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Blue Box great for household paper: almost 80% recovered

John Mullinder, Executive DirectorThe world’s first Blue Box system was launched in Ontario over 30 years ago, went on to win a United Nations award, and today remains a convenient and easy method of collecting various materials from households and sending them on for recycling.

At heart, though, the Blue Box is a Paper Box. The major material brought into households, apart from organics and their resulting food scraps, has always been paper of one kind or another, and still is.

In the latest data year (2013), paper products represented two-thirds by weight of what was available for recycling from Ontario homes.  An impressive 76% of this paper was collected and sent for recycling (85% of the printed paper, mostly old newspapers; 93% of the old corrugated boxes, and 48% of the old boxboard cartons. There’s clearly room for improvement there).

The collection rates for the non-paper materials that end up in Ontario homes are something of a mixed bag: most of the non-LCBO deposit glass makes it to the Blue Box (91%), together with PET and HDPE bottles (59% and 57% respectively). But only 40% of aluminum packaging is being recovered and only 30% of plastics overall.

While the plastics industry is trying to encourage more recycling, and several PPEC-member companies are closely involved with these efforts(1)Cascades Recovery and Emterra Environmental are both involved in a Green By Nature venture to boost plastics recycling in British Columbia, and Canada Fibers recently announced its participation in a plastics recycling venture in Ontario, the ugly truth is that the recycling of plastic packaging is lagging way behind. The biggest change in this sector over the last 10 years has been the tonnage of what’s called “Other Plastics” being placed in the Blue Box. Whether this is because of the advent of single-stream (throw it all together) collection, or because residents are confused about which plastics are recyclable and which are not, and out of frustration just pitch them all in the blue box for someone else to sort out, is a good question. As for plastic film, its Blue Box recovery rate has barely budged, moving from 6% to 7% over a decade.

The stark contrast in recovery rates between materials raises some fundamental questions about the design of Ontario’s Blue Box system itself. There’s the perennial issue of whether some materials would be better on deposit; the role of energy-from-waste (EFW) in solid waste management; and whether the current industry funding formula is sending the “right” message to packaging and printed paper producers. Our next blog takes a look at the materials that don’t make it to the Blue Box, and what we may be able to do about it.

blueboxfinal

 

References   [ + ]

1. Cascades Recovery and Emterra Environmental are both involved in a Green By Nature venture to boost plastics recycling in British Columbia, and Canada Fibers recently announced its participation in a plastics recycling venture in Ontario

So much for the paperless house!

John Mullinder, Executive DirectorYou’ve heard of the paperless office. What about the paperless house? Not going to happen, at least, not anytime soon.

The weight of paper entering our homes these days is only slightly less than it was 10 years ago. But the types of paper products we use are definitely changing. As we embrace the digital world, we read far fewer newspapers and magazines. Glossy retail catalogues have been replaced by online alternatives, and those heavy paper telephone books have pretty much disappeared for good.

Making up the difference, however, has been a steady increase in the use of paper packaging or what is commonly called cardboard. What we are talking about here are the sturdy corrugated boxes used to deliver the new TV or kitchen appliance. You’ll probably find one or two in your basement or garage holding something they never came with. Eventually, you’ll put them out for recycling. Likewise your boxboard cartons (cereal and tissue boxes). The other changes you may have noted are fewer steel cans and glass bottles. These have both suffered from competition from plastics packaging which has grown substantially over the decade.

Fortunately, most of the paper products entering your home are high in recycled content and being recycled right across Canada. But that good  story deserves a blog all of its own.

What’s in Ontario Households (by weight)

Paperlessbyweight

 Source: Stewardship Ontario data 2003, 2013.

Food scientist warns retailers that live bacteria on crates is like a “smoking gun”

John Mullinder, Executive DirectorA third independent scientific study has raised concerns about re-using plastic crates to deliver fresh produce to retailers. This time it’s from the Center for Food Safety at the University of Arkansas(1)The two earlier studies, by food scientists at the University of Guelph and the University of California (Davis), are referenced in a previous blog.. The latest study concluded that bacteria adhered to crates and formed biofilms including salmonella, listeria and E. Coli, and that both commercial and industrial sanitising and scrubbing methods could not eliminate them.

“The food industry has a lot of food safety regulations in place,” lead researcher Dr Steven Ricke told The Produce News, “and we do a very good job. (But) what we don’t realise is (that) food-borne pathogens don’t always get the regulatory memo.” “You want to avoid opportunities,” he said. “We know (bacteria) can attach. How extensive is that attachment? How permeable into food products?”

