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Author Archive for John Mullinder

FSC sucks up and apologises (sort of)

The Forest Stewardship Council of Canada recently had some rare words of praise for the Canadian paper packaging industry! “Here in Canada,’’ wrote President and CEO Francois Dufresne in a blog, “our packaging industry uses the largest portion of recycled fibres of any forestry sector – an important element of responsible forest management, and an incredible achievement for which we commend the Canadian packaging industry.”

Well thank you, we’ll take it. And we recognise that FSC has every right to inform Canadian consumers about how packaging materials are sourced within Canada and about forestry practices around the world. The problem is how that message is conveyed to the public.

Unfortunately, FSC’s most recent attempt just serves to smear the industry. A promotional video on its website claims a link between packaging and deforestation. No credible evidence of such a link is offered. In fact, the Canadian industry is not responsible for any deforestation in Canada. Will FSC advise Canadian millennials of this fact? I think we’ll be waiting a while.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)- Deforestation Facts Chart

FSC uses a visual image of an ugly clear-cut in its video to symbolise ‘nasty’ deforestation. But somehow the fact that it receives money from companies that use clear-cutting to harvest the forest doesn’t get mentioned. Oops! A little conflict there, no?

Poor Forestry Practices

And as for the ‘’poor forestry practices’ it alleges, the video somehow neglects to acknowledge that Canada leads the world in forest certified as sustainably managed, and that most Canadian packaging mills already have responsible sourcing (chain-of-custody) certification by independent third parties.

We live in a world of social media and instant impressions where nobody likes to be unfairly smeared. If FSC wants to be a credible source of information to its packaging customers, and to the public in general, it needs to clean up its act and be far more precise in its public offerings and claims. Facts and credibility do matter.

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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False arguments being used to promote post-consumer recycled content

Don’t get me wrong. I fully support the use of more post-consumer material in packaging and products. Just not some of the BS that goes with it. And this is important because governments are stipulating post-consumer content without knowing all the facts. Here are some of the false claims being made:

False Claim # 1: That post-consumer is ‘environmentally better’ than pre-consumer content

Setting aside the big question of what ‘environmentally better’ actually means, I am not aware of any scientific evidence that one is ‘better’ than the other. In fact, they are really the same material, just coming from different places along the feedstock supply chain.

In the paper industry, for example, there is no difference in the way that pre-consumer and post-consumer paper or board is originally manufactured in a mill. It is exactly the same material with the same environmental production inputs. The only difference is that they come back to the recycling mill from a different place (one from a converting operation and the other from the back of factories, supermarkets, offices or homes). In fact, it could be argued that pre-consumer has a lower environmental impact overall because it travels a shorter recycling loop back to the mill.

False Claim # 2: That post-consumer is ‘more circular’ than pre-consumer

Not true. Isn’t the circular economy all about minimising waste? So, what could be more circular than minimising waste at the converting stage? Pre-consumer material is like the off-cuts left after you cut a sewing pattern from cloth. Since you’ve already paid for the cloth, you make sure your design makes maximum use of the cloth you have. And what you have left over you send back (in the paper industry’s case) to a mill to be incorporated into another recycled content product. Nothing is wasted. Sounds pretty circular to me.

False claim refuted by Paper Packaging Flow Chart

False Claim # 3: That post-consumer is ‘better’ because it replaces virgin material

Hogwash. Both pre-consumer and post-consumer replace virgin material. Both were made in a mill (once) and both are now recycled again (potentially many times).

And now for the unintended consequences of pushing 100% post-consumer content. If a company or a government specifies only 100% post-consumer content, what’s going to happen?  Some suppliers may be able to produce only 100% post-consumer content, but who’s going to verify it? Those off-cuts mentioned earlier will still be coming to a paper recycling mill from other customers. What’s the mill or converter supposed to do with them now? Dump them? That would not exactly meet the ideals of a circular economy now, would it? And what about a mill tempted to add just a little bit of pre-consumer to the mix? Who will know, except the mill?

