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Archive for Recyclable

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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What is it about pizza boxes?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

What is it about pizza boxes that they always seem to get singled out for special mention? Is it the guilt we feel at scoffing down all that cheese and pepperoni? At tearing into that soft fresh crust knowing full well that our long-delayed and somewhat erratic weight-loss program will be pushed back a few days, maybe weeks? Especially if that piping hot and mushy mess is washed down with large dollops of ice cream. To cool it off, you understand.

Stack of three pizza boxes

Whatever it is, municipalities seem to go out of their way to make an example of the poor old pizza box. It’s not recyclable, they claim. The paper mills don’t want it. It’s the mountains of grease and cheese. Put it in your organics or food waste bin. At least it will make good compost.

There is some truth to that. Paper can be composted, and for some households, composting is likely the better option. Ask the residents of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island who are hundreds of kilometres from the nearest packaging recycling mill.

But pizza boxes are perfectly recyclable too. Sure, the recycling mills don’t want the plastic centrepiece that sometimes holds the slices together in the box. (Memo to self: why isn’t this plastic do-hickey made of paper so it can be recycled with the box?). Anyway, while the mills greatly appreciate your kind offer of leftover crusts, they would really prefer that you deal with them yourself. It’s a pride thing.

But the box itself is fine. Normally it’s made of corrugated board. And in Canada anyway, that is mostly 100% recycled content. So, it’s been around before. And will be around again. What?  you say. That gooey, greasy stuff that I kindly left for the paper mill workers will be in my next box? Yuck!

No dear friend, it won’t. When it finally gets to a recycling mill, your kind gift is first dumped into a big washing machine called a pulper. It’s not that the mill is ungrateful, it’s just that pizza crust doesn’t make great paper. So, any crust you’ve kindly donated will be shaken free and exit the system. Same for the cheese. It tends to clump together and gets screened out during the pulping process. 

Aha, but what about the grease? Well, that is a little bit harder to get rid of, but if you thought the pizza was hot, wait until you hear the temperatures that paper is made at. In a typical mill recycling process, the temperature of the paper sheet reaches 220 to 240 degrees Fahrenheit, well above 100 degrees Celsius, the boiling point of water and the temperature required for sterilisation. So goodbye grease! The average grease content of a pizza box is less than 2% anyway, and at that level does not affect the strength of the new board being made[i].

And if you are still not totally convinced, there’s a further check in the system. The board goes from the mill to a converting plant where the board is blended with other paper layers to form a corrugated sheet, which will then be shaped into your next pizza box. Sorry we can’t do anything about the ice cream! But the corrugation process, as it is called, destroys any bacteria that might remain. In fact, a recent study showed that every single one of 720 corrugated boxes from six different suppliers tested at six different locations in three different regions met acceptable sanitisation levels[ii].

So, there you have it. Pizza boxes are recyclable. Now, was that vegetarian or Hawaiian?


[i] Incorporation of Post-Consumer Pizza Boxes in the Recovered Fiber Stream, Impact of Grease and Cheese on Finished Product Quality, WestRock 2020. https://www.westrock.com/greasecheesestudy

[ii] Haley study released February 2015, see blog by John Mullinder Retailers can’t duck food safety issues when pushing growers to re-use crates, March 28, 2017.

This was prevously posted on  www.johnmullinder.ca 

© John Mullinder Contact the author for permission to reprint.

John Mullinder

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

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What does “100% reusable, recyclable, or, where viable alternatives do not exist, recoverable” actually mean?

These are the words in the Ocean Plastics Charter that Canada signed along with other G7 countries except Japan and the US. But what do they actually mean?Ocean Plastics Charter 2019 - 100% recyclable

First the 100%. That means all, right? Everything. So, there will be no plastic waste then? Or does the 100% only refer to the re-usable part? 100% re-usable? Are all plastics 100% re-usable? Don’t think so. Or maybe it’s 100% reusable or recyclable? Or a cumulative total. Get to 100% through a combination of reuse, recycling and recovering? Either way, but no waste as a result?

And what does recyclable mean? Technically recyclable? Most materials already are. Depends on how much money you want to throw at them. Or does it mean able to be recycled?  You can put it out at the curb or drop it off at a depot. But nothing will ever be 100% recyclable because 100% of Canadians will never have convenient access to recycling (those that live in remote communities et cetera).

