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Ontario Blue Box recovery rate barely above 60% provincial target

Blue Box Recovery Rates 2018The recovery rate of Ontario’s residential Blue Box system has slipped again, to its lowest level since 2005. According to Stewardship Ontario, the 2018 recovery rate was 60.2%, just barely above the mandated provincial target.

Almost three-quarters of what’s currently being recovered is paper of one kind or another, the same as it was back in 2003 when industry “stewards” (brand owners and retailers) became legally obligated to co-fund the Blue Box system.  Paper packaging now has the highest recovery rate overall (72%) followed by printed paper (71%), glass bottles (68%) and steel cans (62%).

Paper materials continue to achieve the highest individual material recovery rates: old corrugated boxes (98%); old magazines (89%); old newspapers (80%) and old telephone directories (75%). The 98% corrugated box rate is probably padded by e-commerce purchases slipping into the system.Blue Box Recover Rate

The Blue Box laggards continue to be aluminum and plastics packaging at 41% and 30% recovery respectively. Plastics packaging now represents 43% of what ends up going to disposal (on a weight basis). It’s also by far the most expensive material to recover (the net cost of recovering plastic laminates, for example, is listed at $2,766 a tonne, and plastic film at $2,733 a tonne. The Blue Box average net cost is $346 a tonne).

 Stay tuned for further analysis of the latest numbers.

Brand owners sucked in by Canopy’s embarrassing boo-boos

Vancouver-based environmental group, Canopy, has launched a global campaign against paper packaging, claiming that three billion trees “disappear into packaging’’ every year leaving “a trail of deforestation, degraded forest systems, threatened species, and an increasingly volatile climate.”

Strong words. But are they true? Not as far as Canada is concerned (and probably the US too).

For a Vancouver-based group, Canopy is alarmingly ignorant of the packaging facts in Canada. Here’s one. Most of the paper packaging material made by Canadian mills is 100% recycled content!  It’s not made (as Canopy claims) with the “habitat of endangered species such as orangutans or caribou.” It’s made from old used boxes collected from the back of Canadian factories and supermarkets; from offices; and from Canadian homes. And has been for years, including in Vancouver. So no, it doesn’t have a “crushing footprint” on the world’s forests, biodiversity and climate.

The tiny amount of virgin fibre that is used to make paper packaging in Canada doesn’t come from “ancient” forests either, in the normal sense of that word. To most people, “ancient” means old, as in very old. In fact, Canada’s forests are relatively young, mostly between 41 and 120. And since Canopy mentions the Canadian boreal, guess what percentage of its trees is over 200 years old? Yep, a mere one (1) per cent. Check out the data from the National Forest Inventory. Branding the Canadian boreal as ‘‘ancient” is misleading and exaggerated.

Canopy talks about trees “disappear(ing) into packaging” but it conveniently fails to mention the other side of the ledger: that new trees are planted to regenerate the forest. This is provincial law in Canada. Logged areas must be successfully regenerated after harvest, either by natural or artificial means (planting and seeding). In Canada, this averages more than a thousand new seedlings a minute, or 615 million a year. It balances what is harvested.

And far from “leaving a trail of deforestation” (as Canopy claims), the paper packaging industry in Canada is not responsible for any of it. The major cause of deforestation in Canada is not forestry, it’s conversion of forest land to agriculture, and has been for years. Canopy knows this, or at least has been told so numerous times.paper packaging

Canopy also leaves the impression that pizza and shipping boxes are simply used once and thrown away. In fact, corrugated box recovery in Canada is estimated to be at least 85 per cent. In one province, Ontario, the residential Blue Box system sends an amazing 98% of the corrugated boxes that end up in the home, on for recycling. This provides a continuous recycling loop that maximizes the use of paper fibre, creating a circular economy.

More forest facts

Here’s some more Canadian forest facts that the ten mostly clothing manufacturers currently supporting Canopy’s campaign need to know:

  • In any given year, some 99.8%  of Canada’s forest lands is not logged at all
  • The 0.2% that is logged is mostly logged for lumber (to build houses and hospitals etc.) with lesser amounts harvested for pulp and paper products. The harvested area is subject not only to provincial sustainable forest management practices that include mandatory regeneration but also to independent third-party certification audits, including those by a certifier whose credentials Canopy regularly promotes
  • Canada leads the world in the amount of forest independently certified as sustainably managed. It is currently home to over 37% of the world’s total certified forests.