There are also physical limitations of the material to bear in mind. Wood fibres, for example, can only be recycled between four and nine times before they become too short and thin to be used again. So, if all paper was required to be 100% recycled content, it wouldn’t be too long before you couldn’t make paper at all. An infusion of virgin fibre is always required somewhere in the system to keep the whole recycling loop going.

 So, what’s the solution? By all means specify a recycled content number, but give the industry the flexibility to meet the target by not specifying how much should be pre-consumer and how much post-consumer. There is far less pre-consumer material out there (because companies are economically motivated to reduce their production costs). And once it’s gone, it’s gone. If companies need more recycled content to make their products or packaging, they’ll be forced to get it from post-consumer sources. That’s how the market works. That’s why the corrugated box industry started targeting residential sources of used paper decades ago. It couldn’t get enough from industrial sources.

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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FSC is misleading Canadians, say its key packaging customers

The Canadian branch of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is trying to distance itself from a promotional video that has angered its Canadian packaging customers. But the video itself, with two demonstrably false claims in it, still remains accessible to the public on FSC Canada’s website.

When it launched the video last month, FSC Canada was proud to claim ownership, calling it “our” new video while baldly declaring that paper and paperboard packaging can be ‘’a product of deforestation or poor forestry practices.’’

The industry’s environmental council (PPEC) objected to this industry smear, laying out the facts in Canada and calling on FSC to remove any references to deforestation. FSC has not done that. But it has changed the wording of its website introduction to the video. It now reads: “Unfortunately, deforestation occurs in other parts of our world. It is important to check that the packaging you purchase does not contribute to deforestation.”

This is certainly an improvement on what was there before, but the video itself is unchanged and still available to the Canadian public. This is what’s wrong with it.

THE BIG DEFORESTATION LIE

First, there’s the big lie about deforestation. The video claims there’s a link between packaging and deforestation. But it doesn’t offer any evidence for this. All FSC Canada has come up with so far is two articles. One refers to the recent opening of a road in the Amazon. But the article doesn’t even mention packaging. The major cause of deforestation in Brazil is cattle ranching and agriculture, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The second article supplied by FSC Canada doesn’t mention packaging either. This opinion piece is now 11 years old and quotes data that’s even older than that. And it’s not solely about deforestation, it’s about loss of forest cover, which includes forest lost through fire and insect infestations (which can be considerable). And again, there’s no mention of Canada.  

So FSC Canada has provided absolutely no proof to date of its claimed linkage between packaging and deforestation. And it certainly won’t be able to do so for Canada. Because there is none. As we detailed in an earlier blog, Canada’s overall deforestation rate from all causes is extremely low, one of the lowest in the world at 0.01 per cent.

The specific rate for the Canadian forestry industry as a whole is a mere 0.0004% (mainly because of the creation of permanent access roads into the harvest areas), with packaging’s share of that a big fat zero. That’s because most of the boxes and cartons made by Canadian mills are 100% recycled content. The few freshly-cut trees that the industry uses for packaging are harvested from forests that are regrown afterwards. That’s the law in Canada. It stays as forest. It’s not deforestation.

Packaging and forestry facts

FALSE IMAGE

And then there’s the false image that smears the whole industry. The video uses an image of a clear-cut to symbolise deforestation. Unfortunately for FSC, the major cause of deforestation in Canada is not the forest industry but rather the conversion of forest land to agriculture. FSC Canada knows this because it’s written on its website!

So why not use an image of a deforested field of farmer’s hay or gently waving corn to illustrate the facts instead of unfairly smearing the forest and paper industries with the image of a clear-cut? All FSC is doing for a Canadian millennial watching this video is perpetuating a false image of forestry as the major cause of deforestation. It’s not.    

Dare we mention hypocrisy here? On the one hand, FSC is using the image of a clear-cut to symbolise nasty deforestation. Its other hand is stretched out for forest certification cheques from logging or forest companies that happen to use clear-cutting methods to harvest trees.

CANADA LEADS THE WORLD

Finally, the video makes a bald and unsubstantiated claim that paper and paperboard packaging can be a product of “poor forestry practices.” FSC doesn’t define what these “practices” might be but suggests you’ll be OK if you certify your packaging with FSC. Fair enough. This is a commercial.

