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Archive for Waste Diversion

Climate change demands that our focus should be on improving paper and organics recovery, not fiddling around with plastic straws

Yes, plastic litter (any litter for that matter) and marine pollution is terrible, and we need to have a long hard look at our consumption habits and to reduce our use of fossil fuels. But when we are warned by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we have only 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 C, our prime focus should surely be on achieving some “big hits” that will rapidly reduce current greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In waste management terms, those “big hits” are reducing the methane being emitted from landfills; and getting more paper and organics out of them. In landfill, paper and organics emit carbon dioxide and methane. Reducing methane and other GHG, and their causes, should be our prime focus, not publicly announcing vague aspirational goals for plastics somehow getting to 100% this or that, with no penalties if they don’t get there. Excuse the cynicism but we’ve seen this movie before.

Where the focus should be

Focus number one should be capping methane emissions from landfill. These efforts are underway but need to be accelerated.

Focus number two should be addressing the material streams in landfill that emit GHG: organics and paper. Both are sizable chunks of Canada’s waste stream. And here’s the good news. They already represent two-thirds of what Canadians divert from landfill. Let’s build on this foundation.Materials Diverted 2016

Organics

Many provinces and cities now have active “green bin” organics recovery programs. And the national diversion of organics has climbed steadily in recent years (up 11% since 2008 to 2.6 million tonnes).

The leader in this effort has been Nova Scotia, which banned organics from landfill way back in 1996. Nova Scotians diverted 170 kilograms of organics per person in 2016; almost six times more than their provincial cousins in Saskatchewan. If we assume that Canadians consume organics in much the same way across the country, how come Saskatchewan and Quebec are so far behind? Is it geography, population density, rural/urban mix, lack of infrastructure, attitude, government priorities, leadership? All good questions.

And here’s the missed opportunity. If we applied Nova Scotia’s organics recovery numbers to the whole country, we could have expected 3.36 million more tonnes of organics diversion in 2016. That would have raised Canada’s overall waste diversion rate by 6.5% and eliminated some 638,000 tonnes of GHG. While there are new costs in adding organics programs these are somewhat offset by saving millions of dollars in avoided landfill costs and by tax revenues flowing to governments from new jobs in organics processing.

Paper

It’s a similar story with paper, the most widely recovered material in Canada. The leaders in paper recovery in 2016 were Quebec and British Columbia (136 and 130 kilograms per person respectively). Manitoba and Saskatchewan lagged far behind, at 47 and 41 kilograms per capita.

Let’s assume that paper consumption was similar across the country. If we applied Quebec’s 136 kilograms per capita rate to the rest of Canada this would have meant an extra 1.21 million tonnes of paper diversion; would have lifted Canada’s overall waste diversion rate by 2.5%; and would have eliminated some 145,000 tonnes of GHG.  It would also have given longer life to existing landfills, something that seems to be getting more and more attention from governments this year.

Add these two major streams together (paper and organics) and you have close to 800,000 tonnes of GHG reduction from Canadian landfills while boosting Canada’s overall waste diversion rate by almost nine per cent. Aren’t these targets worth setting? And we’re not even addressing other waste streams that could and should be included.

So, how do we get more organics and paper out of landfill? Disposal bans or generator levies. Only two provinces have them: Nova Scotia (which coincidentally has the lowest waste disposal rate in Canada) and Prince Edward Island. Metro Vancouver has shown it can be done with benefits in an urban area. Diversion of Paper and Organics

PPEC, representing the paper packaging industry, has lobbied various provincial governments to ban old corrugated boxes from landfill since 2015. We have seen three different ministers of the environment in Ontario on this issue over the years but there has been no action to date, just statements that “we will consider it.”Focus on Banning Old Boxes From Landfill

We estimated back then that a ban on the disposal of old corrugated boxes in Ontario landfills would reduce methane and carbon dioxide emissions by up to 175,000 tonnes a year (equivalent to taking 33,000 cars off the road or eliminating the annual energy emissions of 70,000 homes).

These used boxes shouldn’t be in landfill. Every single packaging mill in the province uses old corrugated collected from the back of factories, supermarkets, office buildings or from curbside to make new packaging, most of it 100% recycled content. We import similar used boxes from the US when we can’t get enough in Canada. It’s our feedstock. We need it.

In summary: the key to reducing GHG emissions from the waste management sector lies in provincial landfill policy:

  • capping the current emissions
  • ensuring that GHG-emitting materials like organics and paper don’t end up there;
  • and tipping the scales away from landfilling being cheaper than recycling.

Yes, it’s not easy, but it’s doable. And don’t get me started on the BS that recycling is dead!

 

(This completes our series of blogs on Statistics Canada’s most recent data on disposal and diversion of waste. Here are the links to the previous articles: Canada’s ‘worst performers’ in waste management in Canada: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta (April 12, 2019); Canada’s ‘middle performers’ in waste management: Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario (March 27, 2019); British Columbians and Nova Scotians are Canada’s best recyclers (March 14, 2019)    Canada’s waste diversion rate slowly inches higher (February 28, 2019); Where’s the garbage coming from? More and more from homes (February 19, 2019); Good news and bad news in dumping of waste (October 11, 2018).

John Mullinder

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

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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).

 

John Mullinder

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

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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!

 

 

 

John Mullinder

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

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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

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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.

John Mullinder

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

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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.

John Mullinder

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

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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.

John Mullinder

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

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The big “hurry up” on the Blue Box in case the Liberals lose

When Ontario released the final version of its waste strategy six months ago, dealing with the future financing of the province’s popular Blue Box program was at the backend of the queue. Sorting out the respective roles and responsibilities of municipalities and industry, not to mention the thorny issues of legal contracts and stranded assets, was considered so complicated and politically sensitive that the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change pencilled in 2023 (safely after the next provincial election) to complete its transition to 100% industry-pay and individual producer responsibility.

