Layout Image

Got a spare moment?

John Mullinder, Executive DirectorTired of wading through the hundreds of emails that have accumulated in your inbox while you were on holiday? Can’t get hold of someone because they are now away? Love the kids dearly but secretly can’t wait until school starts again and you can get back on a regular schedule?

We have the answer, and the technology! All you have to do is click here for a small diversionary moment, and likely learn something you didn’t know before. No prizes, just a diversion. But of course we would like to know how well you scored!  Submit your score here

A case of shameless self-promotion

John Mullinder, Executive Director
If you want to find out more about paper packaging and the environment then set aside the morning of November 12 in Brampton, Ontario. There you will be treated to a frank State-of- the-Nation address by the executive director of the industry’s environmental council. This normally shy and diplomatic individual (who wrote this stuff?) will outline the challenges and opportunities facing the sector, and kindly demolish many of the common myths about paper in general and paper packaging in particular.

He will be followed by Dan (Of-all-Trades) Lantz. This gentleman knows the difference between paper and plastic (inside out), and never gets excited about which materials will or will not make it through a recycling plant. Wearing his Cascades Recovery hat, Dan will tell packagers what they need to know so that packaging can be successfully recovered for further recycling. And as COO of Green by Nature EPR, which has the processing contract for British Columbia’s new 100% industry-funded residential recycling program, he will update everyone on what’s really going on out there.

Finally, before lunch, Dennis Colley, President of the US-based Fibre Box Association, will present the findings from two recent life cycle analyses: one of the average US corrugated box, and the second, a comparative life cycle analysis of two competing systems for fresh produce (the traditional corrugated box and the reusable plastic crate). This should be fun!

For more details and to register, click here. Sponsorships are still available.

Upstream misses the boat – part 2

John Mullinder, Executive DirectorThere are two things that bug us about the recent packaging campaign launched by US-based environmental group, Upstream: its misleading use of data (outlined in an earlier blog) and its superficial and one-sided view of how the paper packaging industries in both Canada and the United States work.

Basically what Upstream claims is that all the recyclable paper packaging thrown in the trash represents x million trees or so many thousand acres of forest land. Hence its tag line of “A Waste of Forests”1.  Upstream argues that if we recycled all this paper “instead of using virgin paper,” we could reduce carbon dioxide emissions, take millions of cars off the road, and save energy. It makes for a good sound-bite and is accompanied by the obligatory stark photo of a clear cut. But is it true? Or more appropriately for us, is it true in Canada?

The first point to make is that more than 70% of the consumer paper packaging that unfortunately ends up in Canadian landfills is already recycled content packaging2.  It’s been recycled at least once and maybe as many as nine times3.   It is not a question of racing into the forest with a chainsaw to find a virgin replacement for it.  Mills will simply seek alternative sources of recycled fibre, most likely from among the millions of tonnes of used packaging already being collected in North America and exported to Asia for recycling there4.

The 30% of so-called “virgin” material left in Canadian landfills represents less than 2,500 hectares of forest land, less than the size of Port Coquitlam in British Columbia. How many Port Coquitlam’s would fit into Canada? How about 342,0005! Four times more forest land is lost to oil and gas exploration, seven times more to agriculture, not to mention the real biggies: losses to forest fires (consuming 1.9 million hectares) and insects/bugs (chomping their way through a whopping 9.2 million hectares)6.

And of course, Upstream fails to mention that the harvested forest is regenerated by both the US and Canadian forest industries. That virgin material in landfill is actually replaced, in Canada by a combination of natural regeneration and the planting of over a thousand new seedlings per minute7.

So no, we don’t agree with the way Upstream exaggerates and characterises used consumer packaging as “a waste of forests.” We do agree with Upstream, however, that any paper packaging that ends up in landfill is a waste of resources that could be further recycled or composted. It seems to us that instead of playing the emotional card of the clear cut and laying blame at the feet of the paper industry, that Upstream would be far more effective focusing more closely on why packaging actually ends up in landfill. We don’t want it there either. It’s our feedstock. But we as the paper industry don’t have any control over the relative costs of sending stuff to landfill and recycling. State governments and provinces do. But that’s a subject for a whole other blog.




