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Archive for Waste Strategy

Ontario Blue Box program falls below 60% recycling target

Stewardship Ontario’s new 2020 Annual Report provides the most recent data on the performance of the Ontario Blue Box program.

Over 729,000 tonnes of packaging and printed paper were recycled in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, resulting in a 57.3% recycling rate, down from 60.2% in 2018. The Ontario government’s mandated recycling target is 60 per cent, under the previous regulation.

Recycled Tonnes - Stewardship Ontario
Source: 2020 Annual Report, Stewardship Ontario

One of the main reasons noted for the decline in recycled tonnes is due to a reduction in newsprint.

The below Material Composition chart illustrates the decline in the printed paper category (which includes newspapers, magazines, and catalogues), showing it’s gone from 55% in 2004, down to 30% in 2019. Meanwhile, paper packaging has doubled from 20% in 2004, to 40% in 2019.

Material Composition - Stewardship Ontario
Source: 2020 Annual Report, Stewardship Ontario

And access to recycling programs remained high in 2019, with 94% of Ontario households having access to Blue Box programs. Not only do Ontario residents have access, but they actively recycle their paper-based packaging, allowing PPEC’s paper packaging mill members to continue to maintain high levels of recycled content in Canadian made paper packaging.

PPEC has been monitoring the activities related to the Ontario Blue Box program and its transition to the new producer responsibility framework. We have recently participated in webinars hosted by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (July) and the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (August).

PPEC’s key issues concerning the new regulation include the addition of packaging-like products to the Ontario Blue Box program, and the new paper-based recycling targets.

Under the Blue Box Regulation, there are several newly obligated packaging/products including packaging-like products, examples of which that have been provided by RPRA include paper bags and cardboard boxes.

PPEC is monitoring this closely as it pertains to PPEC’s members, who have not historically been obligated stewards of the Ontario Blue Box program. As our members are not directly supplying finished products into the consumer marketplace – and are typically engaging in business-to-business transactions with distributors – we expect this to remain the same, and we will continue to follow this as new information becomes available.

Of importance to PPEC and its members are the new government mandated paper diversion targets laid out in the final Blue Box Regulation: 80% for 2026-2029, and 85% for 2030 and beyond.

PPEC is concerned with the feasibility of achieving the government’s new targets.

As noted above, the overall composition of the paper category has been changing over the years, with newspaper generation continuing to decrease, while other categories, like corrugated boxes, already have high diversion rates, which we believe leaves little room for improvement.

Diversion Targets - Stewardship Ontario

It remains to be seen how the program will achieve the high diversion targets for paper. The hope is that a new producer responsibility model will achieve greater economies of scale, by gaining new efficiencies with collecting, processing, and marketing a more consistent and standardized set of Blue Box materials across the province. This should also result in lower contamination levels, as well as improved consumer behaviour at the household level in source separating wastes from organics and recyclables.

PPEC will be watching the diversion data in the coming years, and we will continue to monitor news related to the transition of the Blue Box program closely.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some key statistics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

[3] Where Packaging Ends Up, PPEC.

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

[5] Recycled Content Survey, PPEC.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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Canada’s ‘middle performers’ in waste management: Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario

Three provinces sit in the middle of Canada’s waste disposal charts. But because two of them (Quebec and Ontario) together contain 60% of Canada’s population, they basically determine the Waste Management - What are QC, NB & ON Divertingcountry’s overall waste management performance.

According to the latest Statistics Canada data, Quebecers, New Brunswickers and Ontarians ranked third, fourth and fifth-largest dumpers of waste of the nine reporting provinces in 2016, behind the best performers, Nova Scotians and British Columbians. Quebecers dumped 660 kilograms a person, New Brunswickers 670 kilograms, and Ontarians 700 kilograms. The Canadian average was 710 kilograms per person.

The waste we are talking about is used paper, plastic, glass, metals, textiles, organics, electronics, white goods such as fridges and appliances, and construction, renovation and demolition materials like wood, drywall, doors, windows, and wiring. Some waste streams are excluded from StatsCan’s definitions.

