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Executive Director (Part-time)

An opportunity has opened to lead the Canadian paper packaging industry on environmental issues.

The Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) was formed in 1990 as an umbrella organisation to focus on environmental issues affecting the sector. Its membership includes over 90% of the packaging mills in the country and most of its packaging converters.

PPEC has achieved a number of world or North American ‘firsts’ over its 30-year history and is widely respected as being pro-active and progressive. It lobbies governments on recycling and solid waste policy issues; networks with other industry players (its customers and its customers’ customers, industry stewardship bodies, municipalities, environmental groups, and sister associations in the United States); co-ordinates action industry-wide; develops practical solutions to problems; and promotes the industry’s environmental performance and achievements through its two websites and regular blogs.

This is a part-time position (three days a week or equivalent) with office and financial support staff provided. The successful candidate will report to a Board of Directors and be responsible for all the council’s work, including the hiring of specialists or consultants where applicable.

The council is looking for an energetic self-starter with 8-10 years  experience in environmental issues and superior communication skills (including social media). Previous work for an industry association, being bilingual, and knowing something about the paper industry or packaging would be an advantage but is not a requirement.

Salary for this contract position is $75,000 with health and pension benefits. The council’s office is in Brampton, Ontario but off-site work (home-based) is an option.

About us

PPEC is the national trade association representing the environmental interests of Canada’s paper packaging industry. It represents its members to federal, provincial and municipal governments, to industry forums and to environmental and consumer interest groups, serving both an advocacy and a policy input role.

For more information, please contact:

Geoff Love

Love Environment Inc loveenvironment@wightman.ca 647-248-2500

Suzuki dead wrong on paper’s circular economy

As a long-time admirer of Canadian broadcaster and author David Suzuki’s pungent style, it’s tough to have to point out three major errors in his latest opinion piece. I do so because his claim that paper does not represent a circular let alone a sustainable economy is dead wrong and based on patently false information.

David Suzuki
Suzuki: three major errors

FALSE CLAIM # 1: That vast amounts of boreal forest (are) pulped for toilet paper.’’

This is a gross, Trumpian-like exaggeration. To claim that “vast amounts’’ of boreal forest are pulped for anything, let alone toilet paper, is absurd. According to Canadian Forest Service estimates, a mere 0.16% of Canada’s boreal is harvested in any one year. Yes, 0.16%. Now I will readily admit my math was not great in high school, but I do not think that 0.16% comes anywhere close to qualifying as a “vast amount.”  Seriously? 0.16 per cent?[i]

And that harvest is mostly for lumber: to build houses, hospitals, schools, and so on. What’s left over (wood chips, shavings, and sawdust) is certainly used for other purposes (to supply energy to a mill and to the local community, and to make paper products) but the prime purpose of that harvest is for the lumber, not paper products. That’s why when people are not building houses (for example, in a recession) that overall harvest numbers go way down.[ii]

Calculating the portion of boreal harvest that goes specifically to make toilet paper is rather tricky because the sawmill residues that are used are later converted to paper both inside and outside Canada, and into other products as well (printing and writing paper, towelling, and even some packaging grades). However, assuming that other countries use pulp in a similar way to Canada, the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) estimates that less than 5% of Canadian-produced wood pulp, and less than 1% of total harvested wood (not just from the boreal), ends up in toilet paper each year.[iii]

So, this hugely exaggerated claim about ‘’vast amounts’’ of the boreal being “pulped for toilet paper’’ is basically, well, crap. And let’s not forget that it’s the law in Canada for any harvested area to be successfully regenerated after harvest, either naturally or artificially through tree planting or seeding. Canada does this by planting over a thousand new seedlings a minute. Sounds pretty circular to me.

FALSE CLAIM # 2: Cutting down forests that have never been logged to produce more toilet paper, packaging and other paper products we barely recycle can never be circular let alone sustainable.”

Suzuki, like Vancouver-based environmental group Canopy before him, is obviously sadly misinformed about the extensive use of sawmill residues and recycled paper in Canada.[iv]  I readily agree that most toilet paper is not recycled after use (for obvious reasons) but Canada, in fact, has a pretty decent record in recycling used paper products. According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, North America’s overall paper recovery rate is almost 70%, one of the highest in the world.[v]  In Statistics Canada’s bi-annual surveys of waste diversion, paper leads all other materials, representing almost 40% of Canada’s total recycling effort.[vi]  And on the packaging front, Suzuki is obviously ignorant of the fact that most Canadian packaging is not made from virgin trees at all. Most of it is 100% recycled content, the very embodiment of a circular economy. The recovery rate of old corrugated boxes in Ontario’s Blue Box, for example, has been an amazing 98%, four years running. Please get your facts straight before you make such inaccurate claims.

