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Archive for Paper Packaging

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. 

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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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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Sustainable Forest Management and Canada’s Paper Packaging Industry 

With today’s International Day of Forests, the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) would like to explain how sustainable forest management is critical to the circular economy of Canada’s paper packaging industry, and share the latest developments related to how forests can help mitigate climate change.

Environmental sustainability is at the core of PPEC member company operations and the Canadian paper packaging industry, including the sustainable management of Canada’s forests. And yet, misconceptions surrounding forestry and paper packaging persist when it comes to how paper packaging is made.

How Paper Packaging is Made

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), 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.

Canada's Major Paper Packaging Grades Made Primarily from Recycled Content

The mixture of using recycled content – old boxes and other paper materials collected from residential and business recycling programs – along with some new fibres from sustainably managed forests, is an important component to paper packaging’s circular economy.

First, by law, every hectare of commercial forest that is harvested in Canada must be successfully regenerated, so any trees that are harvested are replanted.

And second, through the important act of recycling, paper packaging is continually collected from Canadian residents and businesses, so it can be remade into new paper-based packaging products again and again.

Paper Packaging: One of Canada's Original Circular Economies

And while stats show 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 over time fibres weaken, which means a small amount of new virgin fibre needs to be introduced now and again, which leads to a second common misconception regarding deforestation.

The Causes of Deforestation and the Role of Regeneration in Sustainable Forest Management

According to Natural Resources Canada’s State of Canada’s Forests 2020 Annual Report, Canada’s 347 million hectares of forest area is stable, with less than half of 1% deforested since 1990.

But there is often a lot of confusion about deforestation, which is when forest land is permanently cleared and converted to make way for new, non-forest land use.

Canada’s annual deforestation rate has been declining since 1990, when it was 64,000 hectares, down to about 34,300 hectares in 2018. During that time, less than half of one per cent of Canada’s total forest area was converted to other land uses.

The major causes of deforestation are due to agriculture, mining, oil and gas projects, new homes, and the development of ski hills and golf courses, which together represent over 90% of deforestation in Canada.

The Major Causes of Deforestation in Canada (2018)

The forestry sector’s (which includes pulp and paper manufacturing and the wood product manufacturing subsectors) share of deforestation represents 1,494 hectares, or approximately 0.0004% of total deforestation in Canada.

And given that the Canadian paper packaging industry doesn’t use much in the way of freshly cut trees, the little that is harvested (0.2% in 2018) must be successfully regenerated (427 million seedlings were planted across Canada in 2018), making packaging’s share of deforestation zero.

Deforestation Facts

The Role of Forests in Mitigating Climate Change

Sustainable management of y managed forests have an important role to play 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.

The Canadian government knows this and has committed to plant two billion additional trees by 2030, which would represent a 40% annual increase in the number of trees already being planted, and would lower emissions by up to 12 megatonnes annually by 2050 by removing carbon from the atmosphere.

Considering the carbon storage by forests is just one of the many recommendations from a new report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Forest Products in the Global Bioeconomy: Enabling substitution by wood-based products and contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals; which speaks to the role renewable forest products have in helping to combat climate change, and explores how wood-based products could help replace fossil-based and GHG-intensive products:

“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. However, over three-quarters of studies in the literature focus on the construction sector and significantly less information exists for other traditional forest products such as paper for printing, writing, and packaging, or emerging forest products.”

As Two Sides North America’s Kathi Rowzie explained in Can Paper Help Save the Planet?:

“The document left open for later study the extent to which paper and paper-based packaging may serve as substitutes for non-wood products in the search for those that contribute to the net reduction of greenhouse gases, but there’s little doubt that any product sourced from materials that are grown and regrown are better for combating climate change than the non-paper alternatives.”

In addition to the FAO’s new report, the Forest Products Association of Canada recently released the documentary, Capturing Carbon, highlighting the role of sustainable forest management and wood products in helping to mitigate climate change; and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development released its Forest Sector Net-Zero Roadmap, about the forest sector’s role in enabling the transition to a net-zero economy. These are just a few of the developments related to forestry’s role in addressing climate change, which PPEC is monitoring.