Most of Quebec’s waste was dumped by homeowners or renters. This reflects a recent trend for increasing quantities of waste to come from homes, although nationwide (and in Ontario and New Brunswick) more waste overall was still emanating from industrial, commercial and institutional (IC & I) sources in 2016.

The three provinces were also in the middle of the bunch when it comes to diverting waste. But there are some interesting differences between them, indicating both progress and where future challenges lie. Quebec, for example, led Canada in the per capita diversion of both paper and white goods but was second lowest in organics diversion. Clearly it needs to boost its organics’ recovery.

New Brunswick’s organics diversion, on the other hand, represented 65% of all it diverted in 2016, ranking it second best organics diverter in the country, but its paper recovery was the lowest. Ontario was in the middle: ranked third in paper recovery and fourth in organics. The pie charts show the similarities and differences between these key ‘middle performers.’

This is the latest in a series of recent blogs on waste and recycling data in Canada. Here are the links to the others: 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).

John Mullinder

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

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British Columbians and Nova Scotians are Canada’s best recyclers

Nova Scotia might have the country’s highest diversion rate as a province (44%) but British Columbians recycle more as individuals.

An analysis of the latest data from Statistics Canada shows that the average British Columbian diverted 377 kilograms of waste in 2016. That’s 60 kilograms more than the average Nova Scotian and twice as much as people living in Saskatchewan. The average Canadian diverted 263 kilograms of waste, the equivalent of about one heavy (50 pound) suitcase a month.Diversion rate per person by province

The “waste” includes used paper, plastic, glass, metals, textiles, organics (food scraps), electronics, tires, white goods such as fridges and appliances, and construction, renovation and demolition materials like wood, drywall, doors, windows and wiring.

There are some interesting differences between Canada’s two waste diversion leaders. Nova Scotia’s population is quite concentrated within a relatively small area compared to British Columbia, which would seem to give the waste diversion advantage to Nova Scotia. BC’s recycling results, on the other hand, are spread more broadly and thus less reliant on major tonnage diversion coming from just one or two material streams.

For example, while paper and organics are the major material streams diverted in each province, there’s a marked difference in their relative contribution to the provincial total. In British Columbia, paper recycling and organics diversion represent about one-third of the total each. But in Nova Scotia, organics recovery alone is responsible for over half (53%) of the province’s resulting diversion. Without that substantial diversion of organics, Nova Scotia would slip down the provincial rankings.

The data thus indicate opportunities for improvement as well: for BC to boost its organics diversion (it’s currently ranked  third behind Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in organics diversion per person) and for Nova Scotia to focus more attention on collecting materials other than organics (for example, it’s ranked sixth out of the eight reporting provinces in diverting paper).

Of course, better data, particularly on the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC & I) side would help. We believe that the diversion of paper in Nova Scotia is significantly higher than the Statistics Canada numbers indicate.

Diversion Rate for BC and NS

(This is the latest in a series of recent blogs on waste and recycling data in Canada. Here are the links to the others: Good news and bad news in dumping of waste (October 11, 2018); Where’s the garbage coming from? More and more from homes (February 19, 2019); Canada’s waste diversion rate slowly inches higher (February 28, 2019).

 

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’s waste diversion rate slowly inches higher

A diversion rate of 27% might not sound too impressive but it’s better than the 24% of a few years back. According to the latest Statistics Canada data, we dumped almost a million tonnes less in 2016 than we did in 2008 while at the same time diverting almost a million tonnes more from landfill.
Waste Diversion Chart
Both industry and residents were responsible for this result, diverting waste in roughly equal proportions (48% and 52% respectively). But there are some key caveats to interpreting this information.

For starters, while the waste categories measured are very broad (paper, plastic, glass, metals, textiles, organics, electronics, white goods, and construction, renovation and demolition waste), certain streams that are more likely to be industrial in nature were excluded from the calculations (materials from land clearing, and asphalt, concrete, bricks, and clean sand or gravel). So not all waste is counted.

