British Columbians and Nova Scotians are Canada’s best recyclers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diversion Rate for BC and NS

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


Canada’s waste diversion rate slowly inches higher

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

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

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

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

Waste Diversion by Province


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

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




Where’s the garbage coming from?

Municipal politicians love to point to “industry” as the main contributor to Canada’s waste stream. And while it’s true that most garbage today does come from industrial sources, there are clear signs that more and more garbage is being dumped by householders. The gap between the two sources is narrowing.

More and more garbage from homes

A PPEC analysis of Statistics Canada data from 2008 to 2016 shows residential sources of waste tonnages climbing by 9% over the period while at the same time non-residential (industrial) sources of waste fell by 11 per cent. The waste we’re talking about here is paper, plastic, glass, metals, textiles, organics (food scraps), electronics, white goods such as fridges and appliances, and construction, renovation and demolition materials like wood, drywall, doors, windows and wiring.

The demographics and urban/rural split in each province and the strength of its industrial infrastructure obviously play a role in each province’s waste disposal history and performance. But by 2016, the residential share of the overall Canadian waste stream defined by Statistics Canada had increased in all but two provinces. In Quebec it jumped from 46.4% to 56.2% or 9.8 percentage points. Alberta registered a 7% increase in residential share of the waste disposed over the period.

Sources of Canada's garbage

At the same time as the residential share of the overall garbage stream climbed in most provinces, “industry’s” share obviously fell, in six of the eight provinces where data are supplied. Data for Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut are suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act. The biggest falls in industrial share of the waste stream occurred in Quebec, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

Food for thought as we design strategies to reduce Canada’s waste pile. Next: what materials are being diverted from Canada’s waste stream? And just how well or poorly are we doing?

How much forest does Canada have?

We start off big. Canada, after all, is the second-largest country in the world. But to define the extent of its forest lands, we first need to remove all the water: the lakes, the rivers, and the streams that together make up almost nine per cent of the country.

Next to go is the large expansive non-forested tundra of the Arctic (26 per cent). Followed by the wetlands, swamps, areas of slow-growing and scattered trees (four per cent), and the treed portions of farms, parks and gardens, trees planted around buildings, and plantations like fruit orchards (one per cent). And finally, there’s a big chunk of other non-forested land that must be removed from the equation too: the 25 per cent of Canada that’s used to grow agricultural crops, plus the land we ourselves occupy: the communities, towns and cities where we live. All told, some 65 per cent of Canada is what is called ‘non-forested.’

forest lands are 34.9% of CanadaWhat’s left is technically known as Canada’s ‘forest lands’: 347 million hectares of forest land divided into 12 distinct terrestrial ecozones, the largest being the Boreal Shield at 131 million hectares, ranging down to the smallest, the Prairies, at one million hectares.

But the shrinking doesn’t stop there. More than one-third of that forest land (122 million hectares) is unmanaged or left in a wilderness state. Which means that the area left for commercial forestry (the harvesting for lumber and wood pulp) is just under 23 per cent of the total. That’s not the end of the story either, since only a tiny portion of that 23 per cent is logged, as we shall see.

(Excerpt from Deforestation in Canada and Other Fake News. Copyright © 2018 by John Mullinder. Reproduced with permission).

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.