Who decides?

And if the material’s not “100% reusable, recyclable” who decides whether “viable alternatives” exist or not? In a world of subsidies, what does viable mean? Does recoverable mean energy recovery or just able to be recovered? Everything’s able to be recovered right now. We’re just not recovering it all!

I think we need to sort this stuff out long before we start talking about targets and deadlines and consequences if you don’t meet them. Because I get the distinct impression that some of the packaged goods companies jumping on the bandwagon and saying they will reach such and such a goal by such and such a date don’t totally understand what they’re promising. And when they find out that a certain goal was never feasible with a certain material in the first place or never achievable because of geographic constraints, they’re going to have a lot of egg on their faces. And be accused of greenwashing. Governments too.

We need a document spelling out exactly what we mean because this affects not only plastics but all other materials and other countries as well. Get your pens out folks!

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John Mullinder

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

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Good news and bad news in dumping of waste

Canadians are dumping slightly more waste than they did back in 2002, but because there are more of us around today, what we dump per person has fallen almost eight per cent since then. So there is good news and bad news in our analysis of StatsCan’s latest waste disposal numbers.

The data measures the disposal of industrial, commercial, and residential streams of paper, plastic, glass, metals, textiles, organics (food), electronics, white goods such as fridges and appliances, and construction, renovation and demolition (CRD) materials like wood, drywall, doors, windows, and wiring. It excludes materials from land clearing, and asphalt, concrete, bricks, and clean sand or gravel.

Canadians dumped 24.9 million tonnes of waste in 2016, down from a peak of 26.4 million tonnes in 2006, but almost 4% more than in 2002. On a per capita basis, given the 12% increase in the number of Canadians over the period, we have improved as waste dumpers from 770 kilograms per person down to 710 kilograms per person. The stats are based on weight and we don’t know to what extent more and lighter weight plastics might be a factor in this result.

Nova Scotia continues its long track record of being the province dumping the least. Its latest per capita rate is 410 kilograms per person, hardly changed from 2002, with the next best performer being British Columbia at 560 kgs/capita. A bunch of provinces follow (Quebec at 660, New Brunswick at 670, Ontario at 700, Manitoba at 758, Newfoundland and Labrador at 760, and Saskatchewan at 820 kgs/person). Bringing up the tail end is Alberta, the only province over one tonne per person, at 1030 kgs/capita.

Quebec, BC and Ontario have recorded the most improvement over the period (down 16, 15 and 13% respectively). The Alberta and New Brunswick per capita trend is in the opposite direction (up 12% and 22% between 2002 and 2016).

Where’s the waste coming from?  See our next blog on trends in waste from industrial and residential sources.

John Mullinder

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

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Prince Edward Islanders and British Columbians are Canada’s “best recyclers”

The people of Prince Edward Island and British Columbia are the “best recyclers” in Canada and “Newfies” and Manitobans the worst, according to PPEC’s analysis of the latest data from Statistics Canada. The average Canadian recycles 255 kilograms of stuff a year, the equivalent of about 11 heavy suitcases.

Waste Diversion by ProvinceThe data covers the industrial, commercial, and residential waste streams of paper, plastic, glass, metals, textiles, organics (food), electronics, white goods such as fridges and appliances, and construction, renovation and demolition materials like wood, drywall, doors, windows, and wiring. It excludes materials from land clearing and asphalt, concrete, bricks, and clean sand and gravel.

The diversion numbers from landfill and incineration are likely understated because they don’t include beverage recycling in provincial deposit/refund programs or the mostly paper materials that go from a retailer, say, direct to a paper recycling mill, rather than through a waste hauler or local government.

The weight (or tonnes) of waste diverted or recycled by Canadians has increased by 36% since 2002. That’s good, but our diversion efforts as individual Canadians (per capita) are less impressive (20% better over the same period). Several provinces have done very well (Nova Scotia up 44%, Quebec up 38%, and Saskatchewan up 32%). But Manitoba and Alberta are going backwards, and Newfoundland and Labrador remains way at the bottom with the lowest diversion rate per capita in Canada.

Waste Diversion by Province

There are explanations for why provincial diversion performance is so uneven. Stay tuned. For background, see our previous blogs in this series: Canadians are dumping more, and less, at the same time! (April 19) and Canada diverting only 27% of its waste (April 27).

