Greetings from the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council!
Thank you for supporting PPEC and our mission to promote the Canadian paper-based packaging industry’s environmental sustainability story. Some of the highlights of our work over the past year include:
Looking ahead to 2022, we are hoping to accomplish even more, and will continue to work to promote the environmental sustainability success story of the Canadian paper-based packaging industry.
Thanks again for your support and best wishes for a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season from all of us at PPEC!
PPEC Holiday Closing Dates:
Please note the PPEC Office will be closed December 27, 2021 – January 3, 2022 for the holiday season. The office will reopen on January 4, 2022.
Most boxes and cartons manufactured in Canada are made of recycled content – from old boxes and other used paper material collected from the back of factories, supermarkets, office buildings, and residential Blue Box recycling programs.
And there has been a significant increase in average recycled content for paper-based packaging over the years, up from 47% back in 1990, to over 80% today, according to the latest results from PPEC’s recently released Recycled Content Survey.
PPEC’s 2020 survey of Canadian mills that makes packaging grades found that the average recycled content of domestic Canadian shipments of the three major paper packaging grades – containerboard (used to make corrugated boxes), boxboard (used to make boxboard cartons), and kraft paper (used to make paper bags) – is collectively 81.7%, up from 73.5% in 2018.
The survey results reinforce that recycled content is a key component of the Canadian paper packaging industry’s circular economy.
Mills produce the raw material used to make paper-based packaging – and the majority use 100% recycled content – which is sent to a converter, where it is made into packaging products. Once used by the customer, it is recycled – keeping raw materials flowing for longer – making its way back to the mill to be remade into new paper packaging products.
The majority of Canadians – 94% to be specific – have access to recycling programs; and not only do they have access, they actively and regularly recycle their paper-based packaging, with the national recycling rate for corrugated boxes estimated to be 85%.
This important act of recycling allows mills to continue to maintain their high levels of using recycled content in Canadian made paper packaging.
2020 PPEC Recycled Content Survey Key Findings:
The Forest Stewardship Council of Canada recently had some rare words of praise for the Canadian paper packaging industry! “Here in Canada,’’ wrote President and CEO Francois Dufresne in a blog, “our packaging industry uses the largest portion of recycled fibres of any forestry sector – an important element of responsible forest management, and an incredible achievement for which we commend the Canadian packaging industry.”
Well thank you, we’ll take it. And we recognise that FSC has every right to inform Canadian consumers about how packaging materials are sourced within Canada and about forestry practices around the world. The problem is how that message is conveyed to the public.
Unfortunately, FSC’s most recent attempt just serves to smear the industry. A promotional video on its website claims a link between packaging and deforestation. No credible evidence of such a link is offered. In fact, the Canadian industry is not responsible for any deforestation in Canada. Will FSC advise Canadian millennials of this fact? I think we’ll be waiting a while.
FSC uses a visual image of an ugly clear-cut in its video to symbolise ‘nasty’ deforestation. But somehow the fact that it receives money from companies that use clear-cutting to harvest the forest doesn’t get mentioned. Oops! A little conflict there, no?
And as for the ‘’poor forestry practices’ it alleges, the video somehow neglects to acknowledge that Canada leads the world in forest certified as sustainably managed, and that most Canadian packaging mills already have responsible sourcing (chain-of-custody) certification by independent third parties.
We live in a world of social media and instant impressions where nobody likes to be unfairly smeared. If FSC wants to be a credible source of information to its packaging customers, and to the public in general, it needs to clean up its act and be far more precise in its public offerings and claims. Facts and credibility do matter.
Report card time! We’ve graded the 22 different material categories used by Ontario’s Blue Box system according to their most recent (2018) “sent for recycling” numbers.
We’ve also looked back to see how much printed paper and packaging was sent for recycling in 2003 to discern any improvements or otherwise. It was in 2003 that industry stewards (brand owners and retailers) first became legally obligated to fund 50% of Ontario Blue Box net costs and began collecting this data.
Here are the rankings with some historical perspective thrown in:
Corrugated Boxes 98%
Magazines, Catalogues 89%
Recovery for these materials was estimated at 72% back in 2003 so they have done very well. This is the fourth year in a row that corrugated box recovery has reached 98%.
Old Newspapers 80%
Old Telephone Books 75%
Clear Glass 72%
Steel Food & Beverage Cans 70%
Old Boxboard Cartons 62%
The largest improvement in recovery percentage since 2003 has been for old boxboard cartons (up from 42%) followed by steel food and beverage cans (up from 53%) and clear glass (up from 57%).
Coloured Glass 57%
Gable Top Cartons 56%
PET Plastic Bottles 55%
HDPE Plastic Bottles 54%
Aluminium Food & Beverage Cans 47%
Gable-top cartons have jumped from 10% back in 2003 to 56% but the others in this group have only made marginal improvements (between four and six points). The percentage of coloured glass sent for recycling has fallen four points over the period.
Other Printed Paper 38%
Other Plastics 34%
Steel Aerosols 31%
Aseptic Cartons 30%
The biggest improvements in this group were Other Plastics (up from 6%) and Aseptic Cartons (up from 10%) in 2003. There is clearly an opportunity to promote greater recovery of printing and writing paper. It should not be scoring a D here!
