Key decisions looming on Canada’s Blue Box EPR programs

North America’s first full producer responsibility EPR program for the Blue Box has been running for over a year now in British Columbia, with positive results. Will Ontario and the other provinces follow suit? Will they have the political wherewithal to effectively address the key issues of free-riders and producer control?

The paper industry has a major interest in these matters. Some 75% of the material collected in Canada’s Blue Box systems is paper of one kind or another, most of it used again and again as feedstock to produce new printed paper or packaging. Paper products provide more than half of all Blue Box revenues.

But the Blue Box is only part of the story. Canada’s recycling mills rely far more on the collection of old corrugated boxes from the back of factories and supermarkets, and on the used printing and writing paper collected from offices. The infrastructure to recycle this material has existed for years.

This is why it is so important that the provincial politicians who make decisions on who controls the Blue Box, make them based on overall need, not just on what municipalities say they want or are lobbying for. There are economies of scale to be achieved by better coordinating the location and capacities of all transfer stations and material recycling facilities (MRFs) in a province, whether they cater to industrial, commercial and institutional recycling or to what comes out of people’s homes. Too many MRFs, with all the same bells and whistles, is a recipe for financial disaster.

PPEC’s upcoming seminar on October 28th couldn’t be better timed. The speakers include:

GlenMurrayGlen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change. The minister has promised to introduce new waste reduction and resource recovery legislation to Ontario. This will impact all waste streams and recycling in the province. Here’s your chance to hear the minister explain, in person, the major thrust and intentions of the new legislation.


DLPicDan Lantz
, COO of Green by Nature EPR, which processes the residential materials from all of BC’s recycling programs. How is North America’s first full producer responsibility program working? What can we learn from it? Do we want it to be applied in other provinces? What are the implications for the paper, glass, plastic and metal industries?

RobertChantBob Chant
, VP Corporate Affairs and Communication at Loblaw, who represents Canada’s major grocery retailer on several producer-related bodies, including the industry funding organisation for Ontario’s Blue Box program, Stewardship Ontario, and its parent, the Canadian Stewardship Services Alliance (CSSA). What’s the retailer perspective on EPR in Canada? How are they handling the conflicting demands and range of programs across the country? What do they see as the key decisions to be made going forward? What are the implications for the material sectors?

DennisColleyThe seminar will be rounded out by an American perspective from Dennis Colley, President of the Fibre Box Association, representing the US corrugated box industry. What is the status of the EPR debate in the US, and what are the implications for the paper industry there?


For more details on this timely seminar, click here.

To register for this event please click here.

Meeting the demand for simple, concise factsheets

Anyone who has had anything to do with websites knows that they are much like airports, constantly under construction. We have four terminals, as it were, and it is a constant effort to ensure that the environmental information we post here, and on our three grade-specific websites (boxes, bags, and cartons), is accurate, concise, and current. We do try!


Readers want information in an easily digestible format. So we have boosted our factsheets section from 15 to forty four. By dividing it into six general subject areas, we hope it’s easier to find what you are looking for:

If there’s an area we are not covering, please let us know and we’ll see what we can do about it.

The future of paper packaging

Yes, it has one! PPEC is pleased to announce the impressive line-up for its upcoming October 28th event on the Future of Packaging.

Confirmed speakers include:

Dan Lantz, COO of Green by Nature, the company coordinating the processing of printed paper and packaging in BC’s full producer responsibility (EPR) Blue Box program.



Robert Chant, Senior VP, Corporate Affairs and Communication, Loblaw Companies Limited. Bob is closely involved with various steward and producer responsibility issues across Canada.




Dennis Colley, President of the Fibre Box Association, will provide a US perspective on the major environmental issues facing the industry.




Hon. Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change. The minister has already signalled that some major changes in recycling and waste management are on the way. By October 28 we should be able to have some spirited discussions on what Ontario is proposing to do!


After the seminar on The Future of Packaging, there will be entertainment and a reception, followed by a Celebration Dinner of PPEC’s 25 years of operation. Yes, we are 25, believe it or not. We don’t want to disappoint anyone, so please register as soon as possible. See you there!


