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Over 75% of what the Blue Box collects is paper, and it has the highest recovery rates

When you crunch the numbers on Canada’s various provincial Blue Box systems, one fact stands out more than any other. The Blue Box is basically a Paper Box, part of a larger feeder supply network for Canadian and other paper recycling mills.

Paper’s overwhelming dominance is more obvious, of course, in the many “deposit” provinces where beverage containers are returned outside of the Blue Box system. But even in “non-deposit” Ontario, paper is king. Over 75% of all the material collected in Ontario’s Blue Box is paper of some kind, whether printed paper like newspapers or packaging boxes and cartons. This has not changed over the last 13 years of data compiled by the province’s Blue Box industry-funding organisation, Stewardship Ontario.

A huge chunk of that recovered paper goes to Ontario recycling mills to be turned into new newspapers, new corrugated boxes, or new boxboard cartons. A local and active circular economy. The mills, and the converters who turn that recycled fibre into new paper products, provide employment to many local communities and pay taxes to municipal governments.

Paper categories also have the highest individual recovery rates of all materials in Ontario’s Blue Box. Used corrugated boxes top the bill at an amazing 98% recovery rate followed by old telephone books (96%) and old newspapers (92%). The paper or fibre stream overall has a very respectable 74% recovery rate. The recovery rate for the container stream (plastic, glass and metal packaging), on the other hand, is only 46%, dragged down by plastics’ lowly 32 percent.

Select Recovery Rates

Source: Stewardship Ontario (2015 data)

A moving (and puzzling) story about dead Toronto chickens

Chickens are not something we would normally write about. And, in fact, this little story has less to do with dead chickens than with how they journey across Toronto in the after-life before landing between our knives and forks. Let me explain.

Until very recently in Toronto, fresh cut-up chickens were placed on foam trays with stretch wrap then placed in a corrugated box with their unfortunate comrades and trucked from the processor Retailers move causes big flapor packer to a retailer’s distribution centre. From there they were trucked to various retail outlets across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) for us to pick up and take home.

A truck can typically deliver about 12,000 knocked-down corrugated boxes to the chicken processor per trip. And the retailer ending up with the box receives revenue for sending that box on for recycling. Current revenues for old corrugated containers (OCC) are about $100 a tonne.

This circular loop system has been working very well, but now one major retailer has decided to change things up, forcing the chicken processors to do something different if they want to remain suppliers. We don’t have a problem with change but are very puzzled at the logic, extra costs, and increased environmental burden that this new move seems to entail, especially when that same retailer is telling the public that it is cutting carbon and improving the efficiency of moving goods.

The chicken processors in this example are now being forced to use what are called reusable plastic crates (RPCs) to deliver chicken. The costs of the box and the crate are roughly equal but because the crates take up more space on a truck you now need not one (corrugated) truck but four (plastic) trucks to deliver the same quantity of containers. More handling, more miles/kilometres, more burning of fossil fuels, more costs.

And in the crate scenario, someone must pay the (extra) cost of returning not one but four truckloads of crates to a distribution centre (which may be within or outside the GTA, or even out of province). Then that same person or someone else pays for trucking the collected crates to a wash centre, also possibly outside the GTA, out of province, or even in the US, so that the crates can be used again. More handling, more travel miles/kilometres, more burning of fossil fuels, more costs. And unlike in the corrugated box scenario, the retailer gets no revenue for returning the crates.

The chicken processors seem to be taking a major financial hit in this new arrangement. They now have not one truck in their yards delivering packaging but four, and those idling trucks must make it difficult to coordinate production flow at the plant (increasing their labour costs). They also now have the added expense of buying a polybag liner to protect the contents of each crate from leaking. Salmonella poisoning through pathogen transference is a major health risk when processing chickens and packing in crates that are to be used again.

What’s packaging got to do with the price of chicken? Maybe more than we think. Transportation and packaging are responsible for about 9% of the total greenhouse gas contributions of the poultry supply chain. If the crate transportation system outlined above costs more, and the environmental burden is greater, won’t those extra costs eventually be passed on to you and I as chicken-loving consumers?

The chicken processors will almost certainly be forced to pick up the tab, and will no doubt try to pass on their new costs to their customers (meaning us, eventually). But the biggest victim in this puzzling trial would seem to be the environment. Whichever way you slice it, it’s the planet that should be crying foul!