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.

On International Day of Forests, it is important to remember that Canada’s forests are stable and sustainably managed.

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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Competition Bureau Archived Canadian Environmental Claims Guide: Now What?

On November 4, 2021, the Competition Bureau archived Environmental claims: A guide for industry and advertisers, stating that:

“The Guide may not reflect the Bureau’s current policies or practices and does not reflect the latest standards and evolving environmental concerns. The guide will remain available for reference, research and recordkeeping purposes, but it will not be altered or updated as of the date of archiving. Please consult Environmental claims and greenwashing for information about false, misleading and unsubstantiated environmental claims.”

The Competition Bureau is an independent law enforcement agency, responsible for the enforcement of the Competition Act, which forbids companies from making false or misleading claims about a product or service; and takes aim at environmental claims that are vague, non specific, incomplete, or irrelevant and that cannot be supported through verifiable test methods.

The practice of making false or misleading environmental claims is known as “greenwashing,” and it is illegal in Canada and many other jurisdictions.

And under the Competition Act, Canadians can apply to have the Bureau investigate a greenwashing claim. 

This blog talks about recent greenwashing investigations and activities, the importance of evidence-based claims, and PPEC’s commentary about how recent developments are signalling increased awareness and enforcement around environmental claims.

Competition Bureau image

Competition Bureau Investigates and Fines Canadian Beverage Company over Recycling Claims

The Competition Bureau investigated Keurig Canada, a producer and distributor of hot and cold beverages, over its environmental claims on the recyclability of their K-Cup pods.

According to the Bureau’s January 6, 2022 news release, “Keurig Canada to pay $3 million penalty to settle Competition Bureau’s concerns over coffee pod recycling claims,” it reached an agreement with Keurig Canada “to resolve concerns over false or misleading environmental claims made to consumers about the recyclability of its single-use Keurig® K-Cup® pods.”

The Bureau’s investigation concluded that the company’s recyclability claims for its single-use coffee pods were “false or misleading in areas where they are not accepted for recycling.” Outside of British Columbia and Quebec, K-Cup pods are currently not widely accepted in municipal recycling programs.

As part of the settlement, Keurig Canada agreed to pay a $3 million penalty; donate $800,000 to a Canadian charitable organisation focused on environmental causes; pay an additional $85,000 for the costs of the Bureau’s investigation; change its recyclable claims and the packaging of the K-Cup pods; and publish corrective notices about the recyclability of its product on its websites, on social media, in national and local news media, in the packaging of all new brewing machines and via email to its subscribers.

For additional information, please see the Competition Bureau’s news release and public case documents.

Reaction to Competition Bureau Investigation and Other Potential Inquiries

Ecojustice, a Canadian environmental law charity, called it a “major win for consumers and the environment,” in their January 14, 2022 blog post Keurig’s $3 million fine highlights thepervasive issue of greenwashing, writing:

“This victory comes following a 2019 submission by Ecojustice and the University of Victoria Environmental Law Clinic to the Competition Bureau which highlighted several instances of false and misleading marketing of K-cups as a ‘green’ and easily recyclable product for Canadian consumers.”

In addition to the Keurig inquiry, Ecojustice “has also prompted the Competition Bureau to open two other inquiries into greenwashing claims: about so-called ‘flushable’ wipes and the Sustainable Forest Management Standard.”

Ecojustice believes that the Canadian Standards Association’s Sustainable Forest Management Standard (CSA Z809) “is patently false and misleading,” and in July 2021, they called for an investigation into ‘sustainable’ logging in B.C., regarding their concerns that “it is not at all possible to sustainably log 800-year-old trees.”

Ecojustice hopes that “the Keurig case signals the Competition Bureau will take meaningful action to hold companies to account for greenwashing.”

Italy’s First Greenwashing Case

On January 13, 2022, law firm Clifford Chance reported on Italy’s first greenwashing case between corporates, where an Italian Court upheld a company’s request for an interim injunction against a competitor.