“Our job as experts in food science is to determine how to avoid risks, and from what we know through research is, one, re-use is a source for contamination, and two, cleaning or scrubbing does not eliminate biofilms.”

“In addition to the scanning electron microscope work, we also did a molecular test, which means we had to recover live cells. These were definitely live cells, alive and recoverable, so the opportunity is there. Any guess as to where they go is speculation, but if they’re there and they’re alive they’re sitting there like a smoking gun.”

References   [ + ]

1. The two earlier studies, by food scientists at the University of Guelph and the University of California (Davis), are referenced in a previous blog.

It’s not as simple as re-use versus recycling

John Mullinder, Executive DirectorThe battle between the corrugated box and the plastic crate industries for market share in the fresh produce sector has traditionally been fought on both economic and environmental grounds. These arguments will continue, although it’s unlikely that any peer-reviewed life cycle analysis will ever deliver a knock-out punch to either of the combatants. The box will win on some life cycle criteria, the crate on others.

What is emerging, however, is the key issue of sanitisation. Retailers, growers and consumers are right to be concerned about the safety of the food they eat, although consumers probably don’t care too much whether it arrives by box or crate. They just want it to be safe.

There are two ways of achieving this. The traditional corrugated box system provides a fresh 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 used produce boxes that Canadian retailers bale up at the back of their stores and for which they receive significant revenue.(1) “When we divert cardboard, not only do we reduce the cost and the environmental consequences of sending it to landfill, it’s all recycled and turned into revenue for us.”- Loblaw Green Team member quoted in Canadian Grocer magazine. PPEC estimates that Canadian retailers received over $50 million in revenue for their old corrugated boxes last year.  The boxes are recycled several times over the course of their lives, and meet rigid process control standards in their remanufacture.(2)Paper fibres can be recycled up to nine times. 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 in the Northwest US, California and Florida, for example, found that every single one of the 720 corrugated boxes tested met acceptable sanitisation levels.

Warriner video backgrounds the issue

Warriner video backgrounds the issue

The crate system, on the other hand, a system based on using the same crates again and again, is clearly struggling to ensure that its crates are adequately sanitised between uses. University of Guelph food scientist, Dr Keith Warriner, recently found that a high proportion of crates arriving in Canada for re-use were in poor sanitary condition. Of particular concern was the high prevalence of food safety indicators, especially E. coli on 13% of the crates tested.

Similar conclusions were reached by Dr Trevor Suslow in a subsequent University of California-Davis study. Suslow even suggested that growers and packer/shippers protect themselves by doing rapid bacterial swab tests on the crates. Fresh produce, he told Food Safety News, shouldn’t come into direct contact with reusable containers. “If you can’t control contamination, you have to start looking for other options.”

 

References   [ + ]

1.  “When we divert cardboard, not only do we reduce the cost and the environmental consequences of sending it to landfill, it’s all recycled and turned into revenue for us.”- Loblaw Green Team member quoted in Canadian Grocer magazine. PPEC estimates that Canadian retailers received over $50 million in revenue for their old corrugated boxes last year. 
2. Paper fibres can be recycled up to nine times. 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 

A lasting legacy of New York’s famous garbage barge, PPEC turns 25

John Mullinder, Executive DirectorIt was the garbage barge that did it. Over several months in 1987, the waste-packed Mobro 4000 chugged between US ports, hoping to offload its increasingly smelly cargo. Port after port refused to accept it. Turned away by Mexico and Belize, the “most watched load of garbage in the memory of man” took on a life of its own, a television saga, its daily progress (or lack of progress) constantly tracked like the recent search for an airliner missing over the Indian Ocean.(1)NBC claimed at the time that the Mobro 4000 was “chased away by the warplanes of two nations, presumably Mexico and Belize. The second quotation, “the most watched load of garbage in the memory of man” is attributed to news anchor, Dan Rather. Here is an interesting video from the NY Times, Retro Report

Mobro4000

The Mobro 4000 morphed into a telegenic symbol of a wasteful society, and together with an OECD report that portrayed Canadians as among the worst wasters in the world, encouraged politicians to do something about waste, especially packaging waste. In true Canadian fashion, a multi-stakeholder committee was set up, plans drafted, and in 1990 a National Protocol proclaimed.

PPEC was not yet in existence, but the National Packaging Protocol certainly got the attention of its future members. High-level meetings were held, and the decision taken to send a delegation to Ottawa to tell Environment Canada just what a great job the paper industry was doing in recycling.

