We were recently invited by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) to comment on various aspects of extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs that have been, or are being introduced across the country. In the course of preparing our response, we re-read CCME’s Canada-Wide Strategy for Sustainable Packaging. While we have no problems with most of this interesting document, we were stunned to discover some factual errors that could help explain why packaging in particular, and industry’s waste management performance in general, continue to be held in such low regard in certain government circles.
In setting the context for this 2009 strategy document, CCME makes two claims: that “Current recovery rates for packaging are very low” and that “Statistics Canada (2006) data indicates the national recycling rate is 22 per cent.” It gives the source for these claims as Statistics Canada’s WMIS survey of 2006.
Unfortunately for CCME, neither of these claims was true then, or is true now. Statistics Canada’s WMIS surveys do not break out recovery rates for packaging, and never have, so how could they be “very low”? Nor do WMIS surveys break out national packaging recycling rates. CCME has totally misread what the WMIS surveys say. The supposed 22% national “recycling” rate for packaging that CCME claims is actually the diversion rate for all of the following wastes added together (paper, glass, metals, plastics, electronics, tires, construction renovation and demolition materials, and organics).
We pointed out these factual errors to CCME staff, expecting that they would check to see if we were correct, and then, if we were, amend and/or remove the claims from the document. This after all is an official publication available on the CCME website that is used as a current source of information by researchers and students, among others. As long as these false claims are there, they will continue to damage public perceptions of the packaging industry and its customers, and they will continue to colour government policy and claims on packaging issues.
The CCME staff response to date has been to fob us off, to claim that we have “differing interpretations” of “decade-old data” that was used to provide a portion of the context for CCME’s work on EPR. We disagree. The claims that the CCME is making in this document are either right or wrong. Whatever happened to “fessing up”, making the appropriate corrections, and moving on? This does not look good on the CCME. Canadian public policy should be based on accurate data, not false claims that perpetuate myths.
 Table 2, WMIS 2006.
 Ironically, a survey that CCME commissioned specifically on packaging many years ago would have set a more accurate context for discussion of EPR. The 1996 National Packaging Survey conducted by Statistics Canada did establish recovery rates for packaging (over 70% re-use and recycling); and did establish a national recycling rate (45%). But one gets the distinct impression that CCME prefers not to talk too much about this study, partly because its data is now old, but also because it found that “industry” (bad guy that it is), was performing quite well thank you very much.