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Fewer newspapers 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 15 years, the type of material that ends up there certainly has.

Far fewer newspapers, for starters. Almost 136,000 tonnes fewer, according to a PPEC comparison of Stewardship Ontario generation data between 2003 and 2017.

Magazines and catalogues have also taken a hit (41,000 tonnes less) together with printing and writing paper (down 13,000 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 35% 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.

Counterbalancing these losses are big tonnage gains in both plastic and paper packaging: some 99,000 more tonnes of plastic (mostly the grab-bag of “Other Plastics” and PET bottles); and 89,000 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 2017 (with the losing categories highlighted in yellow) while the pie-charts give a graphic comparison by material group.

Household Generation 2003 & 2017

Source: PPEC Analysis of Stewardship Ontario generation data 2003 – 2017 

Ontario Blue Box recovery rate slips again, but paper’s steady

The recovery rate of Ontario’s residential Blue Box system has slipped again, to its lowest level since 2005. According to Stewardship Ontario, the 2017 recovery rate was 61.3 per cent, down Ontario Blue Box 2017almost two per cent on the previous year. The provincial target is 60 per cent.

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. Printed paper (newspapers, magazines and catalogues, telephone books and printing and writing paper) has the highest recovery rate overall (83 per cent) followed by glass packaging (70 per cent) with paper packaging at 64 per cent and steel packaging at 63 per cent.

Paper and aluminum packaging are the only material groupings whose recovery rates have either stayed at the same level or improved in every specific category since 2003, with corrugated boxes again being the recovery leader overall in 2017 at an impressive 98 per cent.

The glass recovery rate has dropped significantly from 2015 but the Blue Box laggards continue to be aluminum and plastics packaging at 40 per cent and 28 per cent recovery respectively. Plastics packaging now represents 44 per cent 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 film, for example, is listed at $2,848 a tonne, and plastic laminates at $2,897 a tonne. The Blue Box average net cost is $307 a tonne.

 Stay tuned for further analysis of the latest numbers.

Good news and bad news in dumping of waste

Canadians are dumping slightly more waste than they did back in 2002, but because there are more of us around today, what we dump per person has fallen almost eight per cent since then. So there is good news and bad news in our analysis of StatsCan’s latest waste disposal numbers.

The data measures the disposal of industrial, commercial, and residential streams of paper, plastic, glass, metals, textiles, organics (food), electronics, white goods such as fridges and appliances, and construction, renovation and demolition (CRD) materials like wood, drywall, doors, windows, and wiring. It excludes materials from land clearing, and asphalt, concrete, bricks, and clean sand or gravel.

Canadians dumped 24.9 million tonnes of waste in 2016, down from a peak of 26.4 million tonnes in 2006, but almost 4% more than in 2002. On a per capita basis, given the 12% increase in the number of Canadians over the period, we have improved as waste dumpers from 770 kilograms per person down to 710 kilograms per person. The stats are based on weight and we don’t know to what extent more and lighter weight plastics might be a factor in this result.

Nova Scotia continues its long track record of being the province dumping the least. Its latest per capita rate is 410 kilograms per person, hardly changed from 2002, with the next best performer being British Columbia at 560 kgs/capita. A bunch of provinces follow (Quebec at 660, New Brunswick at 670, Ontario at 700, Manitoba at 758, Newfoundland and Labrador at 760, and Saskatchewan at 820 kgs/person). Bringing up the tail end is Alberta, the only province over one tonne per person, at 1030 kgs/capita.

Quebec, BC and Ontario have recorded the most improvement over the period (down 16, 15 and 13% respectively). The Alberta and New Brunswick per capita trend is in the opposite direction (up 12% and 22% between 2002 and 2016).

Where’s the waste coming from?  See our next blog on trends in waste from industrial and residential sources.

Environmental facts and fiction: what’s the real story?

Environmental Seminar  Header

Put a retailer, a brandowner, a sustainability expert, and an environmental advocate in the same room together and what do you get?  PPEC’s workshop on November 7, that’s what.

The paper packaging industry’s annual fall environmental event will include a wide range of speakers on a variety of subjects:

  • Bob Chant, Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Communications, of Canada’s largest grocery retailer, Loblaw Companies Ltd. Bob is also on the Board of the Ontario Blue Box stewardship organisation, Stewardship Ontario.
  • Gulnara Gabidullina, Director of Global Product Stewardship for leading brandowner Procter & Gamble Canada. Gulnara will focus on what P & G is doing about plastics, something that should be interesting to a predominantly paper crowd!
  • Laura Rowell, Global Sustainable Packaging Manager for Sonoco. Laura has been involved in sustainable packaging issues for as long as PPEC has been around!
  • And finally, keynote speaker, Tim Gray, Executive Director of one of Canada’s leading environmental groups, Environmental Defence Canada. Tim has a degree in Botany/Environmental Studies and has worked on several important forest issues (old growth policy, forest sector competitiveness, land-use planning, conservation, certification standards, parks and wildlife).