 

Fewer newspapers but more boxes in the home

There’s just something about paper! Thirteen years of data on what ends up in Ontario homes tells us that Canadians, or at least those who live in Ontario, cannot or do not want to shuck their paper habit, despite all those urgent exhortations to do so. The paper-less home ain’t happening. Well, not yet anyway.Paper Generation Ontario 2015

Newspapers, corrugated boxes, boxboard cartons, and printing and writing paper are still the major paper items ending up in Ontario households, a PPEC analysis of residential generation since 2003 reveals. Paper materials today represent some 65% of the dry recyclables in the home, the same as they did back in 2003.

While there has been an 11% drop in overall generation of paper products over the period, some of this can be attributed to the light-weighting of paper and boxes (everything being measured by weight). But most of that lost tonnage has been on the newspaper side in losses to digital competition. It’s more than just newspapers, though. Printed papers overall are down by 26% collectively.

The biggest hit by far has been taken by the publisher members of the Canadian Newspaper Association and the Ontario Community Newspaper Association (down 35%), but magazines and catalogues (down 31%) and telephone books especially (down 70%), have been savaged too.

On the paper packaging side, however, everything except laminated paper is on the up. Corrugated boxes, likely buoyed by the development of e-commerce, and boxboard cartons are both up between 20 and 22%, and the minor grades, gable top and aseptic cartons, have made significant gains too.

Generation Specific Household Paper Types

The tables outline the generation changes over the 13-year period. The good news, of course, is that most of that paper packaging is made from 100% recycled content material that is widely recycled back into new packaging, an already existing local circular economy. But that’s the subject of a future blog.

EPR (Blue Box) Fee Backgrounder (for 2017)

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The history of paper packaging in Canada

Interesting to look back sometimes. Here is my contribution to a recent book on 100 years of papermaking in Canada.

Lightweight, Recycled, Sustainable: the Story of Canada’s Packaging Grades

The last 100 years of packaging in Canada have seen the replacement of heavy wooden crates with lighter corrugated boxes, and the rise of plastic and composite packaging, mainly at the expense of glass. While not immune to attacks from both inside and outside the industry, the paper packaging sector has chugged along, with the recent growth in e-commerce giving the corrugated box a timely boost.

The period has witnessed major shifts in product delivery: the decline in movement of goods by rail in favour of more “just-in-time” shipping by road; and changing demographic and consumption patterns: more people in towns and cities, an ageing population with different packaging requirements, more and smaller households (independent servings), and the rapid growth of the fast-food industry and convenience..  Read the rest of my article here

 

To purchase your own copy of this book:   PAPTAC- 100 Years of Knowledge Connections

Plastic lobby tells a big whopper, continues to smear paper bags

As whoppers go, this is a big one. The plastics lobby wants you to believe that only 7% of plastic shopping bags are thrown away in Montreal: “ZERO WASTE – CLOSE TO IT,” it proudly claims. Zero Waste - NoWhat a stretch! 

The claim is blatantly misleading and dishonest. What the plastics lobby has done is combine a re-use estimate with a recycling estimate to come up with an impressive 93% total. The problem is that almost two-thirds of that total is bags re-used for household garbage or pet waste. Yes, bags that will shortly be in the dump or roaming the streets as litter.

To claim that “only 7% of the bags (in Montreal) are thrown away” and that “bag waste management is very close to zero waste” when in fact almost 70% of them end up in landfill, is blatantly misleading. This claim shifts all of the environmental burden off of shopping bags and onto garbage bags.

It is also false accounting. Think of all those used corrugated boxes in your garage or basement holding stuff they didn’t deliver in the first place. Are we going to count them as “re-use” now, as the plastics folks are doing, so that we can claim that virtually no corrugated boxes go to landfill? In fact, if we did what the plastics people are doing for bags and added the re-use number for corrugated to the recycling number for corrugated in Ontario households (98%), poof, we’d be over 100% easily! Yeah baby, we’re even better than zero waste!

The recycled percentage is also questionable. It’s for plastic bags collected, not actually recycled. Ask the operator of a material recovery facility (MRF) how many plastic bags have to be removed from their machinery and sent to landfill, or a paper recycling mill how much plastic film ends up as residue and has to be dumped at their expense, and you’ll start to get more accurate numbers.