 

John Mullinder

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

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Fact and fiction in the fight to deliver your fruit and veggies

Most consumers don’t see this but there’s an intense battle going on right now in North America for the job of delivering food from the farm to the retailers who sell it to you. An old ding-dong fight between the traditional corrugated box with its colourful graphics showing who grew the produce, and the anonymous reusable plastic crate. Between a system that uses a fresh box every time (minimising the potential for undesirable pathogens and bacteria being carried forward to the consumer) and a crate that must be thoroughly washed and sanitised before it can be used again. An economic and environmental debate between paper and plastic, re-use and recycling.

A recent article in the Globe and Mail newspaper highlighted some of the issues. But it also added to the confusion. Here’s our attempt to sort fact from fiction:

  • Claim (by major crate supplier IFCO) that the scientific studies showing food-safety risks with reusable crates are “flawed” and rely on “faulty methodology.”

FACT:  Several independent studies by reputable food scientists have now been carried out over the last few years in both Canada and the United States, including by the Universities of Guelph, British Columbia, California (Davis) and the University of Arkansas. At least one has been peer-reviewed and published in a scientific journal. The studies range from a lab simulation that shows biofilms surviving common crate cleaning procedures to in-field tests revealing unacceptably high total aerobic and yeast and mould counts, and the presence of E. coli after the crates had supposedly been washed. In the Globe article, a food science professor at McGill University, Lawrence Goodridge, throws his support behind the latest University of Guelph findings.

FACT: IFCO by comparison has not funded any independent research or presented the results of  any in-house studies for public review; has declined to provide details of the standards it deems to be acceptable; and has responded to the data in the above studies only with general and critical sound bites. If its crates are so clean why is IFCO unwilling to share publicly exactly how it draws those conclusions? And why aren’t retailers like crate promoter, Loblaw, and government inspection agencies, putting more pressure on IFCO to share those testing procedures publicly so that food scientists and consumers can be confident that the crates meet acceptable sanitisation standards?

  • Claim (by the Reusable Packaging Association) that the corrugated industry has funded tests on the safety of its competitor’s products but not its own.

FACT: Not true. The corrugated industry has been very open in commissioning independent food scientists to do the crate studies noted above. It had hoped that IFCO and government bodies might fund some joint research on both crates and boxes, but neither party came to the table. It has also tested its own product’s performance. One independent box study shows that the heat of the process of making the box kills all bacteria. Another study tested 720 corrugated boxes in three different US states, and found that every single one of them met acceptable sanitisation levels.

  • Claim (by Loblaw spokesperson Catherine Thomas) that “each year, by using these reusable crates, we keep millions of wax-corrugate boxes out of landfill.”Corrugated Recycles

FACT: Not true. “Millions” is a gross exaggeration for a start. Waxed boxes represent maybe 3% of all corrugated boxes produced and maybe 10% of boxes used for delivering fresh produce today. The waxes provide a moisture barrier so that ice, for example, can be added to the box to keep produce such as broccoli, fresh in transit. The paper industry has spurred development of alternatives to wax treatments and, in fact, sales of wax alternatives now surpass those of traditional waxes. Wax alternatives are perfectly re-pulpable and recyclable in packaging recycling mills throughout North America.

Loblaw and other grocers should check to see what’s actually happening at the back of their stores. Many grocers today are being asked to separate the waxed boxes from the normal (non-waxed) corrugated boxes they receive. The waxed boxes are then baled and shipped to companies that make fire logs or extract the paraffin from them. Stores that take advantage of this opportunity obviously don’t send any waxed boxes to landfill.

John Mullinder

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

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Canada diverting only 27% of its waste

For those promoting a more circular economy where materials are used again and again rather than made, used and dumped, the latest data from Statistics Canada provides a solid gut check on how far we have to go. Only 27% of our waste is currently being diverted from landfill or incineration. The “good” news is that at least our diversion rate has been steadily improving, up from 22% back in 2002.

The data measures the industrial, commercial, and residential waste streams of paper, plastic, glass, metals, textiles, organics (food), electronics, white goods such as fridges and appliances, and construction, renovation and demolition (CRD) materials like wood, drywall, doors, windows, and wiring. It excludes materials from land clearing and asphalt, concrete, bricks, and clean sand or gravel.