There’s a lesson here for brand owners everywhere. We commend you for committing to environmental causes. But please, please do not allow yourselves to be publicly embarrassed by lending your names and credibility to the false and misleading claims such as Canopy makes above. Facts do matter.

Please share this widely.

Setting the record straight on deforestation in Canada

There’s no question that deforestation is a serious global issue with climate change consequences. The massive fires in the Amazon and Indonesia are just the most recent examples. But there’s also a lot of misinformation about deforestation, about where it’s occurring, and what its major causes are.

For starters, simply cutting down a tree is not deforestation, according to United Nations’ definitions. Removing trees or forests and replacing them with something else, on the other hand, is. Think of the conversion of forest land to agriculture, oil and gas projects, new homes, hydro lines or reservoirs, ski hills and golf courses. In other words, deforestation means the forest is unlikely to return to forest. It’s gone for good.

That’s not to say that the world’s forests are not temporarily disturbed by both natural and human interaction.

Insect infestations, disease, and forest fires occur naturally and have done so for thousands of years. There is no such thing as a pristine undisturbed forest.

Human interaction (for example, logging) also disturbs the forest, but in Canada’s case, provincial law requires that the forest be successfully regenerated either naturally or by artificial means (planting and seeding). Over a thousand new seedlings are planted every minute in Canada to help regenerate what has been harvested earlier.

The fact that this occurs in Canada helps explain why the forest industry here was responsible for only 4% of Canada’s total deforestation in 2016. The 4% is the forest land removed to create new permanent forestry access roads.   Causes of deforestation in Canada

Major Causes

The major cause of deforestation in Canada is, in fact, the conversion of forest land to agriculture. Back in 1990, conversion of forest land to agriculture represented two-thirds of Canada’s total deforestation. Today it’s down to one-third.

The second major cause is oil and gas development (24%); followed by new hydro lines and reservoir flooding (12%); mining for minerals and peat (9%); and municipal urban development (9%).

So, if we want to reduce deforestation in Canada, we should first focus on why forest land is converted to agriculture (and the other land uses noted above). But that doesn’t let us off the hook entirely. We also need to question our use of imported soy and palm oil, beef, timber and pulp. These, plus the clearing of forest land for cattle grazing and fuel wood, are the major causes of deforestation globally.

{If you would like to know more about deforestation can I modestly suggest that you read my book! (Deforestation in Canada and Other Fake News at www.johnmullinder.ca). It covers Canada’s deforestation rate, its history, its causes, and how Canada compares to other countries. It also outlines the basic facts about forestry in Canada and tackles ‘Other Fake News’: several false and misleading environmental claims, sloppy media and greenwash}.

Press Release – Most Canadian packaging board now 100% recycled content

Most of the paper packaging material made by Canadian mills today is 100% recycled content. Old corrugated boxes and cartons are collected from the back of factories and supermarkets; used paper from offices; and a wide range of paper material gathered and sorted from residential (Blue Box) programs across the country.

It wasn’t always the case, says John Mullinder, executive director of the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC), which has been tracking and promoting the industry’s performance since 1990.

The increase in recycled content has paralleled the move of Canadians into towns and cities, offering the mills better opportunities to harvest the nearby ‘urban forest’ of used paper and board. Initially the mills focussed on recycling old corrugated (shipping) boxes and printing and writing paper from offices, then broadened their interest to residential (Blue Box) sources as those programs developed. In 1990, for example, most Canadian cereal and shoe boxes (although made with 100% recycled content) ended up in landfill. PPEC and its customers led North America in pioneering the further recycling of this material so that today some 94% of Canadians can recycle it.

100% Recycled content boardPackaging Mills

Most packaging mills in Canada now produce a 100% recycled content board. That’s the way the mills were built. A handful of mills blend recycled material with sawmill residues (wood chips, shavings, and sawdust left over from lumber operations); or when sawmill residues are in short supply, freshly cut trees.