1 Upstream’s Make It, Take It Campaign, A Waste of Forests.

2It is substantially higher than 70% because we have not factored in imported packaging from countries like China where recycled content is known to be high. In Canada, most corrugated boxes and folding cartons are made from 100% recycled content, from old boxes collected from the back of factories and supermarkets or from curbside. The average recycled content of paper-based packaging as a whole is almost 80 per cent. There are only three packaging mills that actually use 100% virgin material, and these, plus a few that blend virgin fibres with recycled, do not use whole trees as such, they use wood chips and sawmill residues that are left over from logging trees for lumber (to make homes and hospitals).  For further information see PPEC press release and document Understanding Recycled Content.

3 Paper fibres can be recycled between four and nine times but progressively become weaker until eventually they wear out and must be replaced with a fresh infusion of longer and stronger virgin fibres (PPEC blog).

4 For example, the US collects almost 9 million tons of old corrugated boxes and exports them for recycling in other countries, principally China.

5 In the absence of national statistics on consumer packaging disposal, we extrapolated Ontario residential disposal data to Canada’s 2012 population, assuming that other Canadians disposed of paper packaging in a similar fashion. From this total of 440,811 tonnes we deducted recycled content tonnes (303,291 or 69%) based on national average recycled content rates (81.1% for corrugated, 70% for boxboard/folding cartons, and assuming 80% for laminants) to get a total of 137,520 tonnes of so-called “virgin” material in landfill. We then converted this total to short tons and used the same tons/acre ratio that Upstream uses (0.04 per acre) to derive a forest use number of 6,063 acres (which is 2,452 hectares when converted back to metric). Port Coquitlam is slightly larger than this at 2,917 hectares.

6 PPEC blog on net deforestation using Environment Canada/Natural Resources Canada data, and The State of Canada’s Forests, Annual Report, 2013, pages 16, 45.

7More than a thousand new tree seedlings are planted every minute in Canada (PPEC blog).




Upstream misses the boat

John Mullinder, Executive Director

There’s no question that the folks at the US-based environmental group, Upstream, have their hearts in the right place. We just wish they would get all of their facts straight.

The group recently launched a wide-ranging campaign against packaging waste, including a section on what it calls paper-based “consumer” packaging. Upstream defines this as pretty much everything except corrugated boxes, and claims that only 25% of it is being recycled in the US[1].

The assumption that corrugated boxes should not be considered part of consumer packaging, however, directly contradicts the 10 years of detailed residential data we have here in Canada. In fact, corrugated boxes are the single largest component (on average 46%) of Canadian consumer paper packaging (containing everything from appliances through to electronics, wine and beer, pizza, even hamburgers)[2].  So it doesn’t seem very honest to us for Upstream to exclude almost half of residential paper packaging from its calculations. We have no reason to believe that American and Canadian residential consumption patterns are significantly different.
AvggerationofpaperbasedpkgExcluding corrugated from one’s definition of consumer packaging, of course, makes a huge difference in the recycling rate. In Canada, more than 80% of these “consumer” corrugated boxes are being recovered for recycling[3].  We don’t know the equivalent rate for the US, but Upstream’s claim of only 25% recovery (by excluding residential corrugated) gives a very misleading impression to say the least[4].

This false impression is compounded when Upstream tries to calculate the supposed environmental impact of the “consumer” packaging that ends up in landfill, what it calls “a waste of forests.” For some reason, Upstream does not use the US EPA discard total for non-corrugated paper packaging (6.42 million tons), which would be consistent with its limited definition of consumer packaging.

textboxInstead it uses a tonnage number that’s almost 30% higher (the discard total for corrugated and non-corrugated packaging from both industrial and residential sources)[5].   In effect, what Upstream has done is ignore residential corrugated when discussing the recovery rate, but include residential (and industrial-sourced corrugated) when it calculates waste. You can’t do that! You can’t change your definition of consumer packaging halfway through without inviting criticism that you are deliberately distorting the numbers to make your target (paper-based consumer packaging) look worse.

Even if you buy Upstream’s argument of a “waste of forests” (we don’t, and will explain why in a later blog), correcting this statistical miscalculation would shrink the size of that “forest” by almost a third. We suggest that Upstream do the honourable thing and remove its “Waste of Forests” piece from both its website and its campaign while it corrects these errors.



