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Archive for Corrugated Boxes

Survey Says: Recycled Content a Key Component to Paper Packaging’s Circular Economy

Most boxes and cartons manufactured in Canada are made of recycled content – from old boxes and other used paper material collected from the back of factories, supermarkets, office buildings, and residential Blue Box recycling programs.

And there has been a significant increase in average recycled content for paper-based packaging over the years, up from 47% back in 1990, to over 80% today, according to the latest results from PPEC’s recently released Recycled Content Survey.

PPEC’s 2020 survey of Canadian mills that makes packaging grades found that the average recycled content of domestic Canadian shipments of the three major paper packaging grades – containerboard (used to make corrugated boxes), boxboard (used to make boxboard cartons), and kraft paper (used to make paper bags) – is collectively 81.7%, up from 73.5% in 2018.

Chart of recycled content

The survey results reinforce that recycled content is a key component of the Canadian paper packaging industry’s circular economy.

Mills produce the raw material used to make paper-based packaging – and the majority use 100% recycled content – which is sent to a converter, where it is made into packaging products. Once used by the customer, it is recycled – keeping raw materials flowing for longer – making its way back to the mill to be remade into new paper packaging products.

The majority of Canadians – 94% to be specific – have access to recycling programs; and not only do they have access, they actively and regularly recycle their paper-based packaging, with the national recycling rate for corrugated boxes estimated to be 85%.

This important act of recycling allows mills to continue to maintain their high levels of using recycled content in Canadian made paper packaging.

PPEC New Infographic 2021 - circular economy and recycled content

2020 PPEC Recycled Content Survey Key Findings:

Key findings from Recycled Content Survey
  • Total Canadian mill shipments: 3.37 million tonnes
  • Total recycled content shipments to domestic and export markets: 2.35 million tonnes
  • Average recycled content of domestic shipments for all three major packaging grades: 81.7%
  • Average recycled content for domestic shipments of boxboard, which is used to make cereal or shoe boxes: 79.8%.
  • Average recycled content for domestic shipments of containerboard, which is used to make corrugated shipping boxes: 86.5%

For more information on PPEC’s 2020 Recycled Content Survey please see our Press Release and Backgrounder.

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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Statistics Canada’s New Waste Management Survey Results: Paper Represents 36% of Diversion

Statistics Canada released the results of its biennial Waste Management Industry Survey: Business and Government Sector, containing waste diversion data for 2018.

The new data shows that Canadian households and businesses diverted 9,817,607 tonnes of waste in 2018, up 5.8% from 2016.

Of the total amount diverted, 3,519,689 tonnes were paper fibres (which includes newsprint, cardboard and boxboard, and mixed paper), representing 36% of the total amount diverted in 2018.

While paper diversion represents the majority of materials diverted from landfill in Canada, compared to previous years Statistics Canada data, paper diversion has been trending slightly down year over year since 2014.

The next leading category of materials diverted in Canada for 2018 was organics with 29% of the total share of diversion.

Digging deeper into paper diversion, of the 3.5M total tonnes diverted in Canada in 2018, about 44% was diverted through residential sources (ie. Blue Box recycling programs), while the remaining 56% was diverted through non-residential sources (ie. Industrial Commercial and Institutional collection).

Statistics Canada reported that Saskatchewan had the highest rate of residential paper fibre recycling among the provinces, at almost 70%, or 38,000 tonnes of its total 57,000 tonnes of paper recycling.

Below is a full breakdown of sources of paper diversion by province, for both residential and non-residential (IC&I) diversion. Of note, British Columbia had the highest IC&I paper fibre diversion rate at 78% (433,609 tonnes of its total 553,596 tonnes of diverted paper materials); while Ontario had the largest share of paper diversion by tonnage through both IC&I (736,790 tonnes) and residential (581,930 tonnes) sources.

Background on the Statistics Canada Data

Statistics Canada’s Waste Management Industry Survey of the business and government sectors is conducted every two years.

The 2018 results were released on March 8, 2021.

Some of the data contained in this blog are from Waste materials diverted, by type and by source (Table: 38-10-0138-01) which includes the following footnote:

This information covers only those companies and local waste management organizations that reported non-hazardous recyclable material preparation activities and refers only to that material entering the waste stream and does not cover any waste that may be managed on-site by a company or household. Additionally, these data do not include those materials transported by the generator directly to secondary processors, such as pulp and paper mills, while bypassing entirely any firm or local government involved in waste management activities.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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Everything you wanted to know about paper packaging

PPEC’s popular fact sheets have been revamped and updated, all 34 of them. Broken into five sections of interest, the factsheets cover a broad range of topics: from why packaging exists to where it comes from (trees); from what it’s made from to how it’s made; and to the industry’s history of reduction, re-use, and recycling.