“Plastic still the future,” according to Canadian Packaging magazine

The plastics industry is besieged on multiple fronts and widely depicted as the “archetypical eco-villain of the modern world,” according to the editor of Canadian Packaging magazine. He then latches onto an American Chemical Council study that purports to show how much worse the world would be environmentally if plastics were replaced by competing materials such as paper, glass and metal.

Whatever we say on this subject is bound to be construed by certain parties as biased and confrontational since we compete with our plastic colleagues on many fronts. The reality, however, is thatLets not confuse many of our members have a foot in both camps, producing both paper and plastic packaging, the better to serve their customer base. And it’s not as if we, as paper, do not have some empathy for the current disrepute the plastics industry generally finds itself in. Remember the “forest wars” of the 1980s and 1990s and the dioxin threat? Paper was a dirty word.

What we do find difficult to digest, however, is the editor’s uncritical support for, and fulsome quotation from, the particular report he cites. This study, sponsored by the plastics industry, is far from being as “scientifically and empirically sound” as he claims. For starters, it looks only at two (just two) life cycle components (energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions). You won’t find anything here about air pollution, the sustainability of exploiting non-renewable oil and natural gas deposits, or the impact of plastic litter on marine life. So the study is not a complete life cycle analysis, it’s a partial one.

The authors acknowledge this. The study “does not include an expanded set of environmental indicators.”  Nor does it “meet the ISO 14044 criteria for requiring a panel peer review.”  Its conclusions, the authors add, are “not intended to be used as the basis for comparative environmental claims or purchasing decisions.”

So why are they being used publically for that very purpose? And why is Canadian Packaging repeating them unquestioningly as if to prove that plastics ain’t that bad?  Plastics have their place. And some good things come in plastic. But let’s not confuse credible, complete, peer-reviewed life cycle research with what amounts to a questionable sales pitch aimed at denigrating competing materials.


CPIA Lifecycle

Authors of this report acknowledge its limitations

Most Canadian boxes, cartons now 100% recycled content

Most boxes and cartons manufactured in Canada are now 100% recycled content, made completely from old boxes and other used paper material collected from the back of factories, supermarkets, office buildings, or from residential Blue Box programs.

Some 13 mills across Canada produce nothing but 100% recycled content board, according to PPEC’s latest Recycled Content Survey. The industry’s environmental council completes a survey every two years, and has been tracking recycled content since 1990.

There has been a significant increase in average recycled content over the years, from 47% back in 1990 to almost 80% today. Most Canadian packaging mills, though, now make a 100% recycled content product, that’s the way they were built. A few mills blend recycled material with wood residues (chips, shavings and sawdust left over from lumber operations), and three mills use wood residues or freshly-cut trees. When you add it up, the Canadian industry hardly uses any freshly-cut trees to make paper packaging at all. The notion that the industry reaches for a chainsaw every time it needs to make a new box or carton is a complete fabrication.

Any fresh trees that do get harvested for packaging purposes all come from commercial forests that have been independently certified as sustainably managed. Under provincial law, these forest areas must  be successfully regenerated either through tree planting and direct seeding, or naturally. The harvest and regrowth of Canada’s commercial forest is currently in balance, according to Natural Resources Canada.

For more information on how recycled content is defined and measured, how it differs between packaging types, and its relationship to virgin material, see PPEC’s  background report Understanding Recycled Content.

Friends of PPEC, you are invited!

It’s party time! The industry’s environmental council turns 25 this year and wants to let its hair down (what’s left of it!). The plan is to both celebrate the past and to look forward to the future, while having a good time.PPEC turns 25

The Big Event takes place on October 28 in Mississauga, Ontario and registration is now open. An afternoon seminar will focus on current and future challenges and opportunities, including the implications of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes for the paper industry as a whole.