Now the ministry wants a new plan by February! What changed? The governing Liberals started to tank in the public opinion polls and industry and municipal leaders feared that not only wouldChris Ballard a great opportunity to move forward be lost, but also that an incoming government of different political stripes in 2018 would inevitably mean further delays and a possible fracturing of the current and welcome climate of common interest.

To their credit, municipal and industry leaders have been meeting over the last few months and cobbling together an accord, with the quiet blessing of ministry staff. In July, they asked then minister Glen Murray to buy into their plan to transfer the legal obligations and responsibilities of municipalities to collect and manage the Blue Box to industry stewards (brand holders and others with a commercial connection to the supply of printed paper and packaging into Ontario). This would be done through an amended Blue Box plan that would allow municipalities to opt in or out of providing collection services, and to have an opportunity to participate in processing Blue Box recyclables.

Newly appointed minister, Chris Ballard, leapt at this offering in August and has now directed the also new Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority and Stewardship Ontario to develop a proposal for an amended Blue Box Program Plan that will lead to individual producer responsibility down the road. But of course, he couldn’t resist adding a bit of direction in an addendum to his approval.

The amended plan shall (not may) “use means to discourage the use of materials that are difficult to recycle and have low recovery rates” (plastics be warned); increase the diversion target to 75% for the material supplied by stewards in the municipalities where Stewardship Ontario collects and manages the printed paper and packaging (the current Blue Box diversion rate is 64%); and “establish material-specific management targets.” We are not quite sure where material-specific “management” targets differ from material-specific “diversion” targets, but guess we’ll find out shortly.

If all goes well, Ontario will have a new Blue Box plan in February/March and the Liberals will be able to go to the polls saying they have saved the Blue Box (yet again)! Isn’t politics fun!

John Mullinder

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

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Circular Economy or spinning our wheels?

The Circular Economy (CE to some) has become something of a buzzword of late, just like sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) before it. Good intentions, but a lot of public relations too. Perhaps we’re being too cynical, but the issue is a bit like climate change. We know it’s coming (most of us) or is already here. But we really don’t want to have fewer children, abandon our cars, or go vegetarian: three actions a research scientist recently claimed would have more direct impact on slowing climate change than anything else we can do. We would add planting trees to that list.

Circular Economy or Spinning Our Wheels?The Circular Economy is really about the same thing as climate change: reducing our consumption of the earth’s various resources by using less of them, in a smarter way. But to do that we need to incent “good” behaviour and to penalise “bad,” which is generally taken to mean removing or reducing fossil fuel subsidies and encouraging the use of renewable resources.

This is fine at the academic level but how exactly is this going to translate in practical terms to say, the Blue Box system? Where consumers face a spur of the moment choice to recycle or dump? How do we penalise the “non-circular” products and packaging, while encouraging the “circular”? Through differentiated Blue Box fees? And who gets to decide those?

Now for the plug! PPEC will be holding a seminar on this very subject on October 3 in Etobicoke, Ontario. The speakers include Chris Lindberg (Ontario Circular Economy Innovation Lab), Glenda Gies (Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority), Andrew Telfer (Walmart Canada), Renee Dello (City of Toronto) and Al Metauro (Cascades Recovery). For details and registration click here. This is a limited space event and we always fill up quickly.

John Mullinder

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

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Paper recycling important but uneven across Canada

Paper recycling continues to dominate Canada’s waste diversion efforts, representing almost 40% of total material diversion in 2014, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada.

But the collection of used boxes, newspapers, and printing and writing paper from the back of factories, supermarkets, offices, and homes, remains uneven, ranging from a low of 27 kilograms per person in Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, up to a high of 142 kilos per person in Quebec. The average Canadian sent just 101 kilos of paper (the equivalent of four heavy suitcases) for recycling that year.

We recognise that Canadians use varying amounts of paper in their daily lives. The Greater Toronto Area, for example, is served by several big newspapers, something you don’t see in other places. And it’s clear that geography, climate, and access to recycling determine how much paper is recovered in individual provinces. Small communities that are far from recycling facilities are at a distinct disadvantage. We also recognise that capture rates in high-density condos and apartment buildings are a challenge, although this demographic doesn’t entirely explain why Ontario lags so far behind similarly urbanised Quebec.

Nor does this data tell us how much paper it’s possible to recover (generation), so we really can’t tell how well Canadians and individual provinces are recovering paper overall. We know, as well, that significant tonnages are not captured in the StatsCan surveys, especially those old corrugated boxes that are baled at the back of supermarkets or factories and shipped direct to a paper recycling mill.

Given all these geographic and demographic variables, and the data uncertainties, it is perhaps unreasonable to expect every province to reach Quebec and British Columbia’s 142 and 135-kilo level of annual paper diversion. But if they did, we figure there’s another 1.4 million tonnes of paper out there just waiting to be collected. That would boost Canada’s overall waste diversion rate by four per cent. How about it, folks? A national average of just four heavy suitcases of paper diversion a year is a pretty piddly effort, don’t you think? Time to get serious about disposal bans on paper! We want it back!

Canada’s Best Paper Diverters (2014)

Paper recycling - Best paper diverters in Canada

For background on this series, see: Prince Edward Islanders and British Columbians are Canada’s “best recyclers” (May 23); Canada diverting only 27% of its waste (April 27); and Canadians are dumping more, and less, at the same time! (April 19).

John Mullinder

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

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