Plastic Film 10%
Paper Laminants 9%
Steel Paint Cans 7%
Plastic Laminants 3%
There has not been much progress in this group over the last 16 years of data. Paper laminants have gone from an estimated 1% to 9%; plastic film from 6% to 10%; plastic laminants from 1% to 3% and polystyrene from 3% to 4%. The recovery of steel paint cans has fallen significantly, down from 23%.
By broader material grouping, paper (72%), glass (68%) and steel (62%) scored a B; aluminum (41%) a C; and plastics (30%) a D.
These material rankings and the progress (or lack of progress) shown since 2003 should form the basis of current discussions over the future of Ontario’s Blue Box system. It is doing well in some respects but poorly in others. Why this is so, and how to address the “under-performers” (let alone set targets!), are key issues as we move ahead
Source: PPEC Analysis of Stewardship Ontario Blue Box data between 2003 and 2018
Three provinces lag significantly behind the others in solid waste management in Canada: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. And what’s worse, their low diversion rates (ranging from between 16 and 18%) have not changed much over the last eight years, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada.
The data measures the disposal and diversion of industrial, commercial and residential streams of used paper, plastics, glass, metals, textiles, organics, electronics, white goods (such as fridges and appliances) and construction, renovation and demolition (CRD) materials like wood, drywall, doors, windows and wiring.
Albertans dumped over a tonne of waste per person in 2016, two and a half times more than the average Nova Scotian and 320 kilograms more than the average Canadian. The three provinces were also among the least effective in waste diversion: Manitobans and Saskatchewanians being the lowest ranked of the eight reporting provinces.
As is the case throughout Canada, the major streams of materials diverted here in 2016 were paper and organics, but Manitobans, Saskatchewanians, and Albertans were middle to bottom performers in both. They performed better in recovering used tires: Saskatchewan was tops with Alberta third and Manitoba fourth-ranked per person. Albertans were also number three in the diversion of construction, renovation and demolition waste. But overall, these three provinces have a long way to go to catch up with what’s going on elsewhere in Canada.
The pie charts show the major material streams they diverted in 2016. In my next blog in this series I will try and draw all the strands of data together to present a national picture of what the data tells us and outline where the major opportunities for greater diversion seem to lie.
The links to the previous blogs can be found here: Canada’s ‘middle performers’ in waste management: Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario (March 27, 2019); British Columbians and Nova Scotians are Canada’s best recyclers (March 14, 2019) Canada’s waste diversion rate slowly inches higher (February 28, 2019); Where’s the garbage coming from? More and more from homes (February 19, 2019); Good news and bad news in dumping of waste (October 11, 2018).
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!
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.
The good news is that the reported recovery rates for almost every single material category in Ontario’s Blue Box have improved over the last 13 years, some by as much as 20 percentage points. The bad news is that several categories have made very little progress and lag way behind the others, and that the real recovery rates are much lower than those reported.
Here is our Report Card by material group, based on the latest recovery numbers from Stewardship Ontario. Please note that this is not a judgement on the merits of individual materials but rather an assessment of how well they are being recovered in Ontario’s Blue Box system. There is clearly room for improvement.
Printed paper has been a consistent good performer, rising from 67% reported recovery back in 2003 to 82% today (2015). The recovery rate for old newspapers and old telephone books is in the 90s. Somewhat further back, and dragging the printed paper category down, is the recovery rate for printing and writing paper (Other Printed). This has ranged from 39% up to 59% and is currently at 55 per cent.
The reported recovery rate for clear and coloured glass is an impressive 80 per cent. Years ago, all we heard about was glass going to landfill or being used as road fill. Beyond talk of glass breaking in the collection process and contaminating loads of other materials, however, glass recovery is apparently in good shape. A lot of recovered glass these days goes into blast and filter media rather than higher end uses such as fibreglass and cullet which have more demanding quality requirements.
Old corrugated containers (OCC) or boxes have the highest reported recovery rate of all Blue Box materials (98%). From there it’s a drop back to paper-based gable top cartons which have surged from a 10% to a 61% recovery rate; boxboard at 43%; followed by aseptic cartons (made of paper, plastic and aluminum), and laminants. The relatively low recovery rate for old boxboard is a concern. It reached as high as 65% recovery in 2008 but has dropped back to 43% since. Stewardship Ontario did target boxboard toothpaste cartons, toilet paper roll tubes, tissue boxes and other toiletry packaging in an advertising campaign in 2015.
The latest reported recovery rate for steel food and beverage cans is a respectable 71 per cent. Other steel packaging such as aerosols and paint cans drag the overall steel category down 10 per cent. In fact, paint cans are the only category in the Blue Box whose recovery rate has declined over the last 13 years.
The low reported recovery rate for aluminum food and beverage cans in Ontario (42%) has always been a bit of a puzzler and is frequently compared unfavourably with its far higher recovery rates in Canada’s many deposit provinces where recovery ranges between 61% and 97 per cent. One reason offered for the difference is that the recovery rate for cans in Ontario is only for those that end up in the home. It doesn’t include those used at public events, in offices, or factories. The aluminum stewards also reported residential sales some 13% lower in 2015 than what various waste audits used to provide a provincial total suggested was in the home. But even if you allow for this difference, the reported recovery rate only rises to 48 per cent. We doubt that Blue Box scavengers are grabbing the other 52 per cent.