The only “good” news here is that the data, we believe, substantially understates the recycling that is going on in this country because it doesn’t include tonnages from provincial deposit/refund programs or the mostly paper materials that go from a retailer, say, direct to a paper recycling mill, rather than through a waste hauler or local government. Canada’s recycling success story (up 36% since 2002) will be the subject of a future blog.

In the meantime, we get to dwell on the bad news. As noted in our previous blog on this subject, Nova Scotia (and to a lesser extent British Columbia) are way out in front of everyone else. The diversion rates for New Brunswick, Alberta, Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador have declined over the last 12 years.

Waste Diversion by Province

John Mullinder

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

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Canadians are dumping more, and less, at the same time!

Call us multi-taskers. According to the latest waste disposal data from Statistics Canada, Canadians dumped 25.1 million tonnes of waste in 2014, a million tonnes more than we did 12 years ago. So on that score, Canada’s waste pile is growing. Not good news.

But because there are 13% more of us now than there were back in 2002, we get to spread that extra million tonnes among more people. What this means is that as individual Canadians, we actually sent 8% less to the dump today than we did before. Only statistics can make you look good and bad at the same time!

Waste Disposal by Province - 2014

It gets more interesting when you dive into provincial performance over the same period. In tonnage terms, Nova Scotia and Ontario have performed the best (down 6% and 5% respectively) with Alberta and New Brunswick standing out as the bad guys. Alberta’s waste heap has increased by 42% since 2002 and New Brunswick’s by 23 per cent, with Saskatchewan and Manitoba not far behind (up 18% and 15% respectively).

On a per capita basis, Nova Scotia is by far the best performer at 386 kilograms of waste per person. From there you jump to 586 kilograms (British Columbia), 670 kilograms (Ontario), 673 kilograms (New Brunswick), 696 kilograms (Quebec), 786 kilograms (Newfoundland and Labrador), 801 kilograms (Manitoba) and 839 kilograms (Saskatchewan). Alberta heads the pack at almost a tonne (997 kilograms) per person.

Clearly, Nova Scotia is the model to follow if Canada’s bulging waste line is to be reduced. How much of Nova Scotia’s success can be attributed to its longstanding disposal bans on organics and paper is unknown. No other provinces have yet followed its lead in this respect. As for laggard Alberta, it’s got a long way to catch up.

Waste Dumped by Canadians 2002-2014 More Canadians 2002-2014 Canaidans Per Capita Disposal 2002-2012

John Mullinder

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

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Retailers can’t duck food safety issues when pushing growers to re-use crates

A third, more extensive testing of plastic crates used to ship fresh produce throughout Canada shows some handling improvements but still found sanitary issues such as high total aerobic and yeast and mould counts, and the presence of E. coli.

Crates continue to fail food contact standardsStudies demonstrating inconsistent washing practices and biofilms surviving common industry cleaning methods had earlier led food scientists to claim that re-using crates for produce was “a recipe for disaster,” and that the live bacteria observed on them was “like a smoking gun.”Dirty RPCs

The latest study, co-ordinated by Dr. Keith Warriner, Professor of Food Microbiology at the University of Guelph, was performed at different locations in British Columbia (with Dr. Siyun Wang at UBC), Ontario, and Quebec. Dr. Warriner was also responsible for earlier Canadian studies in 2013 and 2014. His findings have been replicated and supported by similar US-wide studies by the University of California (Davis) and the Centre for Food Safety at the University of Arkansas.

Some improvements were noted in the latest testing: no broken crates, for example, and fewer crates with stickers or labels from previous users. Processors were starting to return unclean crates. The lower incidence of fecal indicators could reflect better handling practices, the study says, but the overall number of crates failing on total aerobic counts had increased. They were unacceptably high and didn’t meet commonly accepted standards for food contact surfaces, said Dr. Warriner.

Dr Warriner noted that the major crate supplier, IFCO, had declined to release the standards or criteria by which it judged a crate to be sanitary since independent testing of reusable crates had begun in Ontario and Quebec in 2013. Food scientists, retailers, and consumers needed to be confident that sanitisation standards were based on appropriate risk assessments, said Warriner.