But what it doesn’t say to our poor confused Canadian millennial, is that Canada leads the world by far in the amount of forest independently certified as being sustainably managed. Almost 40% of the world’s entire certified forest is right here in Canada. That’s “poor forestry practices”?

Packaging and certification

Not only that, every single mill member of PPEC (the Canadian industry’s environmental council), already has independent chain-of-custody certification for its operations in Canada. Some of them with FSC, some with its competitors the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Canadian Standards Association or PEFC, some with two certifiers, some with all three federally-recognised certifying agencies.. That’s not poor forestry practices. That’s responsible sourcing writ large.

In summary, the Canadian industry has been badly and unfairly smeared here. We can handle the truth, but the truth has not been told in this video. We are the good guys! We cause zero deforestation; have more forest certified as sustainably managed than anyone else in the world; every single mill member of PPEC has responsible (chain-of-custody) certification; we’re high in recycled content (mostly 100%); and our used packaging is the most widely recovered of all materials. FSC should be holding us up as a model for the rest of the world to aspire to. Not smearing us with lies and half-truths.

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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Forest Stewardship Council misleads Canadians, smears paper packaging

An open letter to Francois Dufresne, President and CEO of Forest Stewardship Council (Canada)

Dear Mr. Dufresne:

I recognize that FSC is in a three-way fight for market share in the forest and paper certification business, and that part of that fight is your recent launch of a new video plug for FSC aimed at the users of paper packaging.

Actually, as a commercial it’s not bad. Congratulations. Except for the big lie, or maybe I should say the totally misleading perception that the video leaves about paper packaging and deforestation. Because your slick commercial perpetuates a forestry myth, broadly smearing the Canadian packaging industry in the process.

The video begins well though. Some ”70% of consumers want the packaging of the products they buy to be sourced responsibly.” Couldn’t agree more. Wish it was higher. The good news is that every mill member of PPEC already has proof of responsible sourcing: independent third-party chain-of-custody certification as to where its fibre comes from, whether recycled or virgin.

The smear

But then comes the smear. “Paper, board and bioplastics can be a result of deforestation or poor forestry practices.” Can be? What does that mean? Could be? Or maybe, might not be? Which is it? And where’s the evidence, the examples, for this link you make between packaging and deforestation? Unfortunately, your video doesn’t provide any. Just smears everyone.

When you posted your commercial on Linked-In, I challenged you to provide specific examples of situations where trees used for packaging were harvested from forests that were not later regrown. Because that’s the law in Canada, as you know, Mr. Dufresne. Any provincial (crown) forest land that’s harvested must be successfully regenerated afterwards, either naturally or artificially (through tree planting or direct seeding).

A week went by with no answer, and then you posted the clip again. This time I pointed out (as if you didn’t already know) that the United Nations does not consider deforestation to have occurred when a forest is returned to forest. That is, when it remains as forest and is not converted to non-forest uses such as agriculture, oil and gas projects, hydro-electric development, residential subdivisions, and so on. (I’ve attached a link to a UN definition of deforestation for your benefit).

Forest Stewardship Counccil

But you already know this. . You acknowledged this when you responded to my second Linked-In comment, and it’s posted on your website: : Deforestation, clearance or clearing is the removal of a forest or stand of trees where the land is thereafter converted to a non-forest use. (Underline added).

Forest Land

And how much of Canada’s forest land was converted to non-forest use in the latest data year? According to Natural Resources Canada, about 37,000 hectares or just 0.01 per cent. And how much of that conversion of forest land to non-forest land was the forest industry responsible for? Well, a smidge under 1400 hectares. Do the math. That means that the forest industry’s deforestation rate was a mere 0.0004 per cent.* Yes, that’s three zeroes and a four.