The reported recovery rate for plastics packaging reached 32% in 2015. The highest rate was for PET bottles (66%) and the biggest increase over the years was turned in by the “Other Plastics” category with one-third now being reported as recovered. Apart from PET and HDPE bottles, however, the plastic recovery rates are poor.
The far uglier truth about all reported Ontario Blue Box recovery rates, however, is that they don’t tell the real story. They are basically “sent for recycling numbers,” in most cases, what was sent to an end-market from a material recycling facility or MRF. These reported “recovery” rates don’t deduct the various yield losses that occur in remanufacturing that curbside material back into new products, or the contamination that must be removed (and is normally landfilled) before remanufacturing can actually take place.
For example, all reported paper numbers need to be shaved by at least 10% because paper fibres shrink in the re-pulping process. When a municipality sends 100 tonnes of paper to a paper recycling mill, only 90% of it will come out the other end. And with single-stream collection there is a lot more plastic, glass and metal contamination in the paper bales. This is usually sent to landfill. And you can chop maybe 30% off the reported PET bottle “recovery” rate since PET yields at the end-market range, at best, between 60 and 70 per cent.
A recent attempt by the Canadian Standards Association to grapple with this issue and come up with a definition of recycling, falls short in our view, and is one of the reasons why PPEC is developing a more accurate and real measurement of what paper materials are actually being recycled in this province.
P.S. In our last blog on the Blue Box, we claimed that “over 75%” of what the Ontario Blue Box collected in 2015 was paper of one kind or another. The “alternative fact” is 74.55%. Close but not correct. Sorry!
Source: PPEC Analysis of Stewardship Ontario Blue Box data between 2003 and 2015
When you crunch the numbers on Canada’s various provincial Blue Box systems, one fact stands out more than any other. The Blue Box is basically a Paper Box, part of a larger feeder supply network for Canadian and other paper recycling mills.
Paper’s overwhelming dominance is more obvious, of course, in the many “deposit” provinces where beverage containers are returned outside of the Blue Box system. But even in “non-deposit” Ontario, paper is king. Over 75% of all the material collected in Ontario’s Blue Box is paper of some kind, whether printed paper like newspapers or packaging boxes and cartons. This has not changed over the last 13 years of data compiled by the province’s Blue Box industry-funding organisation, Stewardship Ontario.
A huge chunk of that recovered paper goes to Ontario recycling mills to be turned into new newspapers, new corrugated boxes, or new boxboard cartons. A local and active circular economy. The mills, and the converters who turn that recycled fibre into new paper products, provide employment to many local communities and pay taxes to municipal governments.
Paper categories also have the highest individual recovery rates of all materials in Ontario’s Blue Box. Used corrugated boxes top the bill at an amazing 98% recovery rate followed by old telephone books (96%) and old newspapers (92%). The paper or fibre stream overall has a very respectable 74% recovery rate. The recovery rate for the container stream (plastic, glass and metal packaging), on the other hand, is only 46%, dragged down by plastics’ lowly 32 percent.
Source: Stewardship Ontario (2015 data)
It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Dick Staite, a former chairman of PPEC and a long-time employee of Atlantic Packaging in Toronto.
In the early 1990s, Dick’s boss, Harry Shelson, came to him and said: “I want you to join PPEC.” Dick had no idea what PPEC was. Told that it was “some environmental thing” and that he should find out about it as soon as possible, Dick said: OK boss, and away he went.
He would end up as one of the longest-serving directors of the council, and as a somewhat reluctant interim chair. “I was at home one evening and the phone rang,” he said recently. “It was the executive director of PPEC, and eventually I learned that PPEC was looking for a chairman. I was racking my brain thinking who that might be, and then it came out that the council was thinking of me. I also happened to be the only guy living in Toronto at the time, so it was much more convenient for the council to get cheques signed and everything.
“So I sort of reluctantly said OK on condition that I would relinquish my post as soon as we found a chairman. So we called me “interim.” Interim lasted over five years! So if you ever get asked to be interim anything, be careful!’’
In a memory that obviously stuck with him, Dick recently recounted the story of an Ontario provincial government official wondering why Atlantic didn’t simply go straight to the local dumps to pick out old corrugated boxes for recycling. The official seemed amazed to learn that while Atlantic sourced most of its used fibre for recycling from within Canada, that there were occasions when it had to bring in used paper from the US.
“Why would you do that?” asked the official.
“Well for one thing,” replied Dick, “It gets to be less expensive.”
“Do you mean to tell me that you bought used paper from the States because it was cheaper?”
Dick said he had a hard time figuring out the answer to that one, other than “Yes, we did,” all the time thinking that it must be great to have government money and not to have to worry about making profits.
Dick Staite was a fun guy and contributed much to the early successes of PPEC back in the 1990s and early 2000s. Thanks for the memories.
Click here for visitation and funeral details.