Archive for Paper Recycling

Paper-based Packaging Leads the Way for Ontario’s Household Blue Box Program

Paper-based packaging continues to be a success story in Ontario’s household Blue Box program, as measured by marketed tonnage, based on new data released by the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (RPRA), the regulator mandated by the Government of Ontario to enforce the province’s circular economy laws.

RPRA’s new Datacall Report summarizes information generated by the 246 programs participating in the Ontario Blue Box Program in 2021, and highlights residential waste management statistics and trends.

Overall, the program saw a decline in the provincial diversion rate to 49.1%, a stat the program has mostly hovered at for the past 10 years as shown in Figure 1 (all charts in this blog are from RPRA’s Datacall Report).

Diversion is measured after the collected material has been processed at a material recycling facility (MRF). So that essentially means that nearly half of what is placed in the Blue Box does not get recycled, which could be for a number of different reasons, such as contamination (food soiled materials, such as used yogurt or peanut butter containers, for example), materials that are not readily recyclable (e.g., hangers, toys), or residents not properly separating their waste and incorrectly placing non-recyclables (i.e. organics, waste) in their Blue Boxes.

Of interest to the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) and its members is marketed Blue Box tonnage (Figure 3), which represents materials that have been sorted and processed by a MRF, and then baled, sold, and used in place of virgin materials.

These are materials that are actually recycled and paper-based packaging – which includes old corrugated cardboard, old boxboard, and a portion of residential mixed papers and mixed fibres packaging – leads the way in the most marketed materials with 289,689 tonnes marketed in 2021 (up from 271,433 tonnes in 2020), representing 39% of the total Blue Box marketed tonnage (736,379).

Paper-based packaging leads the way in the most marketed materials with 289,689 tonnes marketed in 2021.

The second largest material is printed paper – newsprint, household fine paper, telephone books, and catalogues – with 20% of marketed tonnes. However, this category continues to decline year over year as more homes go paperless (when was the last time you saw a telephone book?!).

Printed papers have experienced a nearly 66% decline in tonnage from 2016-2021, as shown in Table 4, while paper-based packaging has increased by 72.5% over the same period.

In analyzing the latest Ontario Blue Box data, it’s clear that paper is a success story. More than two-thirds of all paper that Ontario households generate is not just collected but actually recycled through Ontario’s Blue Box program. And much of the recovered paper fibres are supplied to PPEC member mills who use it to produce new paper packaging products, including boxes and cartons, made primarily of recycled content.

The Ontario Blue Box program begins its transition to a new producer responsibility regulatory framework starting this July, which will see producers take over 100% of the operational and financial management of the program by December 31, 2025.

There is no doubt that paper-based packaging will continue to be an important component of the Ontario Blue Box program – and PPEC expects to see a continued increase in paper packaging as brands shift from other types of packaging to sustainable, renewable, and recyclable paper-based packaging – but we will be watching the transition closely. The hope is that a shift to a producer responsibility will result in improved end markets, better sorting by residents, less contamination, and overall higher diversion and recycling rates in Ontario.

Glossary of Key Recycling Terms
(Definitions adapted from RPRA)
Collected Blue Box Tonnes: Blue Box materials that are collected curbside and/or at a depot.
Disposed Tonnes: Includes garbage and processing residuals from recycling and composting operations disposed at a landfill or incineration facilities.
Diverted Tonnes: Includes recycling activities, municipal organic collection and processing activities, provincial deposit systems for alcohol containers, residential on-property management and municipally operated reuse activities.
Generated Tonnes: Includes recycling, reuse and garbage material produced by Ontario residents; represents combination of disposed tonnes and diverted tonnes.
Landfilled residential material: Includes garbage Tonnes and processing residues; part of Disposed Tonnes calculation.
Marketed Blue Box Tonnes: Blue Box materials sorted and processed by a Material Recycling Facility (MRF) that is then sold and used in place of virgin materials.
Diversion Rate: Diverted Tonnes / Generated Tonnes x 100

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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Are we putting the cart before the horse when it comes to EPR in the IC&I sector?

The Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) monitors environmental issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry, especially recycling, since recycled paper-based materials are an important supply of our industry’s feedstock.
To that end, we track federal and provincial government activities on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which is a policy approach in which a producer is made financially and physically responsible for ensuring their packaging is properly managed at the end of its life.
In Canada, EPR policies have been mostly applied to managing waste and recyclables in the residential sector – that’s you and I at home – while paper and packaging from the Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional (IC&I) sector is managed separately.
But lately, some provincial governments have been considering EPR approaches for managing paper and packaging materials from the IC&I sector, similar to the approach used for managing materials from residential sources, leaving PPEC to wonder if we are putting the cart before the horse when it comes to EPR and the IC&I sector.
Current State of EPR
Historically, paper and packaging recycling for residential communities has been provided by municipalities as part of their waste management services. And over the last few decades, several provincial governments passed legislation that legally require businesses who make and sell packaging to submit data reports and fund municipal recycling costs. These are known as “cost-shared” program models, wherein municipalities run the programs and businesses pay a portion of the costs.
However, over the past few years, there has been a shift to move towards EPR-based models, where businesses would be responsible for 100% of program operations and funding. If municipalities want to continue their role as a service provider, they would need to agree to terms set by industry; otherwise, industry will negotiate with waste collectors, haulers, and processing facilities directly.
This EPR model currently only truly exists in British Columbia but is being rolled out in other provinces within the next few years.
The above map shows the status of provincial recycling programs for managing residential paper and packaging, but what about paper and packaging from the IC&I sector…
Paper and Packaging in the IC&I Sector
In the IC&I sector – which includes office buildings, schools, hospitals, retailers, grocers, malls, stadiums, theatres, restaurants, and manufacturing facilities – businesses are responsible for managing their own waste and recyclables. This is typically done through business-to-business relationships, where businesses contract directly with waste management service providers.
But over the last few years, some provincial governments have been discussing the possibility of an EPR approach for the IC&I sector.
In fact, Québec became the first precedent-setting province to regulate EPR for managing IC&I materials. It came as part of their move to modernize the existing recycling system for packaging, with the full rollout of the new EPR system for curbside residential and IC&I expected to be completed by January 1, 2025.
British Columbia’s EPR Five-Year Action Plan states that the government is evaluating opportunities and policy options related to improving the recovery and recycling of packaging and paper in the IC&I sector. That does not necessarily mean British Columbia will implement an EPR approach for IC&I, but it does appear to be something they are potentially considering.
And lately, other provinces that have been consulting on establishing new EPR approaches for residential waste streams have also been considering whether to include some IC&I sources of waste in future EPR programs.
PPEC’s Perspective 
While PPEC supports increased diversion and recycling of paper packaging materials from all sectors, IC&I included, we believe that EPR is not necessarily the right overarching policy approach for managing these materials, especially since they are currently being collected and recycled in many jurisdictions across Canada.
First, we can’t assume the same approach used for residential will work for the IC&I sector, as they are two very different and distinct waste streams.
Second, we question if EPR, as it is currently structured and understood, is working as effectively and efficiently as it could be for Canada’s residential Blue Box programs. It may be premature to suggest that the model is right and should be considered for other sectors. The reality is only one province, British Columbia, currently has a true EPR model; while other provinces are in the midst of transitioning programs to EPR or are just starting to develop new programs. It will take time to see if these shifts to EPR result in improved consumer participation, less contamination, better program performance, and overall higher recycling rates.
And third, producers are already taking responsibility for managing their waste and recyclables in the IC&I sector. We know materials are being recycled in the sector as we see it happening firsthand in our industry every single day. Most PPEC member mills use recycled paper packaging materials, including cardboard – collected from commercial and residential sources – as their primary feedstock, allowing them to use high amounts of recycled content in the major paper packaging grades made in Canada. In many cases, PPEC members have their own recycling divisions to make sure they have a good supply of recycled paper fibres that they rely on. Using recycled content is an inherent part of the Canadian paper packaging industry’s operations, and it has been that way for decades.