FALSE CLAIM # 3: “A 2020 draft forest sector strategy for Ontario projects a 35 percent increase in tissue production and a 25 percent increase in packaging.”

Sorry David, it does not. You screwed up. The draft forest sector strategy you refer to mentions global demand for pulp over the next decade, not Ontario demand. Ontario may be large to us, but it’s piddly on the world stage.[vii]  Besides, if packaging production were to increase by that much in Ontario, it would be 100% recycled content packaging anyway. Sorry, but you goofed big time here.

Put all these facts together and Suzuki’s flimsy argument totally collapses. In fact, of any industry in Canada the paper guys probably have the best case to make for being sustainable and circular. Unlike most other resources, the one paper uses, is renewable. Canada is also far and away the world leader in forests certified as being sustainably managed. Most Canadian mills have independent third-party chain-of-custody (responsible sourcing) certification; and the industry (especially the packaging sector) is high in recycled content and paper recovery. Combined, these factors arguably make the industry one of the largest and most successful examples of a circular economy in Canada today. Next time please get your facts straight before you splurge into print.


[i] Canada’s total forest lands comprise some 12 distinct terrestrial ecozones with the rate of harvesting in each varying but averaging about 0.22% overall (The State of Canada’s Forests Annual Report, 2019). The boreal forest is found in seven of these ecozones (the Taiga Plains, Taiga Shield, Boreal Shield, Boreal Plains, Taiga Cordillera, Boreal Cordillera and the Hudson Plains). While the boreal makes up a large area of the total forest (82%), it accounts for only three-fifths of the area harvested, according to a Canadian Forest Service analysis covering the years 2000 to 2015. The numbers are 453,600 hectares harvested out of 285 million hectares of boreal forest (or 0.16%).

[ii] “If the lumber market takes a downturn as it did during the recession of 2008-2009, then there is no point in harvesting trees. In fact, the harvest on provincial land in the recession year of 2009 was the lowest since 1990.” (Quotation from Deforestation in Canada and Other Fake News by John Mullinder, based on National Forest Inventory data, Table 6-2).

[iii] FPAC estimates, FPAC Environment Survey. Also note that about 60% of toilet paper in Canada comes from recycled paper.

[iv] More than 90% of the raw materials used by the Canadian pulp and paper industry are sawmill residues and recycled paper: Rotherham and Burrows (2014) Improvement in efficiency of fibre utilization by the Canadian forest products industry 1970-2010. Forestry Chronicle 90 (66).

[v] World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Facts & Trends: Fresh & Recycled Fiber Complementarity (2015).

[vi]  Statistics Canada, Materials diverted, by type, Table 38-10-0034-01. 

[vii] Total Expected Growth in Global Forest Products Demand in Next Decade, Duncan Brack, UN Forum on Forests, April 2018.

Let’s get the facts straight on Ontario’s Blue Box

The current debate over what to do about Ontario’s Blue Box frequently confuses at least four distinct but interrelated issues: waste management in general; the recycling option; the relative roles of industry and householders; and the nature of the Blue Box program itself.

First, the broader context. The Blue Box program is just one waste collection system, among many. Others include the deposit/return systems for beverage containers run by the Beer Store and the province itself through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario; some industry stewardship programs; private sector recycling efforts; and numerous return-to-retail options.

The Blue Box program does not, and was never intended to, address the almost 13 million tonnes of waste that Ontario generates every year.[1] To suggest, as some critics have, that the Blue Box is somehow failing because it focuses on only about 10% of Ontario’s generated waste, totally ignores its objective and scope.

What are these critics suggesting? That we should load up our Blue Boxes with meat scraps and leaves, rusty fridges and stoves, and old planks of plywood? These are best handled in other ways (used tires, laptops and cellphones, for example, already have separate, industry-led stewardship programs).

But the province does need to act more urgently on this front because it will run out of landfill space within 12 years. Typically, it takes between five to 10 years of consultations and reviews just to get all the approvals in place to site a new one.[2] Remember NIMBY and NIMTOO (not in my backyard and not in my term of office)? The clock is ticking on this one.

Disposal bans and landfill surcharges have been adopted in other provinces and regions, with varying degrees of success. For its part, the paper packaging industry has for seven years now lobbied successive Ontario ministers of the environment to introduce disposal bans, specifically on organics and paper (which give off greenhouse gases when left to rot in landfill). The province has talked a lot but done little.