Put it all together and you have a mix of hot discussion points: sustainability, extended producer responsibility or EPR, product and packaging stewardship, and the circular economy. Come to listen. Come with your questions. Just come! Registration is now open. For more details click here. Remember that this PPEC fall event normally fills fast and that there is limited seating available at the venue.

Industry veteran compiled PPEC’s early recycled content reports

Telford DenardIt was a one-paragraph obituary near the bottom of the page. H.T. “Telford” Denard had passed away. Cremation had already taken place, and no formal services would be held “as per his wishes.”

This was so Telf, as we called him. A quiet, self-effacing man, he’d gone and died on us; been cremated; not even given us a chance to celebrate his life. It had been a long one. He’d made it to 94, quite an innings.

Born in England, Telf had served as a Royal Air Force pilot during the Second World War, delivering new aircraft from North America across the Atlantic. Later he had settled in Canada and become involved with the paper industry, specialising in the kraft paper used to make paper bags.

It was in this capacity that I first met him almost 28 years ago. He was then the chairman of a small kraft paper mill group which would soon merge with another (containerboard). This broader group in turn would become part of a new body (the Packaging Mills Association of Canada) which later folded; most mill members then joining the current Canadian Corrugated and Containerboard Association (CCCA).

Throughout this time, Telf was closely involved with the environmental arm of the industry, the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC). In fact, he and Irving Granovsky of Atlantic Packaging, hold the record for longest terms of service to the council; over 20 years.

Telf’s major contribution to PPEC, apart from the deep industry knowledge that he willingly shared, was the compilation of industry statistics, particularly related to recycled content. It was his formative work that led to PPEC issuing a recycled content report every two years from 1990 onwards. This public tracking of the industry’s use of recycled content (which has jumped from an average of 47% back then to 77% today) was both educational and explanatory, and is frequently cited as an industry example to follow.

Over the last 10 years, Telf reduced his unofficial involvement with the council but we kept in touch, most recently about three months ago when we lunched in Brampton. He had just successfully passed his driving test (at the age of 94) and insisted on driving from his home to the PPEC offices. Stubborn maybe. Independent. Definitely. With a weakness for apple pie and ice cream. Thanks for the contribution and the memories, Telf.

Telford Denard Obituary

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What about a national task force on waste?

Plastic waste may be the flavour of the month (literally) but the issues are far larger than what ends up in our rivers, lakes, oceans and stomachs. The real issues are our consumption habits and our use of natural resources, and the impact this is having on climate change. Which means there’s far more involved here than just plastics and packaging.

National Packaging ProtocolAs a former participant on Canada’s National Task Force on Packaging (NAPP), I can attest to the frustrations of grappling with multiple issues on several inter-related fronts at the same time. But, as well as meeting its waste diversion target (ahead of time), NAPP also brought a whole bunch of different people together (three levels of government, various industry players, and environmental groups) that worked well and achieved quite a lot. I’m still friends with some of them!

Seriously though, given that environmental groups and some business leaders are now calling for national solutions and national targets for plastics, and national protocols and national definitions; and that whatever might happen with a plastics plan is going to impact other materials (for example, definitions of recycling); is there any appetite for creating a national task force on Canadian waste in general?

Just floating the idea. Seems to me we need to get our heads together and come up with practical solutions to the problems we’ve created. Aspirational goals are one thing and we don’t want an endless talk shop. But talking with each other and understanding where everyone is coming from, and discussing possible options, is always a useful exercise.

Fighting media ignorance (battle # 5,041)

Yes, we know that packaging is evil and that it should be legislated out of existence. But sometimes those ignorant throw-away lines about packaging waste really do rankle and must be corrected. Case in point: a recent article by Eric Reguly in the Globe and Mail newspaper.

In his beef with Amazon Prime’s home-delivery service, Reguly ignorantly sideswipes the humble corrugated box that delivers the goods (Beyond Zuckerberg, it’s time to hold Bezos to account, too).

The used boxes that Reguly complains about are certainly not “thrown away.”  In fact, they form the backbone of one of the world’s great commodity trades; are an export earner for Canada; and Delivery Boxes are not packaging wasteprovide the feedstock for most of the new boxes made in this country. Yes, most corrugated boxes made in Canada are 100% recycled content, primarily formed by recycling those very same used boxes again and again.

