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Archive for Canada’s Forests

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.

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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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.

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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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).

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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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

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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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.

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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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.

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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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.

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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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}.

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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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).

John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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