Bales of Old Corrugated Containers (OCC), collected from commercial sources and processed at the Cascades Recovery+ facility in Scarborough, Ontario, are ready to be sent to a mill, where they will be recycled so they can be remade into new paper-based packaging. Photo taken by PPEC on April 14, 2023.

The Need for Data
It is important that any policy considerations or future decisions be based on sound data. As we stated earlier, paper and packaging in the IC&I sector is already being collected and recycled as businesses contract directly with waste management service providers to collect and recycle their packaging and shipping materials.
PPEC reviewed the latest available data from Statistics Canada’s Biennial Waste Management Survey, which tracks waste diversion from the IC&I sector, and it shows that paper fibres lead the way when it comes to diverted materials from non-residential sources (which includes both the IC&I and the Construction, Renovation and Demolition sectors), with 1,954,655 tonnes of paper fibres diverted in Canada in 2020, representing 46% of total diverted materials (4,214,742 tonnes based on available information) from non-residential sources.

And when it comes to provincial performance, the data shows that several provinces divert more paper fibres from non-residential sources (orange line) than from residential sources (blue line).

We recognize that this data is not perfect, but the trend is encouraging, showing that paper fibres from non-residential sources are being actively recycled and diverted from landfill in Canada.
But we know that not all paper fibres are being diverted.
According to the Government of Canada’s National Waste Characterization Report, the main waste categories in the IC&I sector in 2016 were food and non-degradables at over 60%, while the category of paper represents 14% (though no information is available to describe the composition of the paper waste).
Average national characterization of waste from the ICI sector in Canada in 2016
The data is piecemeal at best. To gain a better understanding of current IC&I waste diversion activity, better data is needed to inform policy discussions.
Key Takeaways and Next Steps
To develop effective strategies and policies for IC&I waste diversion, data is needed. We need to know the statistics about waste in the IC&I sector – how much is being generated, recycled, and disposed of, as well as the composition and types of materials – to be able to identify opportunities to increase recycling.
The existing data is not complete, but it does broadly illustrate what PPEC believes to be true for the Canadian paper packaging industry: that the major paper packaging grades, such as containerboard (used to make cardboard boxes) and boxboard (used to make cereal or shoe boxes), are being collected from the backs of supermarkets, malls, and factories, and being responsibly recycled and diverted from landfill. We know this because using recycled content is an inherent part of our members’ operations.
And when it comes to EPR and IC&I, our message to governments is clear: do not put the cart before the horse.
Let’s not assume that the same approach for residential recycling will work for the IC&I sector since they are two different waste streams. And let’s not assume we have the right formula for EPR.
In many ways, EPR for residential paper and packaging is in its infancy in Canada, with only British Columbia currently having an EPR approach, while other provinces are transitioning to producer responsibility models. It will take time to see if these shifts result in higher recycling rates and more efficient and effective systems.
Let’s get EPR for residential right first before we even consider applying it elsewhere. Getting it right means that consumers understand their important role in properly recycling. Getting it right means focusing beyond just collection, and recycling more of what is being collected. Getting it right means having end markets consistently available to ensure materials are being recycled.
In the meantime, PPEC will be watching Québec closely as the precedent-setting province that regulated an EPR approach for managing materials in the IC&I sector; and we will continue to encourage governments to collect updated data to have informed policy discussions; while we keep promoting our industry’s circular economy approach to managing paper-based packaging materials in Canada.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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The Facts about Sustainable Forestry and the Canadian Paper-Based Packaging Industry