We are currently recovering about 85% of the corrugated boxes used in Canada. And in Ontario’s Blue Box system, have achieved an amazing 98% recovery rate, according to Stewardship Ontario. That is pretty impressive.

And this recovery is not “mostly at taxpayer’s expense”, as Reguly falsely claims. In British Columbia and Quebec, it is industry that pays 100% of the net cost for residential (Blue Box) recovery. Ontario, which is currently at 50% industry-pay, is headed to 100% too. In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, industry pays 75% and 80% respectively.

Glib and ignorant throw away lines perhaps, but not throw away boxes.

Final Reminder – The future of retail and e-commerce

Just a quick reminder that we are days away from our breakfast seminar on the future of retail and e-commerce. If you are interested, you need to register here fast.

Diane J. Brisbois - The Future of RetailThe speaker will be Diane Brisebois, President and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada. The council represents more than 44,000 retail establishments across Canada and its membership accounts for more than 70% of all retail sales excluding auto and gas sales.

Here’s some background on what she will be talking about.

The Canadian retail industry is undergoing massive change, shedding bricks and mortar for the new exciting world of e-commerce. In the driver’s seat are consumers. Click and point with the mouse. It’s so easy. In today’s world, convenience is king.

But what’s the impact on the retail trade? What happens to those huge store fronts, the money tied up in real estate, those massive parking lots, those attractive consumer-friendly displays of merchandise that aren’t needed any more? What about data and transaction technology, and logistics?

And then there’s the supply side. The potential is staggering. Amazon’s retail segment in the US and corrugated box-related consumption, for example, is currently growing at an amazing 30% year-over-year. Mostly in electronics and appliances, entertainment and leisure products.

So far, the market for at-home grocery items has hardly been touched. “Somebody will find a way to crack the grocery nut,’’ said Matt Elhardt of Fisher International recently. “I might buy a new TV once every couple of years, but I buy groceries every week. In terms of where the real opportunities are, I would make the argument that we’re at the tip of the iceberg.’’

Canadian retailers sure want some of that iceberg. Several have already launched e-commerce ventures or are positioning themselves to take advantage of the new opportunities.

There are implications for packagers further down the line as well. Operators of material recycling facilities or MRFs have already noted the change in colour of their surroundings: from the once dominant grey of old newspapers to the now dominant brown of corrugated boxes.

If you want to learn more on the future of retail and e-commerce in Canada, we’ve lined up the perfect occasion. Come hear Diane Brisebois, President of the Retail Council of Canada, talk about the major challenges and opportunities facing Canadian retailers as e-commerce takes hold. For more details and to register for this PPEC event on April 11, click here.

The future of retail and e-commerce

The Canadian retail industry is undergoing massive change, shedding bricks and mortar for the new exciting world of e-commerce. In the driver’s seat are consumers. Click and point with the mouse. It’s so easy. In today’s world, convenience is king.

But what’s the impact on the retail trade? What happens to those huge store fronts, the money tied up in real estate, those massive parking lots, those attractive consumer-friendly displays of merchandise that aren’t needed any more? What about data and transaction technology, and logistics?

And then there’s the supply side. The potential is staggering. Amazon’s retail segment in the US and corrugated box-related consumption, for example, is currently growing at an amazing 30% year-over-year. Mostly in electronics and appliances, entertainment and leisure products.

So far, the market for at-home grocery items has hardly been touched. “Somebody will find a way to crack the grocery nut,’’ said Matt Elhardt of Fisher International recently. “I might buy a new TV once every couple of years, but I buy groceries every week. In terms of where the real opportunities are, I would make the argument that we’re at the tip of the iceberg.’’

Canadian retailers sure want some of that iceberg. Several have already launched e-commerce ventures or are positioning themselves to take advantage of the new opportunities.

There are implications for packagers further down the line as well. Operators of material recycling facilities or MRFs have already noted the change in colour of their surroundings: from the once dominant grey of old newspapers to the now dominant brown of corrugated boxes.

If you want to learn more on the future of retail and e-commerce in Canada, we’ve lined up the perfect occasion. Come hear Diane Brisebois, President of the Retail Council of Canada, talk about the major challenges and opportunities facing Canadian retailers as e-commerce takes hold. For more details and to register for this PPEC event on April 11, click here.

 

Registration Confirmation

Will plastics problem spur the eventual return of deposits to Ontario?