Here’s the complete list. Click here to find out more.

Packaging 101

  • Why do we need packaging?
  • Packaging Facts & Figures
  • Corrugated Boxes
  • Paper Bags
  • Paper Boxes
  • What do you mean “cardboard” doesn’t exist?

Where does paper packaging come from?

  • Paper packaging comes from a renewable resource        
  • The Truth About Trees  
  • Re-growing the forest   
  • Canada leads the world in forest certification     
  • Forest certification standards in Canada   
  • The biggest consumer of the forest is not the forest industry (surprise!) 
  • The facts on deforestation          
  • Responsible sourcing of raw materials   
Corrugated Bale for Recycling

What’s paper packaging made from?

  • Virgin, recycled, and blended (or mixed) pulp
  • Most boxes and cartons made in Canada are 100% recycled content
  • What you can say about recycled content in Canada
  • Only 11% of Canadian boxes, bags and cartons are made from freshly-cut trees
  • Made from renewable energy (biomass, hydro)

How is paper packaging made?

  • Paper Packaging Flow Chart
  • What happens at a packaging mill
  • What happens at a converter (box) plant
The 3rs

The 3Rs (Reduction, Re-use, Recycling)

  • Reduction: Making do with less
  • Re-Use: Corrugated Re-trippers
  • Re-Use: Not necessarily “environmentally friendlier” than recycling
  • Re-Use: Sanitisation issues
  • Recycling: Most paper packaging is recyclable and/or compostable
  • Recycling: What “recyclable” means
  • Recycling: Virtually 100% of Canadians can recycle boxes and cartons
  • Recycling: Pioneering the recycling of old boxboard cartons
  • Recycling: Wax alternatives are recyclable
  • Recycling: PPEC wants old boxes banned from landfill
  • Recycling: Where does used packaging go?
  • Composting: The composting alternative

John Mullinder

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

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Salmonella survives plastic crate washing test, transfers to fresh cucumber

A scientific study just published in the international peer-review journal, Food Control, poses some serious questions about the sanitation of the re-usable plastic crates (RPCs) sometimes used to distribute fresh produce to retailers.

The study shows how Salmonella can become established on RPCs and survive the typical sanitation cycles that are applied to decontaminate the crates between uses. The surviving Salmonella then transferred to and from fresh produce on the RPC, underscoring the potential for crates to spread the pathogen throughout the supply chain.

SalmonellaSalmonella infection can cause vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration in humans, and can lead to reactive arthritis or even death in susceptible hosts such as the young, old, pregnant or immune-compromised.

Food safety commentators have long suspected that there was a link between ineffective washing and cleaning of crates before their next use, and the transfer of virulent pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria to fresh produce sold at retail. The risk of transferring devastating plant pathogens such as tomato brown rugose fruit virus between farms is also a recognised risk factor for RPCs.

Back in 2013, University of Guelph food scientist, Dr. Keith Warriner, the corresponding author of this latest study, found damaged and visibly dirty crates being re-used in Ontario and Quebec. It was even suggested that some crates were being given a quick hose down and then simply transferred from farm to retailer and then on to another farm, rather than being shipped to the closest wash facility, which is what is meant to happen in a re-use system. A more robust study the following year found worse results, including E. coli on 13% of the crates tested.

Typical industry cleaning procedures didn’t completely sanitize the crates either. Research led by Dr. Steven Ricke at the University of Arkansas showed that Salmonella cells remained on crates after cleaning. Ricke suggested that bacterial biofilms were hiding in the cracks and crevices of the crate’s surface, making it harder for industrial sanitizers to reach them.

Dr’s Siyun Wang (University of British Columbia) and Warriner (University of Guelph) and their associates have now taken this research a step further, sampling more than 160 crates at grower/packer operations in three Canadian provinces (Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia). Laboratory-based trials were undertaken to simulate the conditions under which Salmonella could persist and even grow on residues left by damaged produce.

The researchers then simulated a typical industrial sanitation cycle (water rinse followed by a caustic wash and then peracetic acid sanitizer shower) to see if the Salmonella survived that treatment. It did, the authors concluding that “if present at sufficient levels, Salmonella can (both) survive sanitation and (then) contaminate subsequent produce batches when crates are redistributed’’ to a new grower.

“These findings, taken in combination with the relatively poor sanitary status of re-usable crates sampled within packer/grower facilities, highlight the potential food safety risks represented by re-using crates.”

A summary of the peer-reviewed study can be found at Food Control – V110. You can get the entire report here.