But that’s the total forest and paper industries combined (lumber, pulp, newsprint, everybody). What about packaging’s contribution? Well it may come as a surprise to you, Mr. Dufrense, but hardly any freshly-cut trees are used to make paper packaging in Canada at all. In fact, most boxes and cartons made by Canadian mills are 100% recycled content. So basically, they are not responsible for any deforestation. Nada. So why are you smearing the paper packaging industry in Canada and their customers with this deforestation BS? Why are you perpetuating this myth? It’s inaccurate, dishonest, and a smear on the whole Canadian industry.

Oh no, we meant global forests, you say, referring to an article (written over 10 years ago!) about the 10 countries with the worst deforestation rates in the world (not including Canada, of course). I’m sorry Mr. Dufresne, but that’s not good enough. You posted this as president and CEO of FSC Canada, and the video is proudly displayed on the FSC Canada website. People are entitled to assume you are talking about Canada. The buck stops with you.

If FSC Canada wants to have any credibility with the paper packaging industry and its customers, I would strongly suggest that you immediately remove any reference to deforestation in your commercial. And I will be among the first to commend you for your honesty.

Yours sincerely,

John Mullinder

Executive Director, PPEC


*Canada’s forest lands in 2016 amounted to 347 million hectares. Of this, some 1,368 hectares (0.0004%) was allocated by the National Deforestation Monitoring System to forestry-related deforestation, primarily because of the creation of new permanent access roads into the harvest areas (Natural Resources Canada).

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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Some of the worst performing Blue Box materials pay the lowest fees

This is a story about what’s recyclable, what is sent for recycling, and the fees that stewards of those materials pay into Ontario’s Blue Box system. In what seems like a perversion of the ‘polluter pays’ principle, some of the worst performing materials pay among the lowest fees.

There are two elements to this story. One is that most of the Blue Box materials currently collected in Ontario are recyclable according to Competition Bureau guidelines on environmental labelling and advertising. What that means is that at least 50 per cent of the Ontario population can put them out for recycling.

But being ‘recyclable’ (able to be recycled) and being physically sent on for recycling are two quite different things. For example, over 99 per cent of Ontario households in 2018 could place aluminum foil in their Blue Boxes but only three per cent of that foil was sent on for recycling. Similarly, with steel paint cans. Over 94% of households were able to recycle them in the Blue Box but only seven per cent were recycled. And polystyrene foam. Over 60 per cent of Ontario households had access to its recycling but only four per cent was recycled. The largest gaps between being ‘recyclable’ and being sent on for recycling are highlighted in the chart below. Unfortunately, there are opportunities here for greenwashing: standing back and saying that a material is recyclable by households but doing little to increase its recovery.

And the fees that some industry stewards pay into the Blue Box system are not exactly encouraging higher recovery of some of the worst performing materials. Stewards of aluminum foil, for example, with a three per cent recovery rate, only pay $133 a tonne. That’s only $20 more than the stewards of corrugated boxes with a 98 per cent recovery rate! Stewards of steel paint cans, with a recovery rate of only seven per cent, pay even less ($69.70 a tonne). In steel’s case, the stewards of paint cans are riding on the backs of the stewards of steel food and beverage cans, who pay the same amount.

Fees, it seems, need to be more closely targeted at specific materials within a broader group. And part of that targeting is sorting out what a material’s real recycling rate is. What is in the sometimes mixed bales that leave a material recycling facility (MRF) for an end-market, for example, and how much of the different materials in that bale actually end up being recycled?

Blue Box materials chart

The current discrepancies between performance and steward fees illustrate the fact that the Ontario Blue Box funding formula gives far more weight to the cost of managing materials in the system than it does to promoting better environmental performance. This is not what former Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky promised when promoting the new 50 per cent industry-funded Blue Box scheme to a meeting of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters way back in 2004: “We plan to send a clear message that in Ontario, good performers are rewarded with incentives while polluters will pay for their actions.”

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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Everything you wanted to know about paper packaging

PPEC’s popular fact sheets have been revamped and updated, all 34 of them. Broken into five sections of interest, the factsheets cover a broad range of topics: from why packaging exists to where it comes from (trees); from what it’s made from to how it’s made; and to the industry’s history of reduction, re-use, and recycling.

Here’s the complete list. Click here to find out more.