Confirmed speakers to date include Dan Lantz of Green by Nature and Dennis Colley of the US-based Fibre Box Association. Invited speakers include EPR consultant Glenda Gies, retailer Bob Chant (Loblaw) and Ontario’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray. Canada is at a real crossroads regarding EPR.

The 25th Anniversary Dinner will follow a reception and entertainment. PPEC will launch its campaign for “best short historical documentary” to be shown at the Toronto International Film Festival next year, and some old folks (and some not-so-old folks) will no doubt talk about PPEC past and present.

Over 25 years the council has made many friends in many walks of life: politicians, civil servants, fellow industry colleagues, environmentalists, educationists, you know who you are. We’ve lost touch with some of you, and you have moved on to other endeavours, but we’d love to get back together to catch up. Life is too short, and 25th anniversaries don’t come around very often. So if you are interested please take advantage of this opportunity and register now!  We’d love to see you.

BC’s new Blue Box program a good model of real EPR

British Columbia’s new full producer responsibility program for the Blue Box is getting a bad rap, certainly in Ontario where some waste haulers, municipalities, and even a few provincial government people are calling it a disaster. Here are some of the claims we are hearing.

Claim # 1: That many municipalities are excluded from the program.BCQuote

In fact, BC municipalities had a choice on whether to belong to the stewardship program or not. Some 76 municipalities, regional districts and First Nations chose to join, while another 10 communities asked steward body Multi-Material BC to provide curbside service directly to their residents through private collectors, with no involvement from the municipality and at no cost to taxpayers. Together the local government and private collectors within the MMBC program provide service to 1.24 million curbside and multi-family households (72.3% of the provincial total). A further 20 municipalities initially chose not to join, but then reconsidered after the launch deadline and were placed on a waiting list. MMBC wants to add these latecomers as soon as possible, but it needs more steward funds (that is, fewer free-riders) before it can do so. So the quick answer to the exclusion claim is that the municipalities currently not in the program excluded themselves.

Claim # 2: That there is no enforcement and no method of performance monitoring or verification.

Membership of MMBC is voluntary. Stewards can choose to join MMBC or another body or meet their provincial obligations by themselves. MMBC has no control over stewards such as newspaper publishers or small business owners who have chosen not to join MMBC. It is up to the province to cajole, coerce, or take free-riders to court for not meeting their provincial obligations(1)BC passed a regulation last June that allows the Ministry of Environment to implement administrative monetary penalties (AMPs) on companies not in compliance with the regulations. We are not aware that any have been applied to date..

As for monitoring and verification of MMBC program performance, this is currently being done by independent auditors prior to the release of a report on the first seven months of the program on July 1st. Word on the street is that MMBC has met its 75% collection rate target.

Claim # 3: That municipalities were given a “take-it-or-leave-it” price for doing collection.

MMBC was under no obligation to offer municipalities any collection contracts. For political and ease-of-transition reasons, however, it chose to offer them the right-of-first-refusal on collection. The collection prices offered by MMBC were based on an analysis of the cost data that existed in 23 BC programs. Some municipal programs cost more, some cost less. The few municipalities that chose not to accept the MMBC offer had the option of collecting at their own taxpayers’ expense or getting out of the collection business entirely and letting MMBC do it. Ten communities chose the latter option and MMBC contracts out the provision of direct service itself(2)Regional District of North Okanagan, Regional District of Central Kootenay (areas H, I, J), Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (East Sub-region), Coquitlam, Anmore, Quesnel, Prince George, University Endowment Lands, Revelstoke, and City of Langley..  Most municipalities and regional districts (the 72% of BC households mentioned above) chose to accept MMBC’s price offer.

Claim # 4: That MMBC has created a monopoly on the processing of BC residential recyclables.

First, MMBC is a voluntary program which covers only its own members’ obligations. There is an opening for other steward bodies to form (and one is trying to). Second, MMBC issued a request for post-collection proposals that covered 10 geographic zones, offering respondents the opportunity to bid for each zone, a bundle of zones, or all of them collectively.