“But when you add all the numbers up,” says Mullinder, “the Canadian industry hardly uses any freshly cut trees to make paper packaging at all. The notion that every time we want to make a new box or carton, we just grab a chainsaw and head for the forest, is totally false.’’

According to PPEC’s latest survey of the industry, 2.1 million tonnes of recycled board was shipped by Canadian mills to domestic and export markets in 2018.  Some 87% of that was from mills making a 100% recycled content product (linerboard, corrugating medium, or boxboard).

For more information on recycled content (how it’s defined, how it’s measured, what averages mean, the difference between pre and post-consumer recycled, how the packaging grades differ, the need for virgin material, and the problem with regulating minimum recycled content levels) see the latest version of PPEC’s backgrounder Understanding Recycled Content or go to the PPEC website www.ppec-paper.com

Summary from PPEC’s 2018 Recycled Content Survey

Canadian Mill Shipments (including kraft paper):

3.37 million tonnes

Recycled Content Shipments:

2.11 million tonnes (62.7%)

Recycled Content from 100% Recycled Mills:

1.83 million tonnes (86.7%)

What does “100% reusable, recyclable, or, where viable alternatives do not exist, recoverable” actually mean?

These are the words in the Ocean Plastics Charter that Canada signed along with other G7 countries except Japan and the US. But what do they actually mean?Ocean Plastics Charter 2019 - 100% recyclable

First the 100%. That means all, right? Everything. So, there will be no plastic waste then? Or does the 100% only refer to the re-usable part? 100% re-usable? Are all plastics 100% re-usable? Don’t think so. Or maybe it’s 100% reusable or recyclable? Or a cumulative total. Get to 100% through a combination of reuse, recycling and recovering? Either way, but no waste as a result?

And what does recyclable mean? Technically recyclable? Most materials already are. Depends on how much money you want to throw at them. Or does it mean able to be recycled?  You can put it out at the curb or drop it off at a depot. But nothing will ever be 100% recyclable because 100% of Canadians will never have convenient access to recycling (those that live in remote communities et cetera).

Who decides?

And if the material’s not “100% reusable, recyclable” who decides whether “viable alternatives” exist or not? In a world of subsidies, what does viable mean? Does recoverable mean energy recovery or just able to be recovered? Everything’s able to be recovered right now. We’re just not recovering it all!

I think we need to sort this stuff out long before we start talking about targets and deadlines and consequences if you don’t meet them. Because I get the distinct impression that some of the packaged goods companies jumping on the bandwagon and saying they will reach such and such a goal by such and such a date don’t totally understand what they’re promising. And when they find out that a certain goal was never feasible with a certain material in the first place or never achievable because of geographic constraints, they’re going to have a lot of egg on their faces. And be accused of greenwashing. Governments too.

We need a document spelling out exactly what we mean because this affects not only plastics but all other materials and other countries as well. Get your pens out folks!

Climate change demands that our focus should be on improving paper and organics recovery, not fiddling around with plastic straws

Yes, plastic litter (any litter for that matter) and marine pollution is terrible, and we need to have a long hard look at our consumption habits and to reduce our use of fossil fuels. But when we are warned by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we have only 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 C, our prime focus should surely be on achieving some “big hits” that will rapidly reduce current greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In waste management terms, those “big hits” are reducing the methane being emitted from landfills; and getting more paper and organics out of them. In landfill, paper and organics emit carbon dioxide and methane. Reducing methane and other GHG, and their causes, should be our prime focus, not publicly announcing vague aspirational goals for plastics somehow getting to 100% this or that, with no penalties if they don’t get there. Excuse the cynicism but we’ve seen this movie before.

Where the focus should be

Focus number one should be capping methane emissions from landfill. These efforts are underway but need to be accelerated.

Focus number two should be addressing the material streams in landfill that emit GHG: organics and paper. Both are sizable chunks of Canada’s waste stream. And here’s the good news. They already represent two-thirds of what Canadians divert from landfill. Let’s build on this foundation.Materials Diverted 2016

Organics

Many provinces and cities now have active “green bin” organics recovery programs. And the national diversion of organics has climbed steadily in recent years (up 11% since 2008 to 2.6 million tonnes).