The Ottawa meeting did not go as well as expected. Senior industry executives were stunned to discover that corrugated boxes, in particular, were considered to be “public enemy number one.” On a weight basis, they were a key and inviting target. “But we’re a major packaging material,” the executives argued, “so of course there’s going to be a lot of it. We’re also heavier than most other packaging, so yes, we’re going to stick out.” Adding for emphasis: “We also have a great record of paper recovery.” Nothing seemed to matter.

Somewhat chastened, the group reassembled back in Toronto to pass on the bad news. We need a national umbrella body, they decided, that would represent all the various sectors of the industry, both mills and converters, on environmental issues. A body with one voice, not several; and one that would come up with practical solutions, rather than having stupid (government) ones forced upon us; a body that would tell our story, and promote our achievements.

PPEC was born. This year it turns 25.(2)PPEC is organising a special afternoon and dinner celebration of its 25th anniversary in Mississauga, Ontario on October 28. Registration details will be available shortly.

References   [ + ]

1. NBC claimed at the time that the Mobro 4000 was “chased away by the warplanes of two nations, presumably Mexico and Belize. The second quotation, “the most watched load of garbage in the memory of man” is attributed to news anchor, Dan Rather. Here is an interesting video from the NY Times, Retro Report
2. PPEC is organising a special afternoon and dinner celebration of its 25th anniversary in Mississauga, Ontario on October 28. Registration details will be available shortly.

False and misleading claims removed from IFCO website

John Mullinder, Executive DirectorThe North American paper packaging industry has served notice that it will challenge (legally, if necessary) any false and misleading claims about its operations and environmental impact. Case in point: major plastic crate supplier, IFCO.

IFCO is lobbying North American grocery retailers to move away from the traditional corrugated box system of delivering fruit and vegetables. In the course of promoting its plastic crate alternative, IFCO has made various economic and environmental claims. This is its right. But IFCO (and others) also have a responsibility to be able to substantiate any such public claims when challenged.

Among the most pernicious of IFCO’s recent claims were that “most (corrugated) boxes” were disposed of in landfills, and that only “a small percentage of used boxes (were) recycled.” These claims were so patently false (certainly to the corrugated industry) that for a while they served as a great example of IFCO’s lack of credibility on this issue.

Colley: Need for facts and data back-up.

Colley: Need for facts and data back-up.

But now the kid gloves have come off. The US-based Fibre Box Association recently sent a “cease and desist” letter to IFCO demanding documentation to substantiate its claims, or removal of them from the IFCO website. Within 24 hours of IFCO receiving the letter, the untrue statements had been removed. “Let’s use this (example) as a reminder,” said FBA President/CEO Dennis Colley, “to be fact-based; to have data to back up our claims; and to challenge those who don’t.”(1)FBA Forces IFCO Website Change, Board Converting News, December 22, 2014

For the record, some 89% of US corrugated boxes were recovered for recycling in the most recent data year. (2)US EPA Municipal Waste Characterisation tables, 2013. PPEC estimates the Canadian rate at about 85 per cent.(3)The most recent national recycling statistics for packaging materials in Canada are now 18 years old! In 1996, Statistics Canada estimated corrugated recovery at 76%. PPEC estimates this has improved since then, partly because of increased residential recovery efforts. The recovery rate for corrugated in Ontario’s Blue Box program, for example, was 85% in 2012.  In both countries, most grocery stores recover nearly all of their corrugated boxes in backroom balers. The baled material is then sold to generate revenue before being recycled back into new corrugated boxes.(4)“When we divert cardboard, not only do we reduce the cost and the environmental consequences of sending it to landfill, it’s all recycled and turned into revenue for us.” – Loblaw Green Team member quoted in Canadian Grocer magazine. PPEC estimates that Canadian retailers received over $50 million in revenue for their old corrugated boxes last year.

References   [ + ]

1. FBA Forces IFCO Website Change, Board Converting News, December 22, 2014
2. US EPA Municipal Waste Characterisation tables, 2013.
3. The most recent national recycling statistics for packaging materials in Canada are now 18 years old! In 1996, Statistics Canada estimated corrugated recovery at 76%. PPEC estimates this has improved since then, partly because of increased residential recovery efforts. The recovery rate for corrugated in Ontario’s Blue Box program, for example, was 85% in 2012.
4. “When we divert cardboard, not only do we reduce the cost and the environmental consequences of sending it to landfill, it’s all recycled and turned into revenue for us.” – Loblaw Green Team member quoted in Canadian Grocer magazine. PPEC estimates that Canadian retailers received over $50 million in revenue for their old corrugated boxes last year.