Packaging 101

  • Why do we need packaging?
  • Packaging Facts & Figures
  • Corrugated Boxes
  • Paper Bags
  • Paper Boxes
  • What do you mean “cardboard” doesn’t exist?

Where does paper packaging come from?

  • Paper packaging comes from a renewable resource        
  • The Truth About Trees  
  • Re-growing the forest   
  • Canada leads the world in forest certification     
  • Forest certification standards in Canada   
  • The biggest consumer of the forest is not the forest industry (surprise!) 
  • The facts on deforestation          
  • Responsible sourcing of raw materials   
Corrugated Bale for Recycling

What’s paper packaging made from?

  • Virgin, recycled, and blended (or mixed) pulp
  • Most boxes and cartons made in Canada are 100% recycled content
  • What you can say about recycled content in Canada
  • Only 11% of Canadian boxes, bags and cartons are made from freshly-cut trees
  • Made from renewable energy (biomass, hydro)

How is paper packaging made?

  • Paper Packaging Flow Chart
  • What happens at a packaging mill
  • What happens at a converter (box) plant
The 3rs

The 3Rs (Reduction, Re-use, Recycling)

  • Reduction: Making do with less
  • Re-Use: Corrugated Re-trippers
  • Re-Use: Not necessarily “environmentally friendlier” than recycling
  • Re-Use: Sanitisation issues
  • Recycling: Most paper packaging is recyclable and/or compostable
  • Recycling: What “recyclable” means
  • Recycling: Virtually 100% of Canadians can recycle boxes and cartons
  • Recycling: Pioneering the recycling of old boxboard cartons
  • Recycling: Wax alternatives are recyclable
  • Recycling: PPEC wants old boxes banned from landfill
  • Recycling: Where does used packaging go?
  • Composting: The composting alternative

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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Canopy makes more embarrassing ‘boo-boos’

Vancouver-based environmental group Canopy continues to make embarrassing boo-boos about paper packaging in Canada. In a blog entitled “What’s in the Box? Canopy answers its own question with a bald-faced lie, giving the impression that paper boxes are mostly made from virgin market pulp.

This is not true. It is certainly not true in Canada. Very little virgin pulp is used by Canadian mills to make boxes in Canada. In fact, most are made from 100% recycled content board that’s been collected from the back of Canadian factories and supermarkets, from offices, or from Blue Boxes and depots. The industry’s environmental council (PPEC) pioneered the further recycling of old boxboard in North America way back in the 1990s. And almost every Canadian (96%) can put paper boxes out for recycling today.

While it is true that some virgin pulp is exported from Canada, it mainly goes into the production of printing and writing, sanitary and specialty papers. Only a small portion of it (15%) ends up in packaging products. So yes, it is both possible, and likely, that some of this exported pulp is shipped back to Canada as packaging with a product inside.

But to imply that virgin pulp represents the prime component of the Canadian industry’s feedstock for boxes, when most of it is 100% recycled content, is a gross distortion of fact.

Canopy also claims that many companies currently don’t know the fibre sources of their paper packaging. There is no excuse for this in Canada. Every single mill member of PPEC has independent third-party chain-of-custody certification of where its original fibre (whether virgin or recycled) comes from. All customers need to do is ask.

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

More Posts - Website

Blue Box Recycling: who’s performing and who’s not

Report card time! We’ve graded the 22 different material categories used by Ontario’s Blue Box system according to their most recent (2018) “sent for recycling” numbers.

We’ve also looked back to see how much printed paper and packaging was sent for recycling in 2003 to discern any improvements or otherwise. It was in 2003 that industry stewards (brand owners and retailers) first became legally obligated to fund 50% of Ontario Blue Box net costs and began collecting this data.

Here are the rankings with some historical perspective thrown in:

A

Corrugated Boxes                                          98%

 Magazines, Catalogues                               89%

Recovery for these materials was estimated at 72% back in 2003 so they have done very well. This is the fourth year in a row that corrugated box recovery has reached 98%.   