And, of course, facing bans on bags in various cities, the plastics industry can’t resist having a go at plastic alternatives such as reusable bags and paper bags. It’s been doing this for a while, mainly through a website that’s rather ironically called “all about bags.” Well, not quite all about bags. Its special section on litter somehow neglects to mention the fact that bags end up in our rivers, lakes and oceans.

majorholesAnd it gives an entirely false impression of paper bag production and environmental performance in Canada. We have previously pointed out one dirty lie and several factual errors on this site. There are also some major holes in the waste management comparison it tries to make. For starters, a typical paper bag carries more goods than a plastic bag (a fact recognised by life cycle experts). So you can’t crunch numbers based on the assumption that one paper bag will replace just one plastic bag. It’s more than that. And this, of course, changes any calculations of greenhouse gas impact.

Nor can you assume that all banned plastic bags will be replaced by paper bags. In reality, bans on plastic bags seem to achieve major reductions in plastic bag usage (straight reduction) and a significant increase in reusable bags. We don’t see new paper bag mills springing up everywhere!

In the same vein, the net cost of recycling plastic film in the recycling system is more than six times the cost of recycling paper bags in a corrugated bale. So there are huge avoided costs (savings) that have to be taken into account when plastic bags are replaced.

And then there’s the so-called life cycle studies (LCAs) that the plastics industry loves to promote. As we have pointed out before, most of these are old; of varying quality and relevance; and perhaps most significantly, incorporate no actual data on paper and plastic bag production in Canada. Assumptions and conclusions based on studies of how French, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Malaysian, and Chinese paper and plastic bags were made up to 20 years ago, are of little value to us in Canada today!

The high amount of sawmill residues and renewable energy (carbon-neutral biomass) that are used to make bag material in Canada are not taken into account in the life cycle studies being promoted by the plastic folks. So making claims that solid waste management costs in Montreal and elsewhere will skyrocket and greenhouse gas emissions soar if plastic bags are replaced by paper bags, are spurious, to say the least.

Until these key paper production issues (the use of sawmill residues and renewable energy) and the impact of marine litter are factored into LCAs, we are not, however, going to claim that paper bags are “environmentally friendlier” (a phrase the Competitions Bureau cautions against using anyway). But we will continue to point out the false claims, the misrepresentations, and yes the big whoppers made by our less principled competitors.

 

Packaging is the villain again (sigh)

There is no doubt that some goods are over-packaged and that more can be done to reduce the amount of paper, glass, metal and plastic packaging that ends up in consumers’ homes. But blaming packaging all the time is only part of the story. To put it bluntly, we in the so-called developed world eat, drink and buy far too much stuff.

Consumption is the real issue, not the packaging that delivers it. As consumers, however, we find it difficult to limit what we purchase. It’s so much easier to point the finger at the packaging that’s left behind.

For example, a recent anonymous letter to the editor of Solid Waste & Recycling magazine outlines the increase in convenience packaging of produce (plastic bags for peppers, a bundle of herbs in a plastic case, fresh grapes in a plastic bag with grab-and-go handles). The writer complains that the increased packaging waste from this new convenient shopping trend means higher costs for municipalities dealing with it down the line. A reasonable argument.

It’s when the letter writer rather loosely broadens the attack to packaging in general that we get concerned. “Our waste streams are clogged with unnecessary packaging at every turn,” he/she writes, “and most of it is neither recyclable nor compostable.”

Now hang on a minute there! If you are talking about convenience packaging of fresh produce (the peppers, herbs and grapes above) then you might have a point, although we suspect there will be debate over exactly what “necessary” means.

But when you broaden the issue to all packaging, you are lumping all packaging together in the same boat. Setting aside the argument over what might be deemed necessary or unnecessary, packaging is definitely not “clogging” our waste streams “at every turn.” In the most comprehensive national survey of packaging ever done in Canada, packaging represented only 13% of total solid waste. Significant, but not exactly “clogging.”