[1] Upstream’s Make It, Take It Campaign, A Waste of Forests, claims that “only 25% of paper-based consumer packaging is recycled.” This ties in with Table 4, Paper and Paperboard Products in Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: Facts and Figures, 2012 (US EPA) which cites a recovery rate for paper packaging (excluding corrugated boxes) of 24.7%.

[2] Stewardship Ontario data for Ontario’s residential Blue Box program (2003 to 2012). Residential corrugated averaged 46% of all residential (consumer) paper packaging generation over a 10-year period.

[3] Stewardship Ontario, ibid. The recovery rate for residential corrugated over the same period averaged 81% (85% in the latest data year).

[4] Table 4 above (US EPA) cites a corrugated recovery rate in the US of 90.9% but there is no breakdown of recovery by consumer or industrial source.

[5] Upstream claims that “only 25% of paper-based consumer packaging is recycled. The rest – 9.1 million tons is wasted each year….”  But according to the US EPA (Table 4 above), the discards of Upstream’s chosen definition of “consumer” packaging (excluding corrugated) was only 6.42 million tons. Upstream inflated its waste calculation by 29 per cent.

Great news on the corrugated life cycle front

John Mullinder, Executive Director
The average US corrugated box has registered significant environmental improvements over a four-year period, according to a life cycle analysis released today.

Global warming results were 32% lower than recorded in a similar study undertaken in 2006, mainly because more old corrugated containers (OCC) were diverted from landfill (recovery increasing from 72% to 85%). Also significant were lower fossil fuel usage, a switch from coal to less carbon-intensive fuels such as natural gas, and reduced mill effluent phosphorus and atmospheric emissions.

The cradle-to-cradle study, commissioned by the Corrugated Packaging Alliance, was completed by the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI), a third-party independent research body specialising in forestry issues. A Critical Review Panel comprising life cycle experts from the Athena Institute and EarthShift LCC confirmed that the study conforms to ISO 14040/14044 standards. The study considers seven environmental impact indicators and four inventory indicators.

All pertinent information is available here.

What do a cathedral, furniture, and a bicycle have in common?

John Mullinder, Executive Director


Corrugated, of course. The gothic stone cathedral that was the centrepiece of Christchurch, New Zealand, was badly damaged in a 2011 earthquake that killed 185 people and has temporarily been replaced with a corrugated  alternative. The triangular prism shape of the 700-capacity cathedral was fashioned around 98 interlocking corrugated tubes set on a concrete base. Japanese architect Shigeru Ban has also constructed corrugated shelters and homes in Haiti and New Orleans after natural disasters there.





Corrugated furniture has been around for a while too, although it tends to be a novelty item. More likely to take off, literally, is an Israeli mechanical engineer’s corrugated bicycle. The latest version of this bike is said to be waterproof, rust-proof, made of renewable and recyclable materials, and able to support a rider 20 times its weight.





All three items (cathedral, furniture, bicycle) speak to the great strength properties of corrugated board and point to its prime purpose, to deliver goods safely and efficiently to their destination. The corrugated box, of course, has impressive environmental attributes as well: made from a renewable resource, high in recycled content (most corrugated boxes manufactured in Canada are 100% recycled content); recyclable and compostable. You can read more about these attributes on a new website we have just launched that focuses specifically on corrugated. If you take the Quiz, you might even find out what corrugated is!


P.S. This just in. Another interesting use of corrugated as furniture: Aarambh converted discarded boxes into classroom furniture that can also be used as school bags for developing nations  by

  Leah Gonzalez Leah Gonzalez on May 22, 2014. @leahgonz


More than a thousand new tree seedlings are planted every minute in Canada

John Mullinder, Executive Director



In the time it takes you to read this sentence, 169 new tree seedlings will have been planted somewhere in a commercial forest in Canada. By the time you get to the bottom of the page that number will have jumped to over 2500. On average, more than a thousand seedlings are launched on a new life every minute, regenerating what Canada has plenty of — forests. The latest annual harvest for timber and pulp and paper amounted to less than 0.2% of what’s out there[1].