The leader in this effort has been Nova Scotia, which banned organics from landfill way back in 1996. Nova Scotians diverted 170 kilograms of organics per person in 2016; almost six times more than their provincial cousins in Saskatchewan. If we assume that Canadians consume organics in much the same way across the country, how come Saskatchewan and Quebec are so far behind? Is it geography, population density, rural/urban mix, lack of infrastructure, attitude, government priorities, leadership? All good questions.

And here’s the missed opportunity. If we applied Nova Scotia’s organics recovery numbers to the whole country, we could have expected 3.36 million more tonnes of organics diversion in 2016. That would have raised Canada’s overall waste diversion rate by 6.5% and eliminated some 638,000 tonnes of GHG. While there are new costs in adding organics programs these are somewhat offset by saving millions of dollars in avoided landfill costs and by tax revenues flowing to governments from new jobs in organics processing.

Paper

It’s a similar story with paper, the most widely recovered material in Canada. The leaders in paper recovery in 2016 were Quebec and British Columbia (136 and 130 kilograms per person respectively). Manitoba and Saskatchewan lagged far behind, at 47 and 41 kilograms per capita.

Let’s assume that paper consumption was similar across the country. If we applied Quebec’s 136 kilograms per capita rate to the rest of Canada this would have meant an extra 1.21 million tonnes of paper diversion; would have lifted Canada’s overall waste diversion rate by 2.5%; and would have eliminated some 145,000 tonnes of GHG.  It would also have given longer life to existing landfills, something that seems to be getting more and more attention from governments this year.

Add these two major streams together (paper and organics) and you have close to 800,000 tonnes of GHG reduction from Canadian landfills while boosting Canada’s overall waste diversion rate by almost nine per cent. Aren’t these targets worth setting? And we’re not even addressing other waste streams that could and should be included.

So, how do we get more organics and paper out of landfill? Disposal bans or generator levies. Only two provinces have them: Nova Scotia (which coincidentally has the lowest waste disposal rate in Canada) and Prince Edward Island. Metro Vancouver has shown it can be done with benefits in an urban area. Diversion of Paper and Organics

PPEC, representing the paper packaging industry, has lobbied various provincial governments to ban old corrugated boxes from landfill since 2015. We have seen three different ministers of the environment in Ontario on this issue over the years but there has been no action to date, just statements that “we will consider it.”Focus on Banning Old Boxes From Landfill

We estimated back then that a ban on the disposal of old corrugated boxes in Ontario landfills would reduce methane and carbon dioxide emissions by up to 175,000 tonnes a year (equivalent to taking 33,000 cars off the road or eliminating the annual energy emissions of 70,000 homes).

These used boxes shouldn’t be in landfill. Every single packaging mill in the province uses old corrugated collected from the back of factories, supermarkets, office buildings or from curbside to make new packaging, most of it 100% recycled content. We import similar used boxes from the US when we can’t get enough in Canada. It’s our feedstock. We need it.

In summary: the key to reducing GHG emissions from the waste management sector lies in provincial landfill policy:

  • capping the current emissions
  • ensuring that GHG-emitting materials like organics and paper don’t end up there;
  • and tipping the scales away from landfilling being cheaper than recycling.

Yes, it’s not easy, but it’s doable. And don’t get me started on the BS that recycling is dead!

 

(This completes our series of blogs on Statistics Canada’s most recent data on disposal and diversion of waste. Here are the links to the previous articles: Canada’s ‘worst performers’ in waste management in Canada: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta (April 12, 2019); Canada’s ‘middle performers’ in waste management: Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario (March 27, 2019); British Columbians and Nova Scotians are Canada’s best recyclers (March 14, 2019)    Canada’s waste diversion rate slowly inches higher (February 28, 2019); Where’s the garbage coming from? More and more from homes (February 19, 2019); Good news and bad news in dumping of waste (October 11, 2018).