Several companies bid. The winner, which bid in each zone and was also able to offer a collective bundle, brought three separate partners together(3) Green by Nature partners include two PPEC-member companies, Cascades Recovery and Emterra Environmental, plus Merlin Plastics.  and included 26 sub-contracted companies . Its plan to centralise plastic, glass and metal processing for the province in one new facility(4)Paper-based packaging containing liquids is included in the container stream processed at this facility. was possibly the clinching factor, since it avoided the cost of each separate container processing plant in the province having to install the same expensive bells and whistles to sort materials. This promised to be a big money-saver for the system as a whole. Most of those 29 companies were involved in managing residential recyclables in the province prior to the May 2014 launch of the full producer responsibility program. They continue to be involved, but instead are now being paid by producers, rather than by municipalities.

While BC’s new EPR model for the Blue Box is not perfect, it clearly has a lot more going for it than its detractors are willing to admit, and is worthy of application, with some adjustments, in other provinces. A key challenge for both stewards and provinces going forward, however, is the sticky issue of free-riders, and how provinces act to effectively discourage them. Everyone wants a level playing field.


References   [ + ]

1. BC passed a regulation last June that allows the Ministry of Environment to implement administrative monetary penalties (AMPs) on companies not in compliance with the regulations. We are not aware that any have been applied to date.
2. Regional District of North Okanagan, Regional District of Central Kootenay (areas H, I, J), Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (East Sub-region), Coquitlam, Anmore, Quesnel, Prince George, University Endowment Lands, Revelstoke, and City of Langley.
3. Green by Nature partners include two PPEC-member companies, Cascades Recovery and Emterra Environmental, plus Merlin Plastics.
4. Paper-based packaging containing liquids is included in the container stream processed at this facility.

No good box should go to the dump!

The paper packaging industry wants old corrugated boxes banned from landfill. A couple of provinces have already done so (Nova Scotia and PEI) but so far the others (including Quebec, Manitoba and Ontario) have only talked about it. It’s time for action!

The environmental benefits are clear. We estimate a ban on old corrugated containers (OCC) would reduce Ontario methane and carbon dioxide emissions by up to 175,000 tonnes/year, the equivalent of taking up to 33,000 cars off the road or eliminating the carbon emissions of up to 70,000 homes. It’s a move that’s perfectly aligned with Ontario’s climate change direction, and would demonstrate much needed provincial leadership on the waste or resource recovery file.

A ban would also mitigate a looming provincial landfill crisis (80% of Ontario landfills will be full within 15 years), and create between 200 and 300 jobs (a conservative estimate). It could Don't send Old Boxes to the dumpbe extended to other paper grades (packaging and printed) for larger impact.

After hazardous wastes and organics, paper in general is the prime candidate for banning from landfill. And if the province is risk averse to banning all types of paper from landfill, then a pilot project banning OCC first would be a perfect “guinea pig.” Corrugated is a widely recycled material and has been for decades. Its national recovery rate is estimated to be 85 percent. Some 93% of the corrugated that ends up in Ontario homes is captured by the Blue Box(1)Stewardship Ontario 2013 data. Sales of old corrugated also provide more revenue to the Blue Box program ($15.5 million) than any other packaging material.. Even so, some 200,000 tonnes slips through industry and residential hands every year to end up in Ontario or Michigan landfills.

It shouldn’t be there. Every single packaging mill in the province uses old corrugated boxes collected from the back of factories, supermarkets, office buildings, or from curbside, to make new packaging, most of it 100% recycled content(2)There are eight packaging mills located in Ontario. Seven produce 100% recycled content board, the eighth 60% recycled content board.. We import OCC from the United States because we can’t get enough here.

So how about it Ontario? We understand that banning organics from landfill would make a bigger splash in the greenhouse gas stakes than banning corrugated would, but it could take five years for the necessary organics processing infrastructure to be developed. Why wait for corrugated? We have the infrastructure for recycling it right now. If nothing is done to ban corrugated from landfill for five years, that’s over a million tonnes of OCC needlessly languishing in landfill when Ontario packaging mills could use it; at least $100 million in foregone recycling revenues; an earlier Ontario landfill crisis; and close to 900,000 tonnes of unnecessary GHG escaping into the atmosphere.