On the other hand, “industry” doesn’t get any credit in this data for the tonnes of materials diverted by the country’s many beverage deposit-return systems, or for the used boxes and paper that are shipped direct from a retailer to a paper recycling mill rather than through a material recycling facility (MRF). Welcome to the challenge of analysing and interpreting data!

There is an interesting story to be found here though about diversion rates by province. The best performing provinces on a weight basis in 2016 were Nova Scotia and British Columbia. While Nova Scotia’s diversion rate has dipped slightly since 2008 it has consistently been in the 40% range, and in 2016 reached 44 per cent.

Waste Diversion by Province

 

On the other coast, British Columbia, at 35% in 2008, jumped significantly between 2014 and 2016 to reach 40% for the first time, perhaps reflecting the impact of the launch of BC’s new industry-funded Blue Box program in 2014. Quebec ranks next at 31% followed by Ontario at 26% and New Brunswick at 23 per cent. They are followed by the laggards (Manitoba at 18%, Alberta at 17%, and Saskatchewan at 16%).

We’ll be having a look at the specific materials diverted and why some provinces are doing better than others in the next few blogs. Be prepared for some surprises. Nova Scotia might have the country’s highest diversion rate as a province, but Nova Scotians as individuals are not Canada’s best diverters! Stay tuned!

 

 

 

John Mullinder

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

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Where’s the garbage coming from?

Municipal politicians love to point to “industry” as the main contributor to Canada’s waste stream. And while it’s true that most garbage today does come from industrial sources, there are clear signs that more and more garbage is being dumped by householders. The gap between the two sources is narrowing.

More and more garbage from homes

A PPEC analysis of Statistics Canada data from 2008 to 2016 shows residential sources of waste tonnages climbing by 9% over the period while at the same time non-residential (industrial) sources of waste fell by 11 per cent. The waste we’re talking about here is paper, plastic, glass, metals, textiles, organics (food scraps), electronics, white goods such as fridges and appliances, and construction, renovation and demolition materials like wood, drywall, doors, windows and wiring.

The demographics and urban/rural split in each province and the strength of its industrial infrastructure obviously play a role in each province’s waste disposal history and performance. But by 2016, the residential share of the overall Canadian waste stream defined by Statistics Canada had increased in all but two provinces. In Quebec it jumped from 46.4% to 56.2% or 9.8 percentage points. Alberta registered a 7% increase in residential share of the waste disposed over the period.

Sources of Canada's garbage

At the same time as the residential share of the overall garbage stream climbed in most provinces, “industry’s” share obviously fell, in six of the eight provinces where data are supplied. Data for Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut are suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act. The biggest falls in industrial share of the waste stream occurred in Quebec, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

Food for thought as we design strategies to reduce Canada’s waste pile. Next: what materials are being diverted from Canada’s waste stream? And just how well or poorly are we doing?

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 about a national task force on waste?

Plastic waste may be the flavour of the month (literally) but the issues are far larger than what ends up in our rivers, lakes, oceans and stomachs. The real issues are our consumption habits and our use of natural resources, and the impact this is having on climate change. Which means there’s far more involved here than just plastics and packaging.

National Packaging ProtocolAs a former participant on Canada’s National Task Force on Packaging (NAPP), I can attest to the frustrations of grappling with multiple issues on several inter-related fronts at the same time. But, as well as meeting its waste diversion target (ahead of time), NAPP also brought a whole bunch of different people together (three levels of government, various industry players, and environmental groups) that worked well and achieved quite a lot. I’m still friends with some of them!

Seriously though, given that environmental groups and some business leaders are now calling for national solutions and national targets for plastics, and national protocols and national definitions; and that whatever might happen with a plastics plan is going to impact other materials (for example, definitions of recycling); is there any appetite for creating a national task force on Canadian waste in general?