Average number of new seedlings planted per minute

Forest companies regenerate the forest they use because of self-interest (they want it to be there when they need it in future), but also because over 90% of Canada’s commercial forests are located on crown land, owned by the provinces. By law, these companies must meet provincially-set sustainability levels. At the moment, timber is being harvested at rates 30% below what’s considered to be the sustainable limit for Canada’s wood supply[2].  The Canadian forest industry is also a world leader in both independent third-party certification of forests and chain-of-custody certification (responsible sourcing of its raw materials)[3]. This environmental indicator is endorsed by the global alliance of retailers and consumer goods companies, The Consumer Goods Forum[4].

What’s this got to do with paper packaging? Canada’s paper packagers are by no means the major “consumers” of the forest (bugs and insects chomp their way through 14 times as much as the whole lumber and pulp and paper industries combined, forest fires almost four times as much)[5]. And, in fact, most of the boxes and cartons manufactured in Canada are made from 100% recycled fibre collected from the back of factories and supermarkets, or from curbside. But public perception always seems to come back to the tree, and to our collective stewardship of it. We don’t have a problem with this, because we can prove that Canada’s forest industry has done, and is doing, a pretty good job.

It does make us wonder, though, why more attention is not being paid by our customers and governments to the stewardship of the non-renewable resources used by our packaging competitors, who don’t seem to have any qualms about throwing mud at us, an industry that’s founded on resources that are actually renewable. Where are their independent third-party certifications of the resources they use? Where are their chain-of-custody certifications?

The major retailers and consumer packaged goods companies are loud advocates of the principle of a level playing field between themselves and between importers of packaging when it comes to extended producer responsibility or EPR schemes; and are adept at arguing for the principle of a level playing field (no cross-subsidisation in the funding fee formulas) between packaging materials. Many of these same level playing field advocates have endorsed and insisted that their paper suppliers meet independent third-party forest certification and chain-of-custody standards.

So where’s their action (not words) on developing similar independent third-party certification and chain-of-custody requirements for the extraction of non-renewable oil and natural gas deposits, for example?  Don’t we have a right to a level playing field too?


[1] Planting of tree seedlings per minute derived from over 500 million planted per year; Canada’s harvest area (0.2%) from The State of Canada’s Forests, Annual Report 2013, Natural Resources Canada, pages 11 and 19.

[2] Ibid., page 11

[3] Ibid., page 4. Some 38% of the world’s total certified forests are in Canada. Also see PPEC press release on its members’ Chain-of-Custody certification here.

[4] Consumer Goods Forum, Global Protocol on Packaging Sustainability.

[5] The State of Canada’s Forests, ibid., page 45. Harvest area 0.6 million hectares; Fire burned 1.9 million hectares: Defoliated by insects and beetle-killed trees 9.2 million hectares.


CCME’s false claims perpetuate packaging myths

John Mullinder, Executive Director We were recently invited by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) to comment on various aspects of extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs that have been, or are being introduced across the country. In the course of preparing our response, we re-read CCME’s Canada-Wide Strategy for Sustainable Packaging. While we have no problems with most of this interesting document, we were stunned to discover some factual errors that could help explain why packaging in particular, and industry’s waste management performance in general, continue to be held in such low regard in certain government circles.

 In setting the context for this 2009 strategy document, CCME makes two claims: that “Current recovery rates for packaging are very low” and that “Statistics Canada (2006) data indicates the national recycling rate is 22 per cent[1].”  It gives the source for these claims as Statistics Canada’s WMIS survey of 2006[2].


Unfortunately for CCME, neither of these claims was true then, or is true now. Statistics Canada’s WMIS surveys do not break out recovery rates for packaging, and never have, so how could they be “very low”? Nor do WMIS surveys break out national packaging recycling rates. CCME has totally misread what the WMIS surveys say. The supposed 22% national “recycling” rate for packaging that CCME claims is actually the diversion rate for all of the following wastes added together (paper, glass, metals, plastics, electronics, tires, construction renovation and demolition materials, and organics)[3].

We pointed out these factual errors to CCME staff, expecting that they would check to see if we were correct, and then, if we were, amend and/or remove the claims from the document. This after all is an official publication available on the CCME website that is used as a current source of information by researchers and students, among others. As long as these false claims are there, they will continue to damage public perceptions of the packaging industry and its customers, and they will continue to colour government policy and claims on packaging issues.