B

Old Newspapers                                             80%

Old Telephone Books                                    75%

Clear Glass                                                      72%

Steel Food & Beverage Cans                        70%

Old Boxboard Cartons                                   62%

The largest improvement in recovery percentage since 2003 has been for old boxboard cartons (up from 42%) followed by steel food and beverage cans (up from 53%) and clear glass (up from 57%).

C

Coloured Glass                                               57%

Gable Top Cartons                                        56%

PET Plastic Bottles                                       55%

HDPE Plastic Bottles                                    54%

Aluminium Food & Beverage Cans            47%

Gable-top cartons have jumped from 10% back in 2003 to 56% but the others in this group have only made marginal improvements (between four and six points). The percentage of coloured glass sent for recycling has fallen four points over the period.

D

Other Printed Paper                                      38%

Other Plastics                                                 34%

Steel Aerosols                                                31%

Aseptic Cartons                                             30%

The biggest improvements in this group were Other Plastics (up from 6%) and Aseptic Cartons (up from 10%) in 2003. There is clearly an opportunity to promote greater recovery of printing and writing paper. It should not be scoring a D here!

E

Plastic Film                                                     10%

Paper Laminants                                            9%

Steel Paint Cans                                             7%

Polystyrene                                                     4%

Plastic Laminants                                          3%

There has not been much progress in this group over the last 16 years of data. Paper laminants have gone from an estimated 1% to 9%; plastic film from 6% to 10%; plastic laminants from 1% to 3% and polystyrene from 3% to 4%. The recovery of steel paint cans has fallen significantly, down from 23%.

By broader material grouping, paper (72%), glass (68%) and steel (62%) scored a B; aluminum (41%) a C; and plastics (30%) a D.

These material rankings and the progress (or lack of progress) shown since 2003 should form the basis of current discussions over the future of Ontario’s Blue Box system. It is doing well in some respects but poorly in others. Why this is so, and how to address the “under-performers” (let alone set targets!), are key issues as we move ahead

Source: PPEC    Analysis of Stewardship Ontario Blue Box data between 2003 and 2018

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

More Posts - Website

False claims and sloppy journalism add to the public confusion about deforestation in Canada

Most Canadians find it hard to believe that the forest industry is responsible for only a tiny fraction of Canada’s deforestation. And that Canada has one of the lowest deforestation rates in the world (0.01%).

The widespread public confusion springs partly from the definition of the word itself in international agreements. Chopping down a tree or a section of forest, for example, does not equal deforestation when its harvest is followed by the regrowth of that forest.

In Canadian law, logging companies must replenish or restock the resource they have harvested either through natural or artificial regeneration (tree planting and seeding). Because they do this, replacing the forest they have harvested earlier, the net deforestation they are responsible for, is minimal. In fact, the industry’s deforestation rate is near zero (0.0004%)*, primarily because of the creation of new permanent access roads that the industry needs to get into the harvest areas, rather than the harvest itself.

Forestry’s tiny contribution to deforestation is not a guess. It is generated by a very sophisticated National Deforestation Monitoring System (NDMS) set up by Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Forest Service that employs aerial photography and satellites in the sky (remote sensing) and direct, on-the-ground personal observations by qualified forest scientists. Its findings on deforestation are published every year in a report on the State of Canada’s Forests to the federal government.

FALSE CLAIMS

So, let’s get to the false claims. Toronto-based environmental group, the Wildlands League, recently claimed that the annual deforestation caused by the Ontario forest industry was more than seven times higher than the reported rate of forestry-incurred deforestation in Canada as a whole.

It based this claim on a study of what are called “landing areas” in 27 sites in northwestern Ontario, extrapolating its findings to the rest of the province. What are landing areas? Basically, they are smallish areas where full trees are sometimes dragged from the stump to the roadside so that merchantable logs can be separated from waste wood. This harvest residue is then burned or just left to rot, says the league. The soil becomes compacted over time, and little new regeneration of forest takes place.

From a statistical and accuracy point of view, extrapolating estimates from 27 study sites in one region to the total harvest area of Ontario is problematic. Most of these study sites were harvested using “full-tree” harvesting two or even three decades ago, and it is uncertain to what extent those logging methods are still applied today. And not all harvested areas in Ontario are forests that have never been harvested before. The forest losses claimed in the study, then, should not be extrapolated to the whole of Ontario, and especially not to those areas that already have an existing road network.