The case was brought forward by Alcantara S.r.l., a textile manufacturer – who recently hosted the 6th edition of the International Symposium on sustainability entitled “Greenwashing and Sustainability: a growing trend that needs to be addressed” in October 2021 – against Miko S.r.l., one of its competitors, who markets a microfibre product.

The claims made by Miko included statements such as: “environmentally friendly,” “100% recyclable,” and “natural choice,” to name a few. The Court ruled that the statements were “vague, generic, false, and non-verifiable and needed to be immediately removed.”

Forbes’ December 8, 2021 article, Alcantara Wins Major Court Battle Against Greenwashing, states that Judge Francesca Clocchiatti cited the “rapid expansion of the pathological phenomenon of greenwashing.”

Words Matter: The Importance of Evidence-Based Claims

So why is the Canadian association for paper-based packaging talking about an Italian court case?

Because it is a reminder of the importance of terminology, and that environmental claims must be clear, accurate, and based on fact and data.

PPEC has written about this issue before – see Clarifying some of the confusion over “recyclability” and Nothing is 100% recyclable or 100% compostable – but in terms of environmental labelling, what matters is whether the consumer can actually send the product or material for recycling or composting. It does not matter whether the product or material is technically capable of being taken apart and broken down so it can be properly recycled or composted. It does not matter what the actual recycling or recovery rate of that material might be.

What matters is how many Canadians have access to the recycling (or composting) of that product or material.

Competition Bureau - 50% in Canada, 60% in the U.S image2

In Canada and in the U.S., the definition of the word “recyclable” for environmental labelling purposes has been understood to mean that a reasonable proportion of the population – which is 50% in Canada, according to the Competition Bureau; and 60% in the U.S., according to the Federal Trade Commission – has access to the recycling of that package or packaging material.

In Canada, 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. Knowing that, PPEC has stated that Canadian box, bag and carton manufacturers can print the word “Recyclable” and use the Recyclable logos on their packaging. However, we do not currently have the same data available for access to composting in Canada. 

It’s also important to note that while most Canadians have access to recycling facilities, there are some who live in remote regions who do not have easy or convenient access to recycling. Therefore, it is important to remember that 100% access for Canadians will likely never be achieved, which make claims like “100% recyclable,” misleading and untrue.

In the U.S., 94% of Americans have access to community paper recycling programs, and 79% have access to residential-curbside recycling programs, according to the American Forest & Paper Association’s (AF&PA) recent 2021 Access to Recycling Study.

Recyclable and compostable claims, then, are based on whether and to what extent consumers have access to recycling or composting facilities. While we have data on access to recycling, we do not currently have the same data available for access to composting in Canada. 

PPEC’s Commentary  

These recent developments signal increased awareness and enforcement around environmental claims.

Any company which puts forward environmental claims on their products or packaging are reminded that they need to know the applicable laws to ensure they are making informed legal decisions and evidence-based claims.

PPEC members are no exception, and we have historically pointed our members in the direction of the Competition Bureau’s now archived Environmental Claims guide, in addition to providing them with information and data about access to recycling.

So, what does it mean now that the guide has been archived? And if the guide “may not reflect” current policies, practices, or standards, what does?

At first, we took the archiving of the Competition Bureau’s guide in the most literal sense of the word – “archive” as in put aside, put in storage, basically shelving it – which felt confusing and unexpected during a time when there has been a significant increase in “greenwashing” news.

But knowing that the opposite of archive means to remove or delete, we are now taking this move to mean that the guide is still here and “will remain available for reference, research, and recordkeeping purposes,” as the Competition Bureau put it.

While we recognize that the guide is not going anywhere, PPEC encourages the Competition Bureau to provide updated guidance as it becomes available.

Meanwhile, we remind PPEC members to ensure they are aware of, and comply with, existing obligations when making environmental claims, and to refer to the Competition Act, the Competition Bureau’s Environmental claims and greenwashing, and its January 2017 news release, Calling it “organic”, “green” and “eco-friendly” isn’t enough, that’s greenwashing, and it’s against the law, for additional information.