Pile of plastic trashI love fish. Plastic not so much. This puts me in good company, it seems, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who recently told the World Economic Forum that the “plastics issue” will be the main theme at the G7 leaders’ summit in Charlevoix, Quebec in June.

Trudeau’s announcement follows in the footsteps of Coca-Cola saying it intends to make bottles with 50% average recycled content by 2030 (12 years away). And Unilever calling for the consumer goods industry to step up its efforts to tackle the mounting challenge of ocean plastic waste and create a circular economy for plastics.

All good and stirring words. But how are they going to get there? Not using plastics in the first place is one option, of course. British frozen food retailer, Iceland, has just done that, committing to become the first major retailer globally to eliminate plastic packaging from all its own brand products by the end of 2023. But elimination aside, you need the most effective and efficient, not to mention the most “environmentally friendly” way to get plastics back. And what would that be?

Only 29% of plastics packaging is currently being recovered in Ontario’s multi-material Blue Box system. The Stewardship Ontario “recovery” rate for PET and HDPE bottles does the best of the plastics at 53%, followed by the mixed resins of “Other Plastics” at 32%, with plastic film lagging way behind at only 12 per cent. Nothing much has changed on the bottle front over the last 13 years of Blue Box EPR or “industry-pay” stewardship; the recovery rate for plastic bottles improving a paltry 3% over that time.

Is the answer throwing millions of dollars in promotion and education money at the good people of Ontario, to try and persuade them to increase the Blue Box plastics recovery rate from its current 29% to 50% or higher? It won’t work. Especially when there are no penalties for non-performance in the amended Blue Box program that Stewardship Ontario has passed on to the new Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority for approval. The plan indicates there will be a lot of talk about “problem materials” and maybe some research and development and “collaborative forums,” but no actual penalties for not performing.

So, what about the deposit option? Ontario is one of the few Canadian provinces not to have a full deposit/return system alongside its Blue Box. Traditionally, the Coke and Pepsi folks have been opposed to deposit schemes because they single out beverages, and the retailers have been opposed because they don’t want to become return-to-retail depots.

But maybe things are changing. Coca-Cola recently said it would consider “well-run” deposit systems. What exactly does that mean? Does it mean globally? Does it mean anything in the Ontario context? While those big questions remain unanswered, Coke is saying that it wants to get to a 50% recycled content average within 12 years. To do that you need recycled plastic feedstock, and a lot of it. Deposit schemes certainly provide that.

The recovery of plastic bottles and aluminum cans in Canada’s many provincial deposit/return programs is quite respectable. BC’s Encorp Pacific, for example, reports a 74% recovery rate for plastics and 82% for aluminum cans. In Ontario’s multi-material Blue Box, by comparison, the recovery rate for PET and HDPE bottles is 53% and aluminum food and beverage cans, a mere 42 per cent. (In fact, if you take out the non-PET (HDPE) from the bales, the real Ontario recycling rate is even lower. A direct aluminum comparison is a little tricky too. Deposit programs take only used beverage cans (UBCs). Non-deposit programs are more comprehensive, including cat food and other aluminum containers).

The plastic, steel, aluminum and glass industries may not say it publicly for fear of offending some of their major customers, but privately they are not at all opposed to deposit/return systems. And the reason is simple. They get far more material (economies of scale matter), and it’s in far better (less contaminated) condition. Quantity and quality count. On the other hand, deposit programs are known to be very expensive, with the transportation of light-weight, high-volume containers being a major cost.

A key question, of course, is what impact a deposit scheme would have on the major material remaining in the Blue Box. Paper today supplies 63% of the generated material, 75% of the recovered material, and 52% of Ontario Blue Box revenues. Basically, the Blue Box is a paper box. Would paper quality (and revenues) increase enough to make a difference?  Maybe if the stewardship body (or bodies) kept pounding on the collectors to reduce contamination, it might have some impact.

Any supportive decision by Coca-Cola, Pepsi and the retailers would clearly boil down to economics and avoided costs. We estimate that to get plastic bottles alone to a 50% recovery rate under the current Blue Box system in Ontario would cost stewards around $185 million, based on reported costs and revenues.

If you threw those plastic bottles instead into a deposit/return scheme and added other containers and factored in the avoided costs of contamination for all materials at both collection and processing stages, plus increased revenues for better quality product, including perhaps paper, then a deposit/return system with the Blue Box for paper might make sense, maybe. But you would still need the Blue Box for non-deposit containers. In British Columbia, for example, it’s understood that about 25% of the Blue Box is plastic, glass, aseptic/polycoated containers and metal material that’s not on deposit.

There are so many variables in this discussion and competing objectives. Lots of fish hooks too.