It is true, however, that many of these landing areas in Ontario are not in great shape, as the league points out. Current estimates for carbon emissions and removals from the atmosphere do not adequately represent this.

But the key issue about the landing areas is that they are not included in deforestation estimates, as much as the league would like them to be. The landing areas are still on forest land. They have not been converted to non-forest purposes such as agriculture, oil and gas projects, hydro reservoirs, mining extraction,  residential subdivisions, ski hills or golf courses.

This definition of deforestation (conversion of forest land to non-forest land) is not made up by Canada. It is broadly accepted by the United Nations and other international institutions such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, and applies equally to land converted the other way: from non-forest land to forest land (afforestation). Any change “events” that are less than one hectare in size (including landings) are excluded under these definitions. A few smaller European countries have chosen to adopt smaller minimal areas (0.5 hectare) but this level of detail is not economically or practically feasible in a country the size of Canada.

The league may very well want to change international definitions of deforestation (good luck with that one!) but its real target is the failure to regenerate the forest that the landing areas are in. And that is squarely the responsibility of individual provinces. They should be enforcing the regeneration requirements of the forest licences they have granted on provincial (crown) land. 

despite false claims and sloppy journalism this chart is shows the real causes of deforestation

Successful regeneration of forest is clearly very important, but promoting a false definition of deforestation (an emotive word at the best of times) just adds to public confusion. Worse, it distracts attention from doing something about the main causes of deforestation in Canada (the conversion of forest land to agriculture, oil and gas development, new hydro lines and reservoir flooding, mining minerals and peat, and municipal urban development). 

SLOPPY JOURNALISM

Now for the sloppy journalism part. The Wildlands League took its study to the Globe and Mail newspaper which then put together a front-page lead and an extensive two-page feature inside with appropriate charts and photographs. The study disagrees with the definition of deforestation used by the NDMS and is critical of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) for its lack of action on landing sites.

But according to staff at the Canadian Forest Service, Globe reporter, Ivan Semeniuk, never interviewed anybody representing the NDMS prior to publication. Nor is there any indication in the article itself that the Ontario ministry was contacted either. No one from the Ontario MNRF is quoted in the article. But the Wildlands League and another environmental group, the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council, were interviewed. And both are quoted in the text.

So here we have a major feature on “deforestation” and forest regeneration in this country, and the reporter doesn’t go to the people most closely responsible for tracking and dealing with these issues. Is this balanced reporting? Looking at all sides of an issue? Gotcha journalism? 

There were also obvious clues of potential bias in the study document. Some of the field expenses for the study were paid for by an outspoken critic of Canada’s forest industry (the Natural Resources Defense Council) and here’s a surprise, the Cement Association of Canada. What’s cement got to do with forestry issues? It just happens that the Cement Association is lobbying against the greater use of engineered wood, a substitute for more emissions-intensive cement products in the building sector. Hmmm.

And then there’s this piece: “The findings are particularly troubling because much of Canada’s old-growth forest continues to be harvested for single-use, throw away products such as tissues, or for pulp – products for which alternative sources exist.”  This is an interesting claim in itself but it’s got nothing to do with regenerating landing areas. Nothing. The landing areas would exist whatever the product of the forest. Whether it’s the lumber used to build the reporter’s home, his office, his children’s school, the local hospital, or the pulp used to make printing and writing paper and tissue.

If the Globe wants to be serious about deforestation in Canada it should focus on the main cause (the conversion of forest land to agriculture). Farmers are good people, providing us with local food, scratching to make a living. But they also happen to be, as a group, the largest body of people removing Canadian forest for good. Eight times more, in fact, than the frequently vilified forest and paper industries.

And since Semeniuk is a “science” writer, how about informing Canadians about some of the really exciting things going on today with forest products: addressing climate change through taller mass-timber buildings; new uses for lignin; nanocrystalline cellulose; cellulose filaments; bio-composites.   