Sustainable forest management is essential to the Canadian paper-based packaging industry and its circular economy. And yet, misconceptions surrounding forestry and paper packaging persist when it comes to how paper packaging is made.
With today’s International Day of Forests, the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) would like to clear up some of the misconceptions by providing the facts about what is actually harvested, the causes of deforestation, and how the major paper packaging grades are made in Canada.
FACT: The Canadian paper packaging industry does not harvest much of Canada’s forests (and what is harvested must be regenerated)
While most paper packaging made in Canada is produced with recycled content, the paper fibres it was originally made from came from a tree. However, the Canadian paper packaging industry doesn’t use much in the way of freshly cut trees, and the little that is harvested must be successfully regenerated by Canadian law.
According to the latest data from Natural Resources Canada’s State of Canada’s Forests Annual Report, in 2020, the total forest harvest (for lumber and all paper grades including packaging) represented 0.2% of Canada’s forest land, while 600 million seedlings were planted, up from 440 million in 2018.
FACT: The paper packaging industry is not a major cause of deforestation in Canada
Deforestation is when forest land is permanently cleared and converted to make way for new, non-forest land use. And according to Canada’s National Deforestation Monitoring System, Canada’s 347 million hectares of forest area is stable, with less than half of 1% deforested since 1990.
In 2020, deforestation accounted for 49,352 hectares of area permanently changed, primarily by the agriculture, mining, oil and gas, and built-up (new homes, ski hills, and golf courses) sectors, which together represent 96% of deforestation in Canada.
FACT: Insects are the number one cause of forests disturbances in Canada
Canadian forests are most affected by natural disturbances such as insect infestations, diseases, and fires.
In 2020, insects represented the largest cause of disturbance with 17.7 million hectares of area defoliated. The second largest cause was fires with 4.3 million hectares of area burned in 2021 (the largest on record since 1990).
FACT: Most paper-based packaging products made in Canada are made from recycled content
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.
The mixture of using primarily recycled content, along with some new fibres from sustainably managed forests, is an important component to paper packaging’s circular economy.
Existing research shows that paper can be recycled up to seven times, while corrugated box fibres can be recycled up to ten times, and we believe that number could be even higher in Canada given its recycling infrastructure and long-standing residential and business recycling programs. But over time, recycled fibres do weaken, which means a small amount of new virgin fibre needs to be introduced now and again.
It is through that important act of recycling that allows paper packaging to be continually collected so it can be reused and remade into new paper-based packaging products again and again.
FACT: Canadian mills use independent certification to verify their paper fibres are responsibly sourced
All paper fibres used are verified to be responsibly sourced by independent, third-party certification bodies. In Canada, there are three internationally recognized forest certification organizations: Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Z809). These organizations assess forestry operations against standards for sustainable forest management, and complements Canada’s rigorous forest management laws and regulations.
FACT: Paper packaging is made from a renewable resource that is sustainably managed, responsibly sourced, and actively recycled 
On International Day of Forests, and every day, it is important to remember that Canada’s forests are stable and sustainably managed.
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.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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Article Overlooks the Importance of Recycled Content

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

Image adapted from The New York Times Magazine

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

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

Image of linerboard corrugating medium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The remaining materials used in the mix include sawmill residues and some virgin fibres from responsibly sourced forests. But to be clear, the Canadian paper packaging industry doesn’t use much in the way of freshly cut trees, and the little that is harvested must be successfully regenerated by law. In 2019, the total forest harvest (for lumber and all paper grades including packaging) represented 0.2% of Canada’s forest land, according to The State of Canada’s Forests Annual Report.

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

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

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

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director
Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council

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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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Discussing the Toronto Star’s Ontario Blue Box Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transition to Full Producer Responsibility Timeline

Multiple PROs…and David vs. Goliath?

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

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

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

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

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

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

David vs. Goliath and Blue Box recycling bin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A 90% target is unreachable. This would effectively require 95% of the population capturing and putting out for recycling 97% of their paper and making sure it is not contaminated at all. And then the recycling facility would have to capture 98% of all that paper (including paper that’s shredded) and send it on to the end-market.”

Diversion targets lowered but still out of reach

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority 2020 Datacall Report

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

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

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

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

Source: Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority 2020 Datacall Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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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

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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