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Archive for Circular Economy

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.

John Mullinder

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

More Posts - Website

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

More Posts - Website

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

More Posts - Website

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.

John Mullinder

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

More Posts - Website