The ‘worst performers’ in waste management in Canada: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta

Canada's worst performing provincesThree provinces lag significantly behind the others in solid waste management in Canada: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. And what’s worse, their low diversion rates (ranging from between 16 and 18%) have not changed much over the last eight years, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada.

The data measures the disposal and diversion of industrial, commercial and residential streams of used paper, plastics, glass, metals, textiles, organics, electronics, white goods (such as fridges and appliances) and construction, renovation and demolition (CRD) materials like wood, drywall, doors, windows and wiring.

Albertans dumped over a tonne of waste per person in 2016, two and a half times more than the average Nova Scotian and 320 kilograms more than the average Canadian. The three provinces were also among the least effective in waste diversion: Manitobans and Saskatchewanians being the lowest ranked of the eight reporting provinces.

As is the case throughout Canada, the major streams of materials diverted here in 2016 were paper and organics, but Manitobans, Saskatchewanians, and Albertans were middle to bottom performers in both. They performed better in recovering used tires: Saskatchewan was tops with Alberta third and Manitoba fourth-ranked per person. Albertans were also number three in the diversion of construction, renovation and demolition waste. But overall, these three provinces have a long way to go to catch up with what’s going on elsewhere in Canada.

The pie charts show the major material streams they diverted in 2016. In my next blog in this series I will try and draw all the strands of data together to present a national picture of what the data tells us and outline where the major opportunities for greater diversion seem to lie.

The links to the previous blogs can be found here: Canada’s ‘middle performers’ in waste management: Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario (March 27, 2019); British Columbians and Nova Scotians are Canada’s best recyclers (March 14, 2019)    Canada’s waste diversion rate slowly inches higher (February 28, 2019); Where’s the garbage coming from? More and more from homes (February 19, 2019); Good news and bad news in dumping of waste (October 11, 2018).

Canada’s ‘middle performers’ in waste management: Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario

Three provinces sit in the middle of Canada’s waste disposal charts. But because two of them (Quebec and Ontario) together contain 60% of Canada’s population, they basically determine the Waste Management - What are QC, NB & ON Divertingcountry’s overall waste management performance.

According to the latest Statistics Canada data, Quebecers, New Brunswickers and Ontarians ranked third, fourth and fifth-largest dumpers of waste of the nine reporting provinces in 2016, behind the best performers, Nova Scotians and British Columbians. Quebecers dumped 660 kilograms a person, New Brunswickers 670 kilograms, and Ontarians 700 kilograms. The Canadian average was 710 kilograms per person.

The waste we are talking about is used paper, plastic, glass, metals, textiles, organics, electronics, white goods such as fridges and appliances, and construction, renovation and demolition materials like wood, drywall, doors, windows, and wiring. Some waste streams are excluded from StatsCan’s definitions.

Most of Quebec’s waste was dumped by homeowners or renters. This reflects a recent trend for increasing quantities of waste to come from homes, although nationwide (and in Ontario and New Brunswick) more waste overall was still emanating from industrial, commercial and institutional (IC & I) sources in 2016.

The three provinces were also in the middle of the bunch when it comes to diverting waste. But there are some interesting differences between them, indicating both progress and where future challenges lie. Quebec, for example, led Canada in the per capita diversion of both paper and white goods but was second lowest in organics diversion. Clearly it needs to boost its organics’ recovery.

New Brunswick’s organics diversion, on the other hand, represented 65% of all it diverted in 2016, ranking it second best organics diverter in the country, but its paper recovery was the lowest. Ontario was in the middle: ranked third in paper recovery and fourth in organics. The pie charts show the similarities and differences between these key ‘middle performers.’

This is the latest in a series of recent blogs on waste and recycling data in Canada. Here are the links to the others: British Columbians and Nova Scotians are Canada’s best recyclers, (March 14,  2019); Canada’s waste diversion rate slowly inches higher (February 28, 2019); Where’s the garbage coming from? More and more from homes (February 19, 2019); Good news and bad news in dumping of waste (October 11, 2018).

British Columbians and Nova Scotians are Canada’s best recyclers

Nova Scotia might have the country’s highest diversion rate as a province (44%) but British Columbians recycle more as individuals.

