As the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) continues to work on achieving its mission to promote the environmental sustainability of the Canadian paper packaging industry, we will also be closely monitoring the following key issues in 2023:
Extended Producer Responsibility and Recycling
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a policy approach in which a producer – a business that makes or sells obligated materials – is made financially and physically responsible for ensuring their products and packaging are properly managed at the end of their life.
While PPEC members have not historically been obligated stewards of these programs – our members typically engage in business-to-business transactions, and do not directly supply finished products to consumers – such recycling programs are critical as they are an important supply of our industry’s feedstock, allowing PPEC members to use high amounts of recycled content in the three major paper packaging grades.
This year will be busy with changes to existing programs and government consultations, and PPEC will be closely monitoring and participating in consultations. For more information on EPR for paper and packaging, and the status of provincial programs, please visit PPEC’s new EPR web page.
EPR also continues to ramp up across the border with several U.S. states enacting or developing packaging producer responsibility laws including Maine, Oregon, Colorado, and California. PPEC follows the activities of the American Forest and Paper Association and the Fibre Box Association to stay informed about U.S. EPR activity.
PPEC has long supported banning old corrugated boxes from landfill as it would reduce methane and ensure that valuable materials are diverted and recycled.
When organic waste – such as food, yard waste, and paper products – is disposed in landfills, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas.
A landfill disposal ban is a tool that stipulates that certain materials are not accepted for disposal; they are often used when there is a recycling program in place for that material. For example, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Metro Vancouver have banned corrugated cardboard from their jurisdiction’s disposal sites.
The bottom line is that used boxes should not end up in landfill. Recycled paper packaging represents our industry’s feedstock as it is continually collected and recycled through residential and business recycling programs, allowing those materials to be remade into new paper packaging products again and again.
New Forestry Statistics
Sustainable forest management is a fundamental pillar for PPEC and its members and is essential to the Canadian paper-based packaging industry.
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 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, which is published annually by Natural Resources Canada.
The 2022 Annual Report was recently released and is a key source of data on Canada’s forests and its sustainable management, which PPEC uses to correct misinformation about the Canadian paper-based packaging industry.
PPEC continues to monitor government activity related to PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are a class of chemicals that, in some cases, have been found to be potentially harmful to the environment and human health.
As perfluoroalkyl substances can provide oil, grease, and water resistance, PFAS can be found in some types of paper-based food packaging.
The Government of Canada is currently considering activities that would address PFAS as a broad class and published a notice of intent in the Canada Gazette. In the U.S., several states have passed laws banning intentionally-added PFAS in packaging. New York’s new law took effect December 31 and prohibits the intentional application of PFAS in packages or packaging components designed for direct food contact, which can include wrappers, bags and tubs that are made from paper, paperboard, and other materials derived from plant fibres.
Environmental Claims and Definitions
The issue of greenwashing continues to be an increasingly important priority of enforcement agencies across North America and globally. In Canada, environmental claims are overseen by the Competition Bureau who archived its enforcement guidelines on environmental claims last year. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission oversees consumer protection and competition issues, and is currently consulting on potential changes to their Green Guides which provide guidance on the use of environmental and recycling claims. And in Europe, the European Union is apparently reviewing the definition of what counts as “recyclable” as they look to overhaul their packaging waste law.
Given recent enforcement activity surrounding environmental claims, and confusion around some of the terminology – recovery, collection, recycling, diversion, end markets – PPEC will be looking to address some of the issues with definitions, how it impacts data, and how they relate to environmental claims over the next year.
Carbon and Climate Change
PPEC continues to monitor government and industry climate change and carbon reduction initiatives. While paper-based packaging is highly recyclable and recycled across Canada and made from a renewable resource using sustainable forest management practices, we are currently gathering available data related to carbon emissions of paper packaging material.
The Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) has enjoyed celebrating National Forest Week (NFW), which took place this week (September 18-24, 2022), as the sustainable management of Canada’s forests is fundamental to PPEC and its members. Sustainable forestry not only plays an important role in the industry’s circular economy, but it is also fundamental to helping mitigate climate change, which is fitting as this year’s theme of NFW is “Canada’s Forests: Solutions for a Changing Climate.”