Multinational companies may also need to consider guidance available in other jurisdictions, including, but not limited to:

In general, PPEC advises against using vague claims, broad terms, “100%” claims. Environmental claims should be clear, accurate, evidence based, and comply with existing obligations.

Consumers are increasingly environmentally conscious, aware, and informed, and in many jurisdictions, including Canada, they are empowered to take action.

We believe the news reported on in this blog signals more than just a trend, but a concerted pushback against greenwashing, both here in Canada, and globally.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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Celebrating Waste Reduction Week and the Circular Economy of Paper-based Packaging

The Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) is pleased to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Waste Reduction Week in Canada, taking place this week.

Waste Reduction Week is an important program focused on the principles of circular economy, resource efficiency, and waste reduction; principles that PPEC and its members strongly support and apply to their daily operations in the production of recyclable paper-based packaging.

Paper is a renewable resource and a highly sustainable material that can be recycled and remade into new paper-based packaging products. 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.

Canada recycles almost 70% of its paper and cardboard, making it among the top paper recycling countries. And looking at corrugated boxes in particular – which have seen an increase in demand due to the pandemic and a rise in e-commerce – the national recycling rate for corrugated boxes is estimated by PPEC to be at least 85%, while Ontario has a 98% recovery rate for corrugated cardboard.

Keeping these materials in the recycling stream allows PPEC member mills to primarily use recycled fibres in their products. Recycled content is a key component of the Canadian paper-based packaging industry’s circular economy, keeping raw materials flowing for longer, reducing waste, and allowing them to be remade into new paper packaging products by PPEC member mills.

Circular Economy Chart for Waste Reduction Week

PPEC’s 2020 Recycled Content Survey of Canadian mills 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, and up from up from 47% back in 1990 when PPEC first began collecting this data.

And consumers play a critical role in the paper-based packaging industry’s circular economy through their important act of recycling. The majority of Canadians (94%) have access to recycling programs – and not only do they have access – they actively and regularly recycle their paper-based packaging, allowing those recycled fibres to make their way back to the mill to be remade into new paper packaging products again and again.

Waste Reduction Week - paper-based packaging materials are recyclable

And while most paper-based packaging made in Canada is made with recycled content, the paper fibres it was originally made from came from a tree. That’s why resource protection and sustainable forest management is critical to the operations of PPEC members and the Canadian paper-based packaging industry. All PPEC-member mills have independent, third-party certification that verifies that their paper fibre sources – recycled fibre, wood chips, and sawmill residues – are responsibly sourced. And while less than half of one per cent of Canadian commercial forests are harvested for paper-based packaging, every hectare that is harvested must be successfully regenerated; in 2018, at least 427 million seedlings were planted across Canada. When you add it up, the Canadian paper-based packaging industry hardly uses any freshly cut trees to make paper packaging, and the little that is harvested, 0.2% in 2018, is successfully regenerated.

When we use paper-based packaging, we all play a part in the circular economy of the paper-based packaging industry. Learn more the environmental sustainability of paper-based packaging by visiting PPEC’s website and follow us on social media on Twitter and LinkedIn. And to learn more about Waste Reduction Week visit https://wrwcanada.com/en.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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Sustainable Forest Management is Essential to the Canadian Paper-Based Packaging Industry

Sustainable forest management is a fundamental pillar for PPEC and its members and is essential to the Canadian paper-based packaging industry. And what better time to talk about that then during National Forest Week, which is taking place this week.

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. According to Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) most recent State of Canada’s Forests annual report, at least 427 million seedlings were planted across Canada in 2018 – that’s 48,744 seedlings planted every hour.

In addition, all PPEC-member mills have independent, third-party certification that verifies that 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 one of the three federally-recognised forest certification systems: the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI); the CSA and SFI systems are endorsed by the international umbrella organization called the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC).