An analysis of the latest data from Statistics Canada shows that the average British Columbian diverted 377 kilograms of waste in 2016. That’s 60 kilograms more than the average Nova Scotian and twice as much as people living in Saskatchewan. The average Canadian diverted 263 kilograms of waste, the equivalent of about one heavy (50 pound) suitcase a month.Diversion rate per person by province

The “waste” includes used paper, plastic, glass, metals, textiles, organics (food scraps), electronics, tires, white goods such as fridges and appliances, and construction, renovation and demolition materials like wood, drywall, doors, windows and wiring.

There are some interesting differences between Canada’s two waste diversion leaders. Nova Scotia’s population is quite concentrated within a relatively small area compared to British Columbia, which would seem to give the waste diversion advantage to Nova Scotia. BC’s recycling results, on the other hand, are spread more broadly and thus less reliant on major tonnage diversion coming from just one or two material streams.

For example, while paper and organics are the major material streams diverted in each province, there’s a marked difference in their relative contribution to the provincial total. In British Columbia, paper recycling and organics diversion represent about one-third of the total each. But in Nova Scotia, organics recovery alone is responsible for over half (53%) of the province’s resulting diversion. Without that substantial diversion of organics, Nova Scotia would slip down the provincial rankings.

The data thus indicate opportunities for improvement as well: for BC to boost its organics diversion (it’s currently ranked  third behind Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in organics diversion per person) and for Nova Scotia to focus more attention on collecting materials other than organics (for example, it’s ranked sixth out of the eight reporting provinces in diverting paper).

Of course, better data, particularly on the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC & I) side would help. We believe that the diversion of paper in Nova Scotia is significantly higher than the Statistics Canada numbers indicate.

Diversion Rate for BC and NS

(This is the latest in a series of recent blogs on waste and recycling data in Canada. Here are the links to the others: Good news and bad news in dumping of waste (October 11, 2018); Where’s the garbage coming from? More and more from homes (February 19, 2019); Canada’s waste diversion rate slowly inches higher (February 28, 2019).

 

Canada’s waste diversion rate slowly inches higher

A diversion rate of 27% might not sound too impressive but it’s better than the 24% of a few years back. According to the latest Statistics Canada data, we dumped almost a million tonnes less in 2016 than we did in 2008 while at the same time diverting almost a million tonnes more from landfill.
Waste Diversion Chart
Both industry and residents were responsible for this result, diverting waste in roughly equal proportions (48% and 52% respectively). But there are some key caveats to interpreting this information.

For starters, while the waste categories measured are very broad (paper, plastic, glass, metals, textiles, organics, electronics, white goods, and construction, renovation and demolition waste), certain streams that are more likely to be industrial in nature were excluded from the calculations (materials from land clearing, and asphalt, concrete, bricks, and clean sand or gravel). So not all waste is counted.

On the other hand, “industry” doesn’t get any credit in this data for the tonnes of materials diverted by the country’s many beverage deposit-return systems, or for the used boxes and paper that are shipped direct from a retailer to a paper recycling mill rather than through a material recycling facility (MRF). Welcome to the challenge of analysing and interpreting data!

There is an interesting story to be found here though about diversion rates by province. The best performing provinces on a weight basis in 2016 were Nova Scotia and British Columbia. While Nova Scotia’s diversion rate has dipped slightly since 2008 it has consistently been in the 40% range, and in 2016 reached 44 per cent.

Waste Diversion by Province

 

On the other coast, British Columbia, at 35% in 2008, jumped significantly between 2014 and 2016 to reach 40% for the first time, perhaps reflecting the impact of the launch of BC’s new industry-funded Blue Box program in 2014. Quebec ranks next at 31% followed by Ontario at 26% and New Brunswick at 23 per cent. They are followed by the laggards (Manitoba at 18%, Alberta at 17%, and Saskatchewan at 16%).

We’ll be having a look at the specific materials diverted and why some provinces are doing better than others in the next few blogs. Be prepared for some surprises. Nova Scotia might have the country’s highest diversion rate as a province, but Nova Scotians as individuals are not Canada’s best diverters! Stay tuned!