Consumption is the issue not the packagingThis survey was conducted by Statistics Canada for the Canadian Council of Ministers for the Environment (CCME) and is admittedly now some 20 years old, but there’s no obvious reason why the percentage would not be hugely different if measured today. Some people (including the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change) claim a higher percentage, but that’s because they change the denominator, they use a much narrower definition of solid waste.

It’s the claim that “most of it is neither recyclable nor compostable” that really gets us going though. Again, if the writer is talking about specific convenience packaging for produce, he/she might have a case. But by far  most packaging used in Canada is able to be recycled (recyclable). And a fair chunk of it (mostly paper-based) is compostable. Whether it is actually being recycled and composted is an issue for another day, and an argument for better and more current national data.

 

Dick Staite: former PPEC director and “interim” chair

Dick Staite: former PPEC director and “interim” chairIt is with great sadness that we report the passing of Dick Staite, a former chairman of PPEC and a long-time employee of Atlantic Packaging in Toronto.

In the early 1990s, Dick’s boss, Harry Shelson, came to him and said: “I want you to join PPEC.” Dick had no idea what PPEC was. Told that it was “some environmental thing” and that he should find out about it as soon as possible, Dick said: OK boss, and away he went.

He would end up as one of the longest-serving directors of the council, and as a somewhat reluctant interim chair. “I was at home one evening and the phone rang,” he said recently. “It was the executive director of PPEC, and eventually I learned that PPEC was looking for a chairman. I was racking my brain thinking who that might be, and then it came out that the council was thinking of me. I also happened to be the only guy living in Toronto at the time, so it was much more convenient for the council to get cheques signed and everything.

“So I sort of reluctantly said OK on condition that I would relinquish my post as soon as we found a chairman. So we called me “interim.”  Interim lasted over five years! So if you ever get asked to be interim anything, be careful!’’

In a memory that obviously stuck with him, Dick recently recounted the story of an Ontario provincial government official wondering why Atlantic didn’t simply go straight to the local dumps to pick out old corrugated boxes for recycling. The official seemed amazed to learn that while Atlantic sourced most of its used fibre for recycling from within Canada, that there were occasions when it had to bring in used paper from the US.

“Why would you do that?” asked the official.

“Well for one thing,” replied Dick, “It gets to be less expensive.”

“Do you mean to tell me that you bought used paper from the States because it was cheaper?

Dick said he had a hard time figuring out the answer to that one, other than “Yes, we did,” all the time thinking that it must be great to have government money and not to have to worry about making profits.

Dick Staite was a fun guy and contributed much to the early successes of PPEC back in the 1990s and early 2000s. Thanks for the memories.

 

Click here for visitation and funeral details.

Did you know that more adult diapers are now sold in Nova Scotia than baby diapers?

This is not a knock on Nova Scotia, simply pointing out that aging baby boomers are beginning to impact both the products and the packaging that Canadians will use in the future. The diaper info comes courtesy of John Wright, Senior Fellow at the Angus Reid Institute, who just happens to be a keynote speaker at PPEC’s upcoming seminar November 1.John Wright

Wright will talk about the silver wave (goodbye?) as aging baby boomers give way to new immigrants, and how this will impact the packaging of the future, both physically and culturally.  He will be assisted by a panel discussion on sustainability, what retailers and brandowners and material suppliers see as the key issues moving forward. Speakers include Scott Tudor of Sobeys, John Coyne of Unilever, and Dave Boles of Atlantic Packaging.

Rounding out the morning event will be an update on the key environmental issues impacting the packaging industry across North America by Dennis Colley of the US Fibre Box Association and yours truly (PPEC).

If you would like more information or to register for the event, please click here. If you would like adult diapers, you are on your own!

Paper recycling represents 40% of Canada’s waste diversion

A recent Statistics Canada report on household e-waste reveals some interesting diversion data on other materials.

Paper, for example, represented 40% of what was diverted in Canada from both residential and non-residential sources in 2012. Paper recycling has increased by about 8% since 2002. The diversion of organics has really jumped, however, and now represents 29% of total diversion, with construction and demolition materials following at close to 8 percent.

Here’s the diversion line-up, expressed as a percentage of total tonnes diverted:

StatsCan Recycling report

Source: Statcan EnviroStats, Trash talking: dealing with Canadian household e-waste. Table 1: Materials diverted from residential and non-residential sources, by type, Canada, 2002-2012.