Canada’s Forests and Climate Change
Forests are affected by natural disturbances such as insect infestations, diseases, fires, flooding, wind, as well as by timber harvesting, forest management practices, and land use decisions.
And climate change can further impact the frequency and severity of natural disturbances as changes in weather and temperature can cause droughts, extreme precipitation, and warmer and drier conditions. These all affect forest health, from increasing the chance of insect infestations and disease, which can damage trees, or cause wildfires, which can release greenhouse gas emissions.
Healthy and sustainable forests have a role in helping to mitigate climate change, as trees capture and store carbon, acting as carbon sources or carbon sinks: a forest is considered a carbon source if it releases more carbon than it absorbs, and a carbon sink if it absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases.
Sustainable forest management practices can be used to increase carbon sequestration in the forests and in wood products, while deforestation can result in carbon emissions.
Forest Facts and Deforestation
According to the most recent data from Natural Resources Canada’s State of Canada’s Forests 2021 annual report, Canada’s forest land is nearly 362 million hectares (ha), with an estimated 757,000 ha, or 0.2%, of forest harvested in 2019.
The Report notes that the area of forests harvested each year is significantly smaller than the areas affected by insects and fires. According to the data, the area defoliated by insects and containing beetle-killed trees was 14,473,760 ha in 2019, while forest fires consumed 227,476 ha in 2020.
And when it comes to deforestation, 49,046 ha, or 0.01%, of Canada’s forest were converted to other land uses in 2019. The main sectors contributing to deforestation include agriculture (46%), mining, oil and gas (31%), and the built up sector (19%), which includes industrial, institutional or commercial developments, as well as municipal urban development, recreation (ski hills and golf courses) and transportation.
How Canadian Paper Packaging is Made
The Canadian paper packaging industry doesn’t use much in the way of freshly cut trees, and the little that is harvested (that 0.2% in 2019) must be successfully regenerated. In 2019, 550 million seedlings were planted in Canadian forests, up from over 440 million seedlings planted in 2018.
In Canada, paper packaging is made from virgin, recycled, or blended pulp (a mix of the two); with all paper fibre sources verified to be responsibly sourced by independent, third-party certification bodies. Most domestic shipments of the three major paper packaging grades made in Canada – containerboard (used to make corrugated boxes), boxboard (used to make boxboard cartons, e.g., a cereal box), and kraft paper (used to make paper bags) – are made from recycled content (81.7%).
Mills also use sawmill residues – such as wood chips, shavings, and sawdust left over from sawmill operations – and some supplement their pulp with virgin fibres from trees, which represents about 12% of the average paper-based box, carton, or bag.
PPEC-member mills have independent, third-party certification that verifies all their paper fibre sources – which include recycled fibres, wood chips, and sawmill residues – are responsibly sourced. Each mill member has independent chain-of-custody certification for their operations in Canada by a recognized forest certification standard such as FSC, SFI, PEFC, and CSA Z809.
When we use and recycle paper-based packaging, we all play a role in protecting renewable resources, contributing to the sustainable management of Canada’s forests, supporting the circular economy of the paper-based packaging industry, and helping to mitigate climate change.
Canada’s Forests: Solutions for a Changing Climate
Sustainable forestry is not only about replanting trees to replace those that are harvested – though regeneration is very important in helping to create permanent additions to Canada’s forests – but it is also about learning how to retain and encourage the carbon-capturing ability of forests, so they can be effective carbon sinks, removing carbon from the atmosphere.
“There is strong evidence at product level that wood products are associated with lower GHG emissions over their entire life cycle when compared to products made from non-renewable or emissions-intensive materials. A review of 488 substitution factors obtained from 64 published studies indicates that the use of wood and wood-based products is generally associated with lower fossil and process-based emissions when compared to non-wood, functionally equivalent products.”
As more countries aim to achieve net-zero emissions, including Canada, it will be important to continue learning and better understand the role that forests, and sustainable forest management, has in mitigating climate change.