So, there you have it. False claims. Sloppy journalism. And a confused public as a result. The only good that’s come out of this story is that it has focused more attention on the state of those landing areas. Why not create jobs by getting them cleaned up? Plant some of Justin Trudeau’s two billion trees there. Get something done, and soon.

* Canada’s forest lands in 2016 amounted to 347 million hectares. Of this, some 1,368 hectares (0.0004%) was allocated by the National Deforestation Monitoring System to forestry-related deforestation, primarily new access roads.

P.S. I will be speaking on the subject of Deforestation in Canada and Other Fake News (the title of my recent book) at the Environment Session of Canada’s Annual Paper Week in Montreal on 4 February.

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC – Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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Salmonella survives plastic crate washing test, transfers to fresh cucumber

A scientific study just published in the international peer-review journal, Food Control, poses some serious questions about the sanitation of the re-usable plastic crates (RPCs) sometimes used to distribute fresh produce to retailers.

The study shows how Salmonella can become established on RPCs and survive the typical sanitation cycles that are applied to decontaminate the crates between uses. The surviving Salmonella then transferred to and from fresh produce on the RPC, underscoring the potential for crates to spread the pathogen throughout the supply chain.

SalmonellaSalmonella infection can cause vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration in humans, and can lead to reactive arthritis or even death in susceptible hosts such as the young, old, pregnant or immune-compromised.

Food safety commentators have long suspected that there was a link between ineffective washing and cleaning of crates before their next use, and the transfer of virulent pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria to fresh produce sold at retail. The risk of transferring devastating plant pathogens such as tomato brown rugose fruit virus between farms is also a recognised risk factor for RPCs.

Back in 2013, University of Guelph food scientist, Dr. Keith Warriner, the corresponding author of this latest study, found damaged and visibly dirty crates being re-used in Ontario and Quebec. It was even suggested that some crates were being given a quick hose down and then simply transferred from farm to retailer and then on to another farm, rather than being shipped to the closest wash facility, which is what is meant to happen in a re-use system. A more robust study the following year found worse results, including E. coli on 13% of the crates tested.

Typical industry cleaning procedures didn’t completely sanitize the crates either. Research led by Dr. Steven Ricke at the University of Arkansas showed that Salmonella cells remained on crates after cleaning. Ricke suggested that bacterial biofilms were hiding in the cracks and crevices of the crate’s surface, making it harder for industrial sanitizers to reach them.

Dr’s Siyun Wang (University of British Columbia) and Warriner (University of Guelph) and their associates have now taken this research a step further, sampling more than 160 crates at grower/packer operations in three Canadian provinces (Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia). Laboratory-based trials were undertaken to simulate the conditions under which Salmonella could persist and even grow on residues left by damaged produce.

The researchers then simulated a typical industrial sanitation cycle (water rinse followed by a caustic wash and then peracetic acid sanitizer shower) to see if the Salmonella survived that treatment. It did, the authors concluding that “if present at sufficient levels, Salmonella can (both) survive sanitation and (then) contaminate subsequent produce batches when crates are redistributed’’ to a new grower.

“These findings, taken in combination with the relatively poor sanitary status of re-usable crates sampled within packer/grower facilities, highlight the potential food safety risks represented by re-using crates.”

A summary of the peer-reviewed study can be found at Food Control – V110. You can get the entire report here.

Please Note: PPEC, which represents the Canadian corrugated box industry on environmental issues, co-funded this University of Guelph project in the interests of getting all the facts on the table. The traditional corrugated box system for the produce industry provides a fresh box for each delivery. The boxes are recycled several times over the course of their lives and meet rigid process control standards in their remanufacture. 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 minimizes the potential for undesirable pathogens and bacteria being carried forward to the consumer. A recent independent study of corrugated produce boxes showed that the corrugation process destroys bacteria.

A 2019 peer-reviewed comparative life cycle analysis conducted by Quantis showed that neither corrugated containers nor reusable plastic containers had an advantage in the environmental impact categories studied. Much depended on the commodity being shipped, transport distances, and other variables.

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC – Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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