These third-party forest management certification organizations assess forestry operations against standards for sustainable forest management, which includes ensuring the conservation of biodiversity (the wide array of ecosystems, ecological processes, and different species of plants and animals), and complements Canada’s rigorous forest management laws and regulations.

When you add it up, the Canadian paper-based packaging industry hardly uses any freshly cut trees to make paper packaging, and the little that is harvested, 0.2% in 2018 according to NRCan, is successfully regenerated.

So how are paper-based packaging products made in Canada? Primarily from recycled content! According to PPEC’s most recent Recycled Content Survey, the average recycled content of the three major paper packaging grades made by Canadian mills – containerboard (used to make corrugated boxes), boxboard (used to make boxboard cartons), and kraft paper (used to make paper bags) – is collectively 81.7%. The remaining 18% is made up of wood chips, shavings, or sawmill residue left over from lumber operations, and trees.

Recycled content is a critical component to the paper-based packaging industry’s circular economy. As Canadians actively recycle their paper-based packaging, that recycled content makes its way back to the mill, and is remade into new paper packaging products again and again.

And yet while we know that the paper-based packaging made by PPEC members is made primarily from recycled paper fibres, there is some confusion about our industry and deforestation (when forest land is permanently cleared to make way for a new, non-forest land use).

The most recent data available from NRCan reports that 34,257 hectares of Canada’s total forest area (346,964,664) was permanently converted to other land uses, representing a less than 0.01% deforestation rate.

Deforestation Facts

The forestry sector’s (which includes pulp and paper manufacturing and the wood product manufacturing subsectors) share of deforestation represents 1,494 hectares, or approximately 0.0004% of total deforestation in Canada.

And given that our industry doesn’t use much in the way of freshly cut trees, the little that is harvested – that 0.2% – must be successfully regenerated, making packaging’s share of deforestation zero.

The main causes of deforestation are by the Mining, oil and gas, Agriculture, and Built-up (industrial, institutional or commercial developments, municipal urban development, recreation, and transportation) sectors, who together represent 94% of Canada’s deforestation rate.

But we know it’s important to monitor deforestation, as forest loss affects biodiversity, soil, air and water quality, and wildlife habitat. And forests are a vital part of the carbon cycle, storing and releasing carbon during the process growth, decay, disturbance and renewal: “Over the past four decades, forests have moderated climate change by absorbing about one-quarter of the carbon emitted by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and the changing of land uses,” according to NRCan.

Sustainable forest management practices can help sequester carbon (the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide) with forests acting 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 NRCan, Canada’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.

This year’s National Forest Week’s theme is “Our forests – continually giving,” and the Canadian Institute of Forestry has a number of resources to learn more about the value of forests and the importance of protecting and conserving them.

PPEC is pleased to celebrate National Forest Week this week, but it’s important to recognize that every day our members are continually working with recycled fibres, continually replanting and regenerating the little that is harvested, and continually adhering to sustainable forest management practices in their operations.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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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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Articles on the Demand for Corrugated Cardboard Boxes Disregard the Importance of Environmental Sustainability

Over the last few months, there have been several articles about the increased demand for containerboard and corrugated cardboard boxes, due to the surge in online shopping during the pandemic.

There was the Wall Street Journal’s Cardboard Boxes Have Never Been in More Demand—or More Expensive (March 30), FOX Business’ Cardboard box prices skyrocket as COVID-19 pandemic causes spike in online orders (April 8), and Business Insider’s A surge in cardboard demand is causing a supply squeeze for box makers amid the online-shopping boom (May 20), to name a few.

These articles were primarily about the impacts of the increased demand on paperboard manufacturing businesses, including rising prices and shipment delays of raw materials.

And yet they barely mentioned the environmental attributes of containerboard and corrugated boxes, or the critical role that recycling plays in the sustainability of the paper packaging industry. Or even worse, provided misinformed comments about the industry.