State of Canada’s forests explained in one easy to understand graphic

John Mullinder, Executive DirectorThe latest report on the state of Canada’s forests by the federal government department that’s charged with monitoring it (Natural Resources Canada) has a graphic that succinctly explains much of what PPEC has been writing about during the course of the year.

The Deforestation Myth:  Most of the deforestation occurring in the world is happening in tropical forests, not in Canada or even North America. The percentage of land lost to deforestation in Canada in the latest data year amounts to less than 0.02% of the country’s 348 million hectares of forest.  And contrary to popular opinion, the major cause of that net deforestation in Canada is not the forestry industry but rather forest lost to agriculture and oil and gas exploration. Canada’s net deforestation is represented by the smallest circle in the graphic. You have to squint to see it.

The State of Canada's Forests

The “Running out of Trees” mantra: The Canadian lumber and forest industry harvested less than 0.6 million hectares in 2012 (which is actually down by 12% on the previous year). That 0.6 million hectares represents less than 0.2% of Canada’s forest lands (as depicted in the second smallest circle). By law, that harvest must be regenerated, either naturally or by direct seeding and planting. Over a thousand new forest seedlings on average are planted somewhere in Canada every minute.

Natural disturbances have a far greater impact on Canada’s forests than human disturbances: Some 4.2 million hectares of forest was lost to forest fires (the red circle) in the latest data year, more than seven times the size of the commercial harvest. Even larger was the loss of forests to insects (mainly the mountain pine beetle), more than 14 times the area harvested (the turquoise circle).

Canada leads the world in independent, third-party certification of sustainably managed forests:  Over 40% of the world’s certified forests are right here in Canada where they are certified to one or more of the internationally recognised certification programs: Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) or Programme for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification (PEFC) which partners with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).  This is the blue circle. More impressive perhaps is the fact that the area independently certified as sustainably managed forest is an incredible 255 times larger than the total area actually harvested. Now there’s a model for the oil and gas industry to follow!

 

If you want to get the facts on the state of Canada’s forests, in a very readable and concise format (43 illustrated pages before you hit the back-up data and sources), checking out this Natural Resources Canada report would be a great start.

This is not a puff piece but …

John Mullinder, Executive Director

 

We hosted an excellent morning seminar recently that covered a lot of ground regarding paper packaging and the environment. At least that’s the feedback we’re getting, so we’ll take it! For a flavour of the event, check out this short video summary.

First up was a presentation on the challenges and opportunities the industry faces. These included how to counter misleading environmental claims; the fact that it’s far cheaper to landfill stuff rather than to recycle it; and the urgent need to make the current Blue Box funding formula fairer to all materials.

The second presentation, by Dan Lantz of Cascades Recovery, covered changes in the composition of materials ending up in the home and how both collection and sorting has evolved over time. He outlined several specific cases where producers could design packaging for the environment better, and finished off with a brief update on North America’s first 100% industry-funded and controlled printed paper and packaging Blue Box program in British Columbia. Some good lessons to be learned!

The third and fourth speakers dovetailed nicely on the subject of corrugated boxes and reusable plastic crates (RPCs), which are competing for market share in the fresh produce sector. The traditional corrugated box system is a single-use operation where the box is used once then recycled for further use. The RPC, on the other hand, is used multiple times with a washing stage in between.

Warriner: found crates unsanitary, doubts being sanitised.

Warriner: found crates unsanitary, doubts being sanitised.

 

Dr. Keith Warriner, a food scientist at the University of Guelph, gave a detailed background on RPC use in the meat and dairy sectors and the guidelines and recommendations that had been developed for their use with fresh produce. He said that plastic crate operators needed to be far more open about the details of their washing and sanitisation procedures. What he had found in two years of testing, replicated in more recent US studies, was that a high proportion of the crates were unsanitary. In fact, he doubted that all RPCs were going through the required washing and sanitisation stage.

 

 

The Fibre Box Association’s Dennis Colley then presented the case for the corrugated box: its role in protecting and delivering produce, its retail appeal and food safety aspects. He compared corrugated and RPCs on a Sustainability Scorecard, concluding that the best way to combat misinformation was to let the facts speak for you.

 

P.S. Electronic copies of the slide presentations are available to members through PPEC.  For a video of Dr. Warriner’s presentation, click here. PPEC member companies can get the complete video package by logging in to the Members-Only page at www.ppec-paper.com.