Blue Box is a residential system

Second, the Blue Box program is a residential waste collection system. It focuses on what is in Ontario homes. It was never intended to collect materials from factories or supermarkets, offices or hospitals. And for good reason. The wastes from these operations are quite different in both nature and percentage composition. A Blue Box for wire strapping, chemicals, steel drums, and wooden pallets, as well as for paper, plastic, glass and metal? It doesn’t make sense. And who would do the collection? Municipalities?

These wastes are best left to ‘industry’ to manage. Sure, existing regulations need to be tightened and broadened, and here again, disposal bans and higher landfill fees, would be useful. At the moment it’s far cheaper to dump stuff than to recycle it. Industry needs an economic incentive to do the right thing. Again, the province holds most of the cards here but has done little.

False claims

Third, it would be remiss of me not to address some of the false claims being made about the relative contributions of residential and industrial waste. It is not true, for example, that “two-thirds of Ontario’s waste is generated in the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC and I) sector.” In fact, the consumption blame is pretty evenly spread. According to Statistics Canada (2016 data), almost half (46%) of Ontario’s waste was generated by the residential sector, with 54% coming from industrial (or IC and I) sources.[3]  Industry may be doing a far poorer job of diverting this material from landfill (extensive data is lacking), but overall, it is not consuming a huge amount more than householders. And it is our collective excessive consumption habits that are causing the waste problem in the first place.

Nor is it true that packaging is likely a major component of this industrial waste, as some critics have charged. Packaging represented only 13% of total solid waste according to Statistics Canada’s last national packaging survey way back in 1996. Over 70% of all packaging consumed in Canada was re-used or recycled, it found. And industry, not householders, was responsible for almost 75% of the packaging that was recycled.[4]  While there has certainly been an increase in residential recycling of packaging over the years, we seriously doubt that industry has stopped doing what it was doing before. Bring on some credible data!

Blue Box is a recycling program

Fourth, Ontario’s Blue Box is a recycling program. It is not a reduction program, although materials have been light-weighted over the years, more likely to save on costs than to avoid Blue Box fees. Nor is it a re-use program, although some of the materials do get re-used in one shape or another. And while the recyclability of a material is clearly a good thing, it is not the only factor to be considered when analysing a material’s overall environmental impact.

The Blue Box cannot achieve all of these very desirable outcomes by itself, and it should not be expected to. It is a recycling program, focussed on gathering dry recyclables (paper, plastic, glass and metal) from residential households and sending them on to end-markets to be made into new products and packaging. Its current universe is some 1.3 million tonnes of waste (10% of Ontario’s total generated waste) and while recovery has flatlined a little bit recently, the Blue Box is still sending just over 60% of Ontario’s dry household waste on for recycling. It is responsible for 25% of Ontario’s total recycling effort (not 7% as some critics recently claimed).[5]

Paper the key

And key to understanding the Blue Box recycling program is that 73% of it is paper. Paper is the success story of Ontario’s Blue Box. More than 70% of all the paper that Ontario households generate is recovered through Old Blue. Several paper materials (corrugated boxes, magazines and catalogues, and newspapers) have recycling rates in the high 80s and 90s. And while the revenues for paper grades fluctuate and are currently somewhat subdued, they totalled some $43.7 million in 2018 or 51% of total Blue Box revenues.[6]

What's being collected through Ontario's Blue Box
What’s being collected through Ontario’s Blue Box
Source: Stewardship Ontario (2018 data)

Most of this recovered paper is supplied to Ontario packaging mills that use it to produce new, 100% recycled content, boxes and cartons. Ontario thus already has a home-grown circular economy where used paper is recycled over and over again. It is in nobody’s interests to destabilise this situation by penalising the local paper industry, even inadvertently.

The materials that are not doing very well in Ontario’s Blue Box system are widely known (mostly plastics) and are the target of much of the bad press about the Blue Box. But we have to be very careful when coming up with solutions to the plastics’ problem that we don’t imperil the Blue Box itself. One solution is for companies to get out of plastics entirely. Another is to launch re-use programs. A third is to introduce deposit-refund schemes that have far higher material recovery rates than Ontario’s current broader-based multi-material approach. Then there are return-to-retail options, landfill bans and surcharges, minimum recycled content requirements, diversion targets, and EPR fees. But these options, my friends, deserve a whole new blog by itself. Stay tuned.