Please Note: PPEC, which represents the Canadian corrugated box industry on environmental issues, co-funded this University of Guelph project in the interests of getting all the facts on the table. The traditional corrugated box system for the produce industry provides a fresh box for each delivery. The boxes are recycled several times over the course of their lives and meet rigid process control standards in their remanufacture. In a typical mill recycling process, the temperature of the paper sheet reaches 220-240 degrees Fahrenheit, well above 100 degrees Celsius, the boiling point of water and the temperature required for sterilisation. The converting process also involves high temperatures and other hygiene controls. Having a fresh box every time minimizes the potential for undesirable pathogens and bacteria being carried forward to the consumer. A recent independent study of corrugated produce boxes showed that the corrugation process destroys bacteria.

A 2019 peer-reviewed comparative life cycle analysis conducted by Quantis showed that neither corrugated containers nor reusable plastic containers had an advantage in the environmental impact categories studied. Much depended on the commodity being shipped, transport distances, and other variables.

John Mullinder

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

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Ontario Blue Box recovery rate barely above 60% provincial target

Blue Box Recovery Rates 2018The recovery rate of Ontario’s residential Blue Box system has slipped again, to its lowest level since 2005. According to Stewardship Ontario, the 2018 recovery rate was 60.2%, just barely above the mandated provincial target.

Almost three-quarters of what’s currently being recovered is paper of one kind or another, the same as it was back in 2003 when industry “stewards” (brand owners and retailers) became legally obligated to co-fund the Blue Box system.  Paper packaging now has the highest recovery rate overall (72%) followed by printed paper (71%), glass bottles (68%) and steel cans (62%).

Paper materials continue to achieve the highest individual material recovery rates: old corrugated boxes (98%); old magazines (89%); old newspapers (80%) and old telephone directories (75%). The 98% corrugated box rate is probably padded by e-commerce purchases slipping into the system.Blue Box Recover Rate

The Blue Box laggards continue to be aluminum and plastics packaging at 41% and 30% recovery respectively. Plastics packaging now represents 43% of what ends up going to disposal (on a weight basis). It’s also by far the most expensive material to recover (the net cost of recovering plastic laminates, for example, is listed at $2,766 a tonne, and plastic film at $2,733 a tonne. The Blue Box average net cost is $346 a tonne).

 Stay tuned for further analysis of the latest numbers.

John Mullinder

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

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Fighting media ignorance (battle # 5,041)

Yes, we know that packaging is evil and that it should be legislated out of existence. But sometimes those ignorant throw-away lines about packaging waste really do rankle and must be corrected. Case in point: a recent article by Eric Reguly in the Globe and Mail newspaper.

In his beef with Amazon Prime’s home-delivery service, Reguly ignorantly sideswipes the humble corrugated box that delivers the goods (Beyond Zuckerberg, it’s time to hold Bezos to account, too).

The used boxes that Reguly complains about are certainly not “thrown away.”  In fact, they form the backbone of one of the world’s great commodity trades; are an export earner for Canada; and Delivery Boxes are not packaging wasteprovide the feedstock for most of the new boxes made in this country. Yes, most corrugated boxes made in Canada are 100% recycled content, primarily formed by recycling those very same used boxes again and again.

We are currently recovering about 85% of the corrugated boxes used in Canada. And in Ontario’s Blue Box system, have achieved an amazing 98% recovery rate, according to Stewardship Ontario. That is pretty impressive.

And this recovery is not “mostly at taxpayer’s expense”, as Reguly falsely claims. In British Columbia and Quebec, it is industry that pays 100% of the net cost for residential (Blue Box) recovery. Ontario, which is currently at 50% industry-pay, is headed to 100% too. In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, industry pays 75% and 80% respectively.

Glib and ignorant throw away lines perhaps, but not throw away boxes.

John Mullinder

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

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Final Reminder – The future of retail and e-commerce

Just a quick reminder that we are days away from our breakfast seminar on the future of retail and e-commerce. If you are interested, you need to register here fast.

Diane J. Brisbois - The Future of RetailThe speaker will be Diane Brisebois, President and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada. The council represents more than 44,000 retail establishments across Canada and its membership accounts for more than 70% of all retail sales excluding auto and gas sales.

Here’s some background on what she will be talking about.

The Canadian retail industry is undergoing massive change, shedding bricks and mortar for the new exciting world of e-commerce. In the driver’s seat are consumers. Click and point with the mouse. It’s so easy. In today’s world, convenience is king.

But what’s the impact on the retail trade? What happens to those huge store fronts, the money tied up in real estate, those massive parking lots, those attractive consumer-friendly displays of merchandise that aren’t needed any more? What about data and transaction technology, and logistics?

And then there’s the supply side. The potential is staggering. Amazon’s retail segment in the US and corrugated box-related consumption, for example, is currently growing at an amazing 30% year-over-year. Mostly in electronics and appliances, entertainment and leisure products.