There was another issue, he added. Crates were potential carriers for pests or plant pathogens that could devastate growers’ crops and be challenging to irradiate. The relatively free movement of crates across borders was the weak link in our biosecurity system for protecting growers’ crops and livelihoods, he said.

Organic fruit and vegetables, for example, were widely assumed by the public to be pesticide-free. Recent surveys, however, had shown evidence of pesticides on almost half of fresh organic produce. Chemical pesticides were much longer lasting than biological hazards, and if they were present, would be far more challenging to remove by washing.

 

PLEASE NOTE: PPEC represents the corrugated box industry on environmental issues. Unlike the reusable crate system, the corrugated box system for produce provides a fresh and sanitised box for each delivery. Fresh doesn’t mean cutting down trees. In fact, most corrugated boxes made in Canada are 100% recycled content, partly made from those very same produce boxes that Canadian retailers bale up at the back of their stores and for which they receive significant revenue.

The boxes are recycled several times over the course of their lives, and meet rigid process control standards in their remanufacture. In a typical mill recycling process the temperature of the paper sheet reaches 220-240 degrees Fahrenheit, well above 100 degrees Celsius, the boiling point of water and the temperature required for sterilisation. The converting process also involves high temperatures and other hygiene controls.

Having a fresh box every time minimises the potential for undesirable pathogens and bacteria being carried forward to the consumer. A recent independent study of corrugated produce boxes showed that the corrugation process destroys bacteria. Another study released in February 2015 revealed that every single one of the 720 corrugated boxes from six different box suppliers tested at six different customer locations, in three different regions (the Northwest US, California and Florida), met acceptable sanitisation levels.

John Mullinder

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

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Nothing is 100% recyclable or 100% compostable

Claims for 100% recyclable and 100% compostable seem to be proliferating. Are they accurate? Are they legal? Or are they just another form of greenwash?

It’s not surprising that North American consumers are confused. Because in common speech, the words “recyclable” and “compostable” can mean three different things:

  • technically recyclable or compostable, meaning that the product can be physically taken apart for recycling or broken down for composting
  • able to be collected, meaning that the municipality or service provider says you can put it out for recycling or composting collection
  • that the product or material is commonly being recycled or composted already.

Each of these meanings is significantly different. But in terms of environmental labelling, which is what we are talking about here, the Competition Bureau Canada will accept only one. And that 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 torn apart or composted. It does not matter what the actual recycling or recovery rate of that material might be (that’s a whole other issue). What does matter is how many Canadians have access (“reach” in the US) to the recycling (or composting) of that product or material.

And the Competition Bureau has guidelines on how that access is determined and when you can use the words: “It is recommended that if at least half the population has access to collection facilities, a claim of recyclable (or compostable) may be made without the use of any qualification.” If less than half the population has access, claims must be qualified: “the specific location of the recycling (or composting) programs or facilities should be identified whenever it is possible and practical to do so.” (10.1.3).

Recyclable and compostable claims, then, are based on whether and to what extent consumers have access to recycling or composting facilities. Putting 100% in front of these words, however, Nothing is 100% recyclable or 100% compostabletakes the issue to a whole new level. We are not lawyers, but to us the clear inference consumers would draw from a claim of “100% recyclable” or “100% compostable” is that 100% of Canadians have access to the recycling (or composting) of that product or material. And that is plainly not true.

While most Canadians now live in cities and towns that have access to recycling or composting facilities, there are a small but significant number of people who live in more remote locations who do not, and probably never will have “conveniently available” access to recycling or composting. Therefore, 100% access for Canadians will likely never be achieved. Which is why we in the paper packaging industry say that virtually all Canadians have access to the recycling of paper packaging. The actual number is 96% for corrugated boxes and paper bags, and 94% for boxboard cartons, determined through an independent third-party study.

Anybody putting the 100% in front of recyclable (or compostable) is therefore, in our view, failing to follow the Competition Bureau guidelines for using the words, and is leaving themselves open to prosecution for misleading advertising. They are compounding existing consumer confusion about what recyclable/compostable mean; or worse, deliberately indulging in what amounts to greenwash. Doesn’t labelling a product or material as 100% recyclable or 100% compostable just serve to dilute and undermine the whole access criteria on which the current use of the words is based? Are we wrong on this?

cc: Competition Bureau Canada

John Mullinder

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

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