We don’t care frankly whether it’s a landfill ban on OCC or a disposal or generator-based levy. Just get the stuff out of there!

References   [ + ]

1. Stewardship Ontario 2013 data. Sales of old corrugated also provide more revenue to the Blue Box program ($15.5 million) than any other packaging material.
2. There are eight packaging mills located in Ontario. Seven produce 100% recycled content board, the eighth 60% recycled content board.

Why do we junk so much good stuff?

Recent studies have highlighted how much food we waste (both in preparation and in the disposal of scraps) but we are also throwing away some perfectly recyclable other stuff, like paper. Why is this, and what can we do about it?

Here’s a look at what Ontario householders put in their trash, somewhat arbitrarily divided into the following three segments: recyclable material that should not be there; problem materials that could be redesigned for recyclability; and material that, at least in the short term, is unlikely to be recycled.

1.        Recyclable material that should not be in the garbage

Almost 80% of the paper in Ontario households is recovered by the province’s Blue Box system and sent on for recycling. This is great, but it still means that a lot of paper ends up in landfill: old boxboard cartons, printing and writing paper, even some old newspapers and magazines. You would think that after 30 years of the Blue Box in Ontario that we would be doing much better than this.

Is it lack of education or convenience, or a combination of the two? Millions of dollars have been spent by individual municipalities on Blue Box promotion and education. “We accept this.” “We don’t accept that.” “Throw it all together.” A common province-wide recycling message (“These materials are collected in every single municipality across Ontario”) would certainly reduce the current confusion and hopefully boost recovery rates.

Many municipalities have tried to encourage better consumer behaviour by limiting the “garbage opportunity”: by making recycling “free” relative to garbage, that is, by charging for garbage bags or bins; by reducing the number of garbage bags allowed at the curb and/or the frequency of garbage pick-up. We recognize that over 50% of Toronto residents now live in apartment buildings, and that this poses a significant recycling challenge. It’s a lot easier to dump something down a garbage chute than to separate the recyclables and carry them in the elevator to a downstairs recycling room.

Another challenge is confidentiality. Householders are reluctant to place their bank/financial statements and bills in the Blue Box. We would suggest buying a good shredder, bagging the shredded paper, and then placing it either in or alongside the Blue Box. And then there’s the human brain. A recent study suggests the human brain is wired to perceive flat paper as recyclable but crumpled up paper as trash. So don’t crumple your paper!

But it’s more than just paper that’s missing from Ontario’s Blue Box. The recovery rates for aluminum and steel beverage cans, and PET and HDPE bottles, are significantly lower than those being achieved in provinces with beverage deposit/refund programs. The missing tonnes are important. If three-quarters of the paper, cans and bottles now being trashed by Ontario householders were instead sent for recycling, the overall Blue Box recovery rate would jump from its current 66% to a very impressive 80%, a major achievement.

2.          Problem materials that could be redesigned for better recyclability

These are potentially recyclable items that pose technical challenges to processors because of their material composition. They include multi-layered laminates, compostable plastic containers and trays, black plastic takeout trays and nursery pots, full shrink wrap labels, metallized tubes, single serve hot beverage pods, coloured opaque PET, and non-PET clamshells. For a concise background document on the recycling challenges that these items pose to North American recycling programs, click here.

3.           Material that, in the short term at least, is unlikely to be recycled

These are primarily multi-layered paper-based or plastic laminants that serve a packaging function that is not currently technically or economically achievable through the use of a single material type (and therefore likely to be more easily recycled). These and some of the problem materials noted above are often cited as candidates for energy-from-waste treatment rather than recycling.

So that’s what’s in our waste and where we’re falling short. Now we just have to figure out what to do about it.

There’s some good stuff in this trash

Source: PPEC analysis of Stewardship Ontario data for Ontario households (2013).


Blue Box great for household paper: almost 80% recovered

The 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.



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