Ontario’s new environment minister getting his ducks in a row

John Mullinder, Executive DirectorThe Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) is quietly preparing the groundwork for some long-delayed action on printed paper and packaging in the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC & I) sector.  Specifically, it wants a report by mid-March on the cost impacts and economic and greenhouse gas reduction benefits of diverting an additional 1,000 tonnes.[1]

Printed paper and packaging are good targets to start with because neither of them should be ending up in landfill, whether in Ontario or across the border in Michigan or New York State. Printing and writing paper and old corrugated boxes (OCC) are perfectly recyclable, and have enjoyed solid end-markets for decades. We want them back!

The ministry appears to be toying with two different approaches to achieve this: what it calls a producer responsibility framework and a generator responsibility framework. We are familiar with the producer responsibility framework enunciated in the ministry’s recent Waste Reduction Strategy document,[2] but frankly, without pre-judging what the ministry finds in its current study, we would prefer the generator model.

One of the problems with IC & I waste generally, is the lack of good data. Producers are often one step removed from what happens with waste, which can lead to the creation of an unnecessary bureaucracy to handle it. Generators, on the other hand, are right there on the spot, making the decision whether to recycle or dump. They are also repositories of much sought after data (or could be). We know, for example, that old corrugated boxes sent for recycling from the back of a supermarket directly to a paper recycling mill or to its processor agent, are not included in the current Statistics Canada surveys of waste. Statistics Canada only counts tonnages sent through waste haulers.[3]  Adopting a generator responsibility model (with appropriate exemptions for small operators) would not only provide data we currently don’t have in Ontario, it would also appear to be the more cost-efficient option.

Ban Old Boxes from Landfill

But it’s not the only option. PPEC lobbied the previous minister of environment to ban old corrugated boxes from landfill back in June 2012.[4]  We estimated then that banning just OCC from landfill in both Ontario and Quebec would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 85,000 tonnes, or the equivalent of taking 15,000 vehicles off the road. A provincial ban on OCC would also extend the life of existing Ontario landfills by two and a half years, delaying costly measures to find new, always hard to site landfills as the current ones rapidly fill. We estimated that Ontario and Quebec municipalities would also benefit, achieving operational cost savings of between $12 million and $18 million.

There is a good case to be made for both the generator model and landfill bans. We will be making both, in the months ahead.

 


[1] Ontario MOECC Request for Proposals: A Study on the Cost Impacts and Economic and Greenhouse Gas Benefits of Waste Diversion of Selected Waste Materials in Ontario.

[2] Waste Reduction Strategy, Ontario MOE, June 2013.

[3] Statistics Canada (WMIS) 2010 disclaimers: “These  data do not include those materials transported by the generator directly to secondary processors, such as pulp and paper mills while bypassing entirely any firm or local government involved in waste management activities” (p.17). “Some non-residential waste is managed on-site by industrial generators. Also, some waste is transported by the generator directly to secondary processors. These practices are not currently accounted for by these surveys despite anecdotal evidence suggesting that they are becoming increasingly common” (p.33). “These data do not include those materials managed by wholesalers of scrap metal, plastics or paper. As with the other data in this report, these data cover only those firms whose primary source of income accrues from waste management activities and those public bodies  that provide waste management services” (p.35).

[4] Paper industry wants old boxes banned from landfill, PPEC press release and backgrounder, June 18, 2012.

Slap on the logos! Virtually 100% of paper packaging is recyclable in Canada

John Mullinder, Executive Director

Canadian box, bag and carton manufacturers can now print the word “Recyclable” and the Recyclable logos on their packaging, safe in the knowledge that the industry has independent, third-party proof to back up the claim.

We’ve claimed recyclability for most paper packaging for years,based on our own knowledge, and an internal study. But now we have data at the municipal, provincial and national levels that tells us exactly what paper packaging can be sent for recycling, and where. [1]

The study by CM Consulting shows exceptionally high national access rates compared to most other materials: 96% for old corrugated boxes and kraft paper (bags); and 94% for old boxboard (cartons). The slightly lower access rate for old boxboard is probably because some Nova Scotia programs encourage residents to compost the used cartons rather than to recycle them.

mobiusloop

PPEC is now actively encouraging its members and their customers to print the word “Recyclable” and the recyclable logos on their packaging. For a summary of the report, click here.

 

 


 

[1] The data that PPEC purchased covers Canadians’ access to the recycling of the major packaging grades: corrugated boxes, boxboard or paper cartons, and kraft paper (including bags). Minor categories such as waxed paper or waxed corrugated, paper cups, fibre coffee sleeves or “other” paper packaging, are not included.