of recyclables signed up, as measured by weight, can set the rules for the next iteration of the Ontario Blue Box program. Some are concerned that if GFL reaches that threshold, the recycling system would be managed by one large waste management company.

GFL is the fourth largest diversified environmental services company in North America with more than 11,500 employees. GFL’s recent earnings results show a 32% increase in second quarter revenue, with an estimated revenue of over $5 billion expected for 2021.

GFL’s CEO said it’s not GFL’s intention for their new PRO will dominate the system, and he expects that multiple PROs will work together. It’s also expected that RRA will form a board “that would oversee the competitive awarding of contracts,” and that “contracts for future curbside collection or processing of the province’s recyclables would still be subject to competition.” GFL performs a similar role for BC’s EPR program.

Stewardship Ontario responded to the GFL/CSSA announcement saying it is examining the acquisition announcement. Regarding concerns over protection of data, Stewardship Ontario’s response states that “CSSA has provided Stewardship Ontario with written assurance that, following the transaction, all Stewardship Ontario data will be held in confidence within RRA; will be used solely for the purposes of providing services under the current CSSA-Stewardship Ontario Services Agreement; and will not be accessible to GFL.” Stewardship Ontario will also consider if additional measures are needed to protect confidential data.

Industry forms a new Blue Box PRO: Circular Materials

On July 28, a group of 15 food, beverage and consumer products manufacturers, retailers and restaurants launched Circular Materials, a new, national, not-for-profit PRO to offer compliance services to companies obligated under EPR regulations in Canada.

The companies that founded Circular Materials include Costco Wholesale Canada Ltd., Empire Company, Kraft-Heinz Canada, Keurig Dr Pepper Canada, Lassonde Industries Inc., Loblaw Companies Limited, Maple Leaf Foods, McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada Limited, Metro Inc., The Minute Maid Company Canada Inc., Nestlé Canada, PepsiCo Canada, Procter & Gamble Inc., Restaurant Brands International, and The Clorox Company of Canada Inc.

And while Circular Materials is a national organization, in Ontario it will operate as Circular Materials Ontario. They plan to represent producers’ collective interests, with the goal of ensuring that the blue box collection system operates with fair cost allocation, an open and competitive procurement process, and producer-led governance.

In addition to Circular Materials and RRA, waste company Emterra Group also has its own PRO called Ryse Solutions Inc. Registered Blue Box PROs will be listed on RPRA’s website.

It will take some time to understand the implications of the GFL/CSSA deal, including transferring assets producers have invested in over the years, to a for-profit company; or how a waste management company PRO will compete with a producer-led PRO, and the difference in their approach and business model, but PPEC will be monitoring this closely.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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Ontario’s Blue Box Regulations Reflect PPEC Recommendations, Targets Still a Concern

On June 3, 2021, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks released the final Blue Box Regulation. The new regulation sets out a framework to transfer the costs of the blue box program away from local communities and requires the producers to operate and pay for blue box services.

PPEC has been actively engaged in the government’s consultation process, providing input into the development of the regulation at every stage, as well as providing our formal comments in response to the draft regulation on December 3, 2020; which outlined our industry’s concerns regarding the government’s proposed targets and approach to recycled content.

Several changes were made to the final regulation as a result of the consultations, which are summarized in the Environmental Registry posting.

Of importance to PPEC and its members, the Ontario government reduced the paper diversion targets, and removed the recycled content proposal, in the final Blue Box Regulation.

Paper Targets Reduced

For the paper material category, the target for both 2026-2029, 2030 and beyond, was proposed to be 90% in the draft regulation.

In the final regulation, the proposed target for paper was reduced to 80% for 2026-2029, and 85% for 2030 and beyond.

While PPEC is pleased the government heard our concerns and reduced the target, we remain concerned that the targets of 80% and 85%, respectively, may not be achieved, as explained below and in PPEC’s blog post, Ontario Blue Box will struggle to make 60% diversion, and none of the ministry’s proposed new targets will be reached.

PPEC commissioned a study, conducted by Dan Lantz at Crow’s Nest Environmental, to examine Blue Box diversion data to help determine if the government’s proposed diversion targets could be achieved. The study found that the proposed targets could not be met:

“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.”

Blue Box diversion targets lower but still out of reach

While paper material is the single largest component of the Blue Box – with 67% of it currently being recovered for recycling – the composition of the overall paper category has been changing, which impacts the diversion rate.

Newspapers continue to see an overall decline as consumers choose to read the news online instead of in print – this decline in newspaper generation means less newspapers being diverted, since less are being collected in Blue Boxes, taking away from the overall paper diversion rate. While other categories – corrugated box diversion is 98% in Ontario – already have high diversion rates, leaving little room for any increase.

So as some materials within the paper category decrease, while others are already at high diversion rates, it begs the question of how will the overall paper diversion rate increase to meet the government’s new targets?

The hope is that a move to a more standardized system across the province will see better consumer participation at the household level – and at the end of the day, it is the consumer who makes the final decision of how they dispose of their waste and recyclables – so the more aware and educated they are, the more likely consumers are to properly source separate their waste and recyclables. This should help increase diversion, and hopefully reduce contamination levels – the higher the contamination, the harder it is to achieve better recovery rates.

