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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?

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.”

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

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.

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

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.

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.

Newspapers’ big fall, but more packaging in Ontario households

While the collective weight of Blue Box materials generated by Ontario households has not changed much over the last 16 years (down 12%), the type of material that ends up there certainly has.

Far fewer newspapers, for starters. Almost 162,000 tonnes fewer, according to a PPEC comparison of Stewardship Ontario generation data between 2003 and 2018.

Magazines and catalogues have also taken a hit (49,000 tonnes less) together with printing and writing paper (down 39,000 tonnes). Telephone directories, not surprisingly, are on the way out. Overall, the generation of printed paper that ends up in Ontario homes has fallen some 41% over the period, mainly because of inroads made by electronic or digital competition. Millennials (and there are many more of them these days) are not known as great newspaper readers.Net Change in Generated Tonnes

Counterbalancing these losses are big tonnage gains in both plastic and paper packaging: some 93,000 more tonnes of plastic (mostly the grab-bag of “Other Plastics” and PET bottles); and 93,000 more tonnes of paper (mainly corrugated boxes and boxboard cartons). The spread of E-commerce delivery is expected to boost residential corrugated box tonnages even more in future years.

The table shows the net change in tonnages of some of the materials generated by Ontario households between 2003 and 2018 (with the losing categories highlighted in yellow) while the pie-charts give a graphic comparison by material group.

Source: PPEC Analysis of Stewardship Ontario generation data 2003 – 2018

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}.