So far, the market for at-home grocery items has hardly been touched. “Somebody will find a way to crack the grocery nut,’’ said Matt Elhardt of Fisher International recently. “I might buy a new TV once every couple of years, but I buy groceries every week. In terms of where the real opportunities are, I would make the argument that we’re at the tip of the iceberg.’’

Canadian retailers sure want some of that iceberg. Several have already launched e-commerce ventures or are positioning themselves to take advantage of the new opportunities.

There are implications for packagers further down the line as well. Operators of material recycling facilities or MRFs have already noted the change in colour of their surroundings: from the once dominant grey of old newspapers to the now dominant brown of corrugated boxes.

If you want to learn more on the future of retail and e-commerce in Canada, we’ve lined up the perfect occasion. Come hear Diane Brisebois, President of the Retail Council of Canada, talk about the major challenges and opportunities facing Canadian retailers as e-commerce takes hold. For more details and to register for this PPEC event on April 11, click here.

John Mullinder

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

More Posts - Website

The future of retail and e-commerce

The Canadian retail industry is undergoing massive change, shedding bricks and mortar for the new exciting world of e-commerce. In the driver’s seat are consumers. Click and point with the mouse. It’s so easy. In today’s world, convenience is king.

But what’s the impact on the retail trade? What happens to those huge store fronts, the money tied up in real estate, those massive parking lots, those attractive consumer-friendly displays of merchandise that aren’t needed any more? What about data and transaction technology, and logistics?

And then there’s the supply side. The potential is staggering. Amazon’s retail segment in the US and corrugated box-related consumption, for example, is currently growing at an amazing 30% year-over-year. Mostly in electronics and appliances, entertainment and leisure products.

So far, the market for at-home grocery items has hardly been touched. “Somebody will find a way to crack the grocery nut,’’ said Matt Elhardt of Fisher International recently. “I might buy a new TV once every couple of years, but I buy groceries every week. In terms of where the real opportunities are, I would make the argument that we’re at the tip of the iceberg.’’

Canadian retailers sure want some of that iceberg. Several have already launched e-commerce ventures or are positioning themselves to take advantage of the new opportunities.

There are implications for packagers further down the line as well. Operators of material recycling facilities or MRFs have already noted the change in colour of their surroundings: from the once dominant grey of old newspapers to the now dominant brown of corrugated boxes.

If you want to learn more on the future of retail and e-commerce in Canada, we’ve lined up the perfect occasion. Come hear Diane Brisebois, President of the Retail Council of Canada, talk about the major challenges and opportunities facing Canadian retailers as e-commerce takes hold. For more details and to register for this PPEC event on April 11, click here.

 

Registration Confirmation

John Mullinder

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

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China doesn’t want the world’s garbage any more

And who can blame them? For years, the world has been shipping all sorts of waste to China for it to be sorted, made into new products, and shipped back to us. Low labour rates and lax environmental enforcement have benefitted all parties to this commercial deal (even perhaps the Chinese workers, a job being better than no job).

One of the first warning signs of impending change occurred in 2013 when China launched “Operation Green Fence” to limit imports of scrap materials. Unscrupulous people were sending more garbage than resources. This was followed by the more recent “National Sword” crackdown on smuggling operations. Then last week, China shocked the global recycling industry with the announcement of a scrap import ban effective the end of this year.

“To protect China’s environmental interests and the people’s health, we urgently adjust the imported solid wastes list, and forbid the import of solid wastes that are highly polluted” read China’s filing of intent with the World Trade Organisation. Details were scarce beyond general statements about multiple plastics, mixed paper, textiles, and other materials. But the impact of the announcement itself has been significant.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) called the new move potentially “devastating” and “catastrophic” for the US recycling industry. The Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) labelled the new policy as “serious” and wants more time before it comes into effect.

For Canadians involved in the international recovered paper trade, the challenge is that no one yet fully understands exactly what will be banned. The wording that is being used is “unsorted paper” and “mixed plastics.” If this is taken literally then most of the Canadian paper fibre currently being exported to China will not be impacted. The Green by Nature consortium that handles British Columbia’s Blue Box materials, for example, sorts all residential paper and does not ship single stream (or mixed) unsorted material to the republic.

“If this is not acceptable,” says consortium partner Al Metauro, CEO of Cascades Recovery, “then we will have a challenge. The challenge will not be on the curbside fibre but rather on the demand for old corrugated containers (OCC). The Chinese mills rely on imports and with no curbside fibre they will need an alternative. On the other hand, the Chinese government could also ban imports of OCC considering some of the poor quality being shipped.”

Metauro says a ban on “mixed plastics” will impact material recovery facility (MRF) operators that are not sorting their plastic, glass and metal recyclables (the container stream). This will be a bigger challenge in the US, he says, where many program operators are currently shipping commingled single stream material direct to China. In British Columbia, by contrast, all residential plastics are sorted and consumed locally.

John Mullinder

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

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