It was not until the very end of the Business Insider article that recycling was even mentioned:

Terry Webber, executive director of packaging at the American Forest & Paper Association, said in a statement that “containerboard production in March increased 9% compared to March 2020,” when the pandemic hit the US. The AF&PA also mentioned that boxes are the most recycled packaging in the US, which can help keep the supply chain sustainable for both retailers and customers. 

And while the Wall Street Journal article was accompanied by a link to a 2019 video, Where Your Old E-Commerce Boxes End Up (about cardboard recycling), the focus of the article was about how the production of corrugated product increased 3.4% to 407 billion square feet in the U.S. in 2020, with the price of containerboard increasing by $50 to an average $765/ton, with only one mention related to recycling:

At a recent investor conference, Waste Management Inc. Chief Executive Jim Fish said more e-commerce could boost the waste hauler’s recycling business, which collects cardboard curbside and sells it to be pulped anew for more boxes.

Unfortunately, neither of these articles provided any additional context to explain the importance of why recycling helps keep the supply chain – and the industry – environmentally sustainable.

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 packaging.

Some key statistics:

  • 94% of Canadians have access to recycling[1]
  • Canada recycles almost 70% of its paper and cardboard, making it among the top paper recycling countries in the world[2]
  • The national recycling rate for corrugated boxes is estimated to be at least 85%[3]
  • Ontario has a 98% recovery rate for corrugated cardboard[4]
  • Most of the paper packaging material made by Canadian mills is 100% recycled content[5]
Articles on the Demand for Corrugated Cardboard Boxes Disregard the Importance of Environmental Sustainability

Not only are these materials recyclable, they are actually being recycled – an important distinction illustrating that Canadians understand their role and do their part by actively recycling. This allows those recycled materials to be remade into new paper packaging, as evidenced by the high amount of recycled content used by mills.

And it’s a similar story in the U.S. where 88.8% of cardboard and 65.7% of paper were recycled in 2020, according to The American Forest & Paper Association, who reported that those rates remained unchanged during the pandemic, calling that “a testament to the resilience of the paper and wood products industry.”

But it was FOX Business’ article that made no mention of the environment, except in a video clip that accompanied the story. In the 3-minute clip, FOX reporter Jeff Flock interviewed Andy Reigh of Welch Packaging, a corrugated box manufacturer located in Elkart, Indiana. Two minutes into the video, Flock makes a comment about “trees,” and then when he throws it back to the FOX newsroom, host Stuart Varney said “I thought all this stuff was recycled,” and you can barely hear Flock say that most of it is recycled.

Not only does recycling not get the airtime it rightly deserves as part of this story, but FOX also makes comments about trees and paper products with no context or facts. If they had the facts, they would know that the sustainable management of forests is a key issue for the paper packaging industry.

Even though most paper packaging made in Canada is high in recycled content, the paper fibres it was originally made from came from a tree. But by law, every hectare of commercial forest that is harvested in Canada must be successfully regenerated. On average, over 1,000 new tree seedlings are planted in Canada every minute. And all PPEC-member mills producing corrugated box material have independent, third-party certification that their paper fibre sources (whether wood chips and sawmill residues or recycled fibres) are responsibly sourced. When you add it up, the Canadian industry hardly uses freshly cut trees to make paper packaging, and the little that is harvested (0.2% in 2018) is successfully regenerated.

While the media articles mentioned told the story about increased demand for corrugated cardboard boxes, they did not provide the full story of what happens to those boxes after they leave the manufacturing facility; they end up going to a customer, then a recycling bin, and eventually those recycled materials are remade into new paper packaging. And that continuous and sustainable loop deserves to be part of the story, with the facts to back it up, to help inform and educate the public.


[1] Access to Residential Recycling of Paper Packaging Materials in Canada, October 2014. Report prepared for PPEC by CM Consulting.

[2] Two Sides Fact Sheet Corrects Common Environmental Misconceptions About the Canadian Paper and Paper-based Packaging Industry, January 2021.

[3] Where Packaging Ends Up, PPEC.

[4] 2020 Blue Box Pay-In Model, Stewardship Ontario.

[5] Recycled Content Survey, PPEC.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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