The CCME staff response to date has been to fob us off, to claim that we have “differing interpretations” of “decade-old data” that was used to provide a portion of the context for CCME’s work on EPR. We disagree. The claims that the CCME is making in this document are either right or wrong. Whatever happened to “fessing up”, making the appropriate corrections, and moving on? This does not look good on the CCME. Canadian public policy should be based on accurate data, not false claims that perpetuate myths[4].


[1]A Canada-Wide Strategy for Sustainable Packaging, CCME, October 29, 2009, page 3.

[2] Statistics Canada, Waste Management Industry Survey: Business and Government Sectors (WMIS 2006). Catalogue no. 16F0023X.

[3] Table 2, WMIS 2006.

[4] Ironically, a survey that CCME commissioned specifically on packaging many years ago would have set a more accurate context for discussion of EPR. The 1996 National Packaging Survey conducted by Statistics Canada did establish recovery rates for packaging (over 70% re-use and recycling); and did establish a national recycling rate (45%). But one gets the distinct impression that CCME prefers not to talk too much about this study, partly because its data is now old, but also because it found that “industry” (bad guy that it is), was performing quite well thank you very much.

Stepping into the minefield of life cycle analysis (LCA)

John Mullinder, Executive Director

A few months back we reported a critique of a comparative life cycle study commissioned by reusable plastic crate company, IFCO, which is trying to displace its competitor product, the corrugated box, from the fresh produce market (blog July, 2013).

IFCO’s LCA was roundly criticised by our US colleagues (who are about to release their own study) basically for its incomplete life cycle inventory; its selection of a limited number of environmental indicators; and its lack of robustness (i.e. it is good practice in LCA to crosscheck findings using alternative impact assessment methods to confirm or challenge the results and conclusions). IFCO got the point, and recently announced it would be funding more LCA work to fill the gaps.

Which brings us to the recent media blitz launched by the US and Canadian plastic industries to announce the conclusions of a new study they have commissioned: that replacing current plastic packaging with “substitute materials” will only increase energy use and emissions potential.  The devil is always in the details of these studies and they take considerable time to fully analyse and review (which is what we are doing).

Impact on marine life not discussed - Reuters  file photo

Impact on marine life not discussed

We do note, however, that this particular study is even more limited in its approach than the IFCO study noted above: that it looks only at energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. You won’t find anything here about the sustainability of exploiting oil and natural gas deposits and not being able to replace them, or the impact of plastic generally on marine life.

The authors (if not the promoters) acknowledge these limitations. “The study is limited to an assessment of energy and GHG impacts (only) and does not include an expanded set of environmental indicators.” This is like being asked to buy a new car based on earnest entreaties that two of its features, say tires and brakes, out-perform all other models on the road.

The authors also acknowledge that their substitution analysis “does not meet the ISO 14044 criteria for requiring a panel peer review.” The results, they say, are “not intended to be used as the basis for comparative environmental claims or purchasing decisions.1” Maybe the authors need to have a quiet word with the funders and promoters of their study on that one.


1CPIA LIFECYCLE 2014preface

News Flash! Over 70% of packaging is being re-used or recycled, most of it by industry

John Mullinder, Executive Director


You hear it all the time from provincial and municipal politicians. “Industry” is dragging the chain on waste diversion, lagging way behind municipal efforts. This politically charged claim may be true for some waste streams, we don’t know. But there’s strong evidence that it’s certainly not true when it comes to packaging.

Packaging is one of those things that people love to hate, and it’s a soft political target, which is why it’s been the subject of various surveys, studies and task forces. Canada created a National Task Force on Packaging in the 1990s. It was disbanded after a 50% diversion of packaging waste from landfill was achieved, four years ahead of time.

It is useful today to revisit the findings of the last National Packaging Survey (NPS) that was undertaken, for the broad snapshot it reveals of packaging consumption, re-use, recycling and disposal. The survey was comprehensive, covering 31 separate industry sectors of the economy and 32 different packaging material types, using surveys as well as information derived from Statistics Canada’s international trade merchandise data and a national study of residential recycling. While this 1996 survey is now obviously dated, the NPS still remains the most comprehensive data on packaging this country has[1].