But it all remains to be seen and PPEC will be watching the diversion data closely in the coming years.

Recycled Content Proposal Removed

The original proposal for recycled content in the draft regulation stated that:

    • The proposed regulation recognizes the use of recycled content sourced from blue box materials managed in Ontario that is incorporated into new products and packaging. A producer that uses recycled content sources from blue box materials would be allowed to reduce their supply for that material category for the next calendar year in proportion to the initiatives undertaken.
    • The proposed regulation would limit the overall reduction to no more than 50% for a material category. The proposed regulation establishes a formula for calculating a producer’s management requirement. The proposed regulation would ensure that the use of recycled content does not reduce overall diversion by redistributing the sum of recycled materials used in a given material category amongst all producers in that category.

In the final regulation, the government eliminated the recycled content proposal “to ensure that new provision can align with the federal intent to develop national recycled content standards.”

PPEC believes that recycled content is a key component of a circular economy, as it keeps raw materials flowing longer, reducing the need to extract virgin materials.

In our submission we explained our concerns with a mandated approach to recycled content: it only applies to the government’s jurisdiction i.e. Ontario, which could have international trade implications for material being shipped into Ontario; and it disregards that most design decisions on recycled content are often made at a global scale, not a local Ontario one.

We also felt that Ontario’s proposal would be administratively challenging in an already highly complex Blue Box program. In PPEC’s blog How about a different approach to recycled content and the circular economy?, we outline the advantages of looking at alternatives like a tax rebate or credit, as a way to support a Ontario recycling businesses and a more circular approach.

For now, we are pleased that the recycled content proposal has been removed, and we are proud that most of PPEC’s paper mill members already produce 100% recycled content boxes and cartons.

Special thanks to John Mullinder, PPEC’s long-standing Executive Director, for all his work in effectively representing PPEC members’ interests in working with the government on the development of the Ontario Blue Box regulation.

For more information, please see the Ontario government’s news release, Ontario Enhancing Blue Box Program, and the final Blue Box Regulation.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director
Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council
(PPEC)

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Providing Clarity on The Ottawa Citizen’s Cardboard Recycling Article

Last week, The Ottawa Citizen’s Kelly Egan wrote an article about cardboard recycling in Canada. In Thinking inside the box — pandemic creates crush of new cardboard, Egan provides some stats about paper packaging recycling and the consumption of trees — some of which are correct, and some of which are confusing.

Egan reached out to the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) for some information on paper recycling, and while he used some of the data we provided, PPEC was not mentioned in the article.

With regards to recycling, Egan wrote:

“Paper and cardboard are considered the success stories in the recycling world. Two main reasons: as much as 98 per cent (depends who’s counting) of corrugated cardboard is recycled and any “new” cardboard uses very high content of recycled fibre.”

Yes, paper and cardboard are indeed success stories, and PPEC and the Canadian paper packaging industry is proud of that. As for who’s counting, it is Stewardship Ontario (who operates the Blue Box program under the authority of the The Waste-Free Ontario Act, 2016) who is doing the counting. Ontario’s 98% recovery rate for corrugated cardboard, the most recent available data, is from the 2020 Blue Box Pay-In Model.

As for recycled content, most of the paper packaging material made by Canadian mills today is 100% recycled content, according to PPEC’s most recent Recycled Content Survey. Old corrugated boxes and cartons are collected through residential Blue Box recycling programs across the country, as well as from the factories and supermarkets, and used to create recycled content product.

Cardboard Recycling chart of the circular economy

Egan goes on to write about tree consumption:

While this is considered a shining example of the so-called circular economy, paper and cardboard production does gobble up a lot of trees, as per this snippet from a recent Washington Post story: “Global consumption of trees reaches roughly 15 billion each year, including three billion for paper packaging, according to the Environmental Paper Network. The industry relies on recycling virgin fibre — the basis of cardboard boxes — five to seven times, saving trees and improving the bottom line.”

The Washington Post story Egan is quoting from is How Big Cardboard is handling the 2020 box boom (December 30, 2020). But using a global figure about tree consumption, in an article about paper packaging in Ottawa, could lead to some unnecessary confusion.

When it comes to Canada’s trees, less than half of one per cent of our forests are harvested for pulp, paper and lumber uses each year. In 2018, the harvested area represented 0.2% of the total area of forest land, according to Natural Resources Canada. And by law, all forests harvested on crown land (over 90% of Canada’s forest land is publicly-owned) must be successfully regenerated.

Not that we use of lot of trees to make paper packaging to begin with. On average, the recycled content of paper packaging shipped domestically is 71 per cent; and the balance of Canadian paper packaging comes from wood residues – wood chips, shavings and sawdust left over from lumber operations – with only 11% coming directly from trees (roundwood pulp), according to PPEC’s The Truth About Trees members only Fact Sheet.

According to the Washington Post article Egan quoted from, virgin fibre is recycled five and seven times; but according to our information, paper fibres can be recycled between four and nine times in Canada.

And while Egan refers to the “so-called circular economy,” PPEC truly believes that we do have a circular economy for paper packaging. Our Paper Packaging Flow Chart shows the cycle of how our material is collected, sorted, and sent to recycling mills to make new packaging; illustrating the circularity in the manufacture and use of paper, a renewable, sustainable and recyclable resource.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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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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