[1] Statistics Canada, Disposal of waste, by source (Table 38-10-0032-01) and Materials diverted, by source (Table 38-10-0033-01). Ontario generated 12,785,183 tonnes of waste in 2016 (comprising disposal of 9,475472 tonnes and diversion of 3,309,711 tonnes. Ontario’s overall waste diversion rate was therefore 26% (not 7% as recently claimed).

[2] Ontario Waste Management Association, Ontario Needs New Landfills, July 10, 2020

[3] Statistics Canada, ibid. Generation equals what was disposed plus what was diverted. In 2016, Ontario residences disposed of 3.7 million tonnes and diverted 2.1 million tonnes for a total waste generation of 5.8 million tonnes. In the same year, ‘industry’ disposed of 5.7 million tonnes and diverted 1.2 million tonnes for a total waste generation of 6.9 million tonnes. Ontario’s total waste generation was therefore 12.7 million tonnes, with residences contributing 46% and ‘industry’ 54%.

[4] This Statistics Canada monitoring exercise over 10 years, and its final result, while now very dated, covered 31 separate industry sectors of the economy and 32 different packaging material types, using surveys as well as information derived from Statistics Canada’s international trade   merchandise data and a national study of household packaging recycling. Some 10,000 surveys representing a total survey frame of almost 400,000 businesses were sent out, with the 61% response rate regarded by Statistics Canada as “consistent with other similar surveys.’’ (Milestone Report, Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, CCME, pages 6-7). Two significant findings of the National Packaging Monitoring System (NPMS) were that over 70% of all packaging consumed in Canada was re-used or recycled, and that industrial recycling of packaging (mostly corrugated boxes) accounted for almost 75% of all packaging recycling (Tables 1 and 29).

[5] Stewardship Ontario, Blue Box data. Table 1: Generation and Recovery (2016 and 2018). Ontario’s waste generation in 2016, according to Statistics Canada, ibid., was 12,785,183 tonnes. The Blue Box in that year sent 836,227 tonnes for recycling. Therefore, the Blue Box was responsible not for 7% of Ontario’s recycling diversion (as claimed recently) but rather 25% of it (836,227 divided by the 3,309,711 tonnes that Ontario recycled).

[6] Stewardship Ontario Blue Box data (2018). Table 1: Generation and Recovery and Table 2: Gross and Net Costs.

The future is wood and paper

The drive to get out of fossil fuels is picking up pace. And the most likely beneficiaries are wood and paper. This may come as a surprise to some people who see steep declines in newspaper consumption and a complete fall-off in letter writing (remember that?). But, in fact, while the current pandemic has certainly boosted the use of corrugated boxes to deliver supplies right to your home, the Canadian forest and paper industries have been busy reinventing themselves for many years now.

Here are just three examples recently highlighted by Natural Resources Canada:

18-storey building on the University of British Columbia campus
Image Credit: KK Law / naturally:wood
  •  Mass timber construction. This relies on multiple layers of laminated and compressed smaller pieces of wood making large panels that meet the safety and strength requirements for building tall structures. “Wood has an amazing capacity to store carbon and if you use wood for something like a building, you are storing the carbon for as long as the building exists,’’ says architect Michael Green, adding that the use of sustainable forest practices is a given. Several tall wooden buildings have now been constructed, including an 18-storey one on the University of British Columbia campus.
  • Replacing traditional plastic. McGill University chemists have found a way to convert cellulose from wood waste and paper industry pulp into biodegradable high-performance ingredients that can out-perform microplastics, a ‘’natural alternative to mineral, ceramic and artificial ingredients, ” says Mark Andrews, Anomera’s chief technology officer. Goodbye to plastic microbeads used in cosmetics and skin-care products.
  • Reclaiming local wood. An Urban Wood Directory, created by the City of Toronto, connects Toronto area residents and businesses with a wide range of local urban forest management services and wood producers, from arborists to furniture designers. Barnboard Store, for example, supplies reclaimed barn board beams and line edge slabs, and builds custom furniture. Century Wood specialises in flooring while Timbercraft reclaims barn materials for both flooring and furnishing.

P.S. On the subject of renewal and revitalisation, the environmental council I have headed for almost 30 years (gasp!), is looking for someone to take over my role (or parts of it). This is not goodbye (yet) but life does creep up on you. Suddenly you are 40 and then you’re 50! I wish to spend more time doing my own thing (writing) but will be around (hopefully) to mentor anyone who is interested in taking over. So if you are energetic and a self-starter who yearns for independence, responsibility, and a challenge, this could be the job for you.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.”

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