What did it find? It found that over 70% of the packaging consumed in Canada was being re-used or recycled[2].  “Industry” was responsible for 91% of this: all of the packaging re-use (mainly wooden pallets and glass bottles) and 74% of the packaging recycling (principally corrugated boxes)[3].

Has anything substantially changed since 1996? We would argue that little has changed on the re-use front: that wooden pallets and glass bottles remain the major packaging materials re-used. Nor has much changed on the recycling side: with corrugated boxes still being the most recycled of all packaging materials. There has been a significant increase in the recycling of packaging by municipalities.

Given that we don’t have better and more recent data, PPEC has used the NPS as a benchmark to develop a “what we could expect” picture of Ontario in 2012. There are statistical cautions in doing so, of course. The NPS was a national survey without provincial breakdowns, and covered both industrial and residential waste streams. The data is also now old with per capita consumption, re-use, generation, recycling and disposal rates reflecting conditions in 1996. They therefore do not take into account changes in the packaging marketplace such as the light-weighting of materials, for example the switch from heavier glass to lighter plastics. The data also excludes paper packaging materials sent for composting. PPEC’s use and extrapolation of the NPS numbers do recognise, however, that packaging consumption generally rises (or falls) in line with population numbers.

It is possible, while recognising these limitations, to apply the NPS per capita rates to current populations to get a snapshot view, supplementing this data with more recent information from residential recycling programs such as Ontario’s Blue Box.

The graphics show what we could expect Ontario’s packaging usage to have looked like in 2012 (based on the NPS rates)[4]. Overall consumption would have been about 4 million tonnes with 1.8 million tonnes re-used (mainly wooden pallets and glass bottles); 1.0 million tonnes recycled (mostly corrugated boxes); and 1.2 million tonnes sent to landfill. Packaging generation would have therefore been about 2.2 million tonnes (consumption minus re-use, or diversion plus disposal).

This would mean that over 70% of the packaging used in Ontario in 2012 would have been either re-used or recycled[5].  Not quite the opinion that various politicians are advancing! And it would also mean that much maligned “industry” would have done most of the work (85% of it)[6].  Tell that to your local city councillors.

Our estimates may be just that (estimates), but at least they are based on reasonably credible numbers from the most comprehensive data on packaging that Canada currently has. What we really need today are more facts on packaging issues, and a lot less fiction.


[1]Some 10,000 surveys representing a total survey frame of almost 400,000 businesses were sent out, with the 61% response rate regarded by Statistics Canada as “consistent with other similar surveys.” (Milestone Report, CCME, pages 6-7). Subsequent surveys unfortunately do not break out packaging specifically by consumption, re-use, generation, recycling or disposal. See earlier blog: There’s something fishy about Ontario’s packaging numbersand PPEC’s July 2010 Report:The inconvenient truth about packaging waste in Canada. 

[2]“Over 70% of all packaging consumed in Canada was re-used or recycled” (Table 1, NPS). Consumption was reported as 8.9 million tonnes; re-use and recycling as 6.3 million tonnes (therefore 70%).

[3]Industry was responsible for 91% of this.” The re-use tonnes (4.1 million) were allocated to industry as were 1.6 million tonnes of recycling. Industry was therefore responsible for 5.7 million tonnes of the 6.27 million tonnes re-used or recycled (91%).  “Industry was responsible for 74% of the packaging recycling.” 1.64 million tonnes of a total 2.2 million tonnes recycled (Table 29).

[4] The expected 2012 packaging generation in Ontario (2.2 million tonnes) was derived by multiplying Ontario’s 2012 population (13,412,000) by the NPS packaging generation rate (0 .161 kilograms/person). The re-use and disposal rates were calculated in a similar fashion using the NPS re-use and disposal rates of 0.136 kgs/capita and 0.088 kgs/capita respectively. The NPS recycling rate of 0.073 kgs/capita was also used with the industrial recycling number derived by backing out the 2012 residential recycling total of 0.4 million tonnes (Stewardship Ontario, Blue Box data, 2012).

[5]1.8 million tonnes re-use plus 1.0 million tonnes recycled divided by 4.0 million tonnes consumed (70%)

[6]Industry re-use (1.8 million tonnes) plus industry recycling (0.6 million tonnes) as a percentage of total packaging diversion (re-use plus recycling or 2.8 million tonnes) equals 85 per cent.