Just floating the idea. Seems to me we need to get our heads together and come up with practical solutions to the problems we’ve created. Aspirational goals are one thing and we don’t want an endless talk shop. But talking with each other and understanding where everyone is coming from, and discussing possible options, is always a useful exercise.

John Mullinder

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

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The big “hurry up” on the Blue Box in case the Liberals lose

When Ontario released the final version of its waste strategy six months ago, dealing with the future financing of the province’s popular Blue Box program was at the backend of the queue. Sorting out the respective roles and responsibilities of municipalities and industry, not to mention the thorny issues of legal contracts and stranded assets, was considered so complicated and politically sensitive that the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change pencilled in 2023 (safely after the next provincial election) to complete its transition to 100% industry-pay and individual producer responsibility.

Now the ministry wants a new plan by February! What changed? The governing Liberals started to tank in the public opinion polls and industry and municipal leaders feared that not only wouldChris Ballard a great opportunity to move forward be lost, but also that an incoming government of different political stripes in 2018 would inevitably mean further delays and a possible fracturing of the current and welcome climate of common interest.

To their credit, municipal and industry leaders have been meeting over the last few months and cobbling together an accord, with the quiet blessing of ministry staff. In July, they asked then minister Glen Murray to buy into their plan to transfer the legal obligations and responsibilities of municipalities to collect and manage the Blue Box to industry stewards (brand holders and others with a commercial connection to the supply of printed paper and packaging into Ontario). This would be done through an amended Blue Box plan that would allow municipalities to opt in or out of providing collection services, and to have an opportunity to participate in processing Blue Box recyclables.

Newly appointed minister, Chris Ballard, leapt at this offering in August and has now directed the also new Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority and Stewardship Ontario to develop a proposal for an amended Blue Box Program Plan that will lead to individual producer responsibility down the road. But of course, he couldn’t resist adding a bit of direction in an addendum to his approval.

The amended plan shall (not may) “use means to discourage the use of materials that are difficult to recycle and have low recovery rates” (plastics be warned); increase the diversion target to 75% for the material supplied by stewards in the municipalities where Stewardship Ontario collects and manages the printed paper and packaging (the current Blue Box diversion rate is 64%); and “establish material-specific management targets.” We are not quite sure where material-specific “management” targets differ from material-specific “diversion” targets, but guess we’ll find out shortly.

If all goes well, Ontario will have a new Blue Box plan in February/March and the Liberals will be able to go to the polls saying they have saved the Blue Box (yet again)! Isn’t politics fun!

John Mullinder

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

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Circular Economy or spinning our wheels?

The Circular Economy (CE to some) has become something of a buzzword of late, just like sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) before it. Good intentions, but a lot of public relations too. Perhaps we’re being too cynical, but the issue is a bit like climate change. We know it’s coming (most of us) or is already here. But we really don’t want to have fewer children, abandon our cars, or go vegetarian: three actions a research scientist recently claimed would have more direct impact on slowing climate change than anything else we can do. We would add planting trees to that list.

Circular Economy or Spinning Our Wheels?The Circular Economy is really about the same thing as climate change: reducing our consumption of the earth’s various resources by using less of them, in a smarter way. But to do that we need to incent “good” behaviour and to penalise “bad,” which is generally taken to mean removing or reducing fossil fuel subsidies and encouraging the use of renewable resources.

This is fine at the academic level but how exactly is this going to translate in practical terms to say, the Blue Box system? Where consumers face a spur of the moment choice to recycle or dump? How do we penalise the “non-circular” products and packaging, while encouraging the “circular”? Through differentiated Blue Box fees? And who gets to decide those?

Now for the plug! PPEC will be holding a seminar on this very subject on October 3 in Etobicoke, Ontario. The speakers include Chris Lindberg (Ontario Circular Economy Innovation Lab), Glenda Gies (Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority), Andrew Telfer (Walmart Canada), Renee Dello (City of Toronto) and Al Metauro (Cascades Recovery). For details and registration click here. This is a limited space event and we always fill up quickly.

John Mullinder

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

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