Image

Archive for environmental

Recycled content must be recognised in setting circular economy targets

The Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) is in the process of considering what it calls specific material “management” targets for Ontario Blue Box recyclables such as paper, plastic, glass, steel and aluminum. It has already stated that it wants to see a collective 75% Blue Box diversion rate, up from the current 64 per cent.

But before we get into the details of specific targets for materials, there’s a major issue that we need to address that has everything to do with the circular economy that the minister and the province say they want to embrace. And that’s the issue of recycled content. The use of recycled content keeps materials flowing around in a circular loop for as long as possible.

Most corrugated boxes and boxboard cartons made in Ontario, for example, are already 100% recycled content: made from used boxes and paper collected from the back of factories and supermarkets, from offices and hospitals, and from curbside (Blue Box) collection and depots. The Ontario paper packaging industry achieved this milestone over many years with the expenditure of millions of dollars in new cleaning and screening equipment. Indeed, the mills of Southern Ontario led North America in incorporating residentially collected old boxboard into their recycling mix back in the 1990s. Today some 94% of Canadians can recycle it.

Ontario Blue Box chartThe industry’s environmental council, PPEC, has been very public in tracking and reporting on the industry’s progress towards a more circular economy. But now its members find themselves competing in the marketplace against virgin materials that have made minimal or little progress towards higher recycled content or “circularity.”

The plastics industry, for example, does not publish any numbers on average recycled content that we can find, and plastics’ overall Blue Box diversion rate is frankly poor (32%). Plastic film diversion has gone from 6% to 12% over the last 13 years, and polystyrene from 3% to 6% over the same period.

If we are going to have a level playing field between materials, we need public policy that encourages the greater use of recycled content and/or some recognition of recycled content achievement in the Blue Box funding formula and/or performance targets. We don’t see it at the moment, and yet paper packaging faces increasing competition from cheaper virgin plastics. How about the province set a target of 40% average recycled content for all packaging sold within Ontario by 2020 and 70% by 2027 ? That would put us on the path to a more circular economy and create a more level playing field at the same time.

John Mullinder

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

More Posts - Website

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

More Posts - Website

China doesn’t want the world’s garbage any more

And who can blame them? For years, the world has been shipping all sorts of waste to China for it to be sorted, made into new products, and shipped back to us. Low labour rates and lax environmental enforcement have benefitted all parties to this commercial deal (even perhaps the Chinese workers, a job being better than no job).

One of the first warning signs of impending change occurred in 2013 when China launched “Operation Green Fence” to limit imports of scrap materials. Unscrupulous people were sending more garbage than resources. This was followed by the more recent “National Sword” crackdown on smuggling operations. Then last week, China shocked the global recycling industry with the announcement of a scrap import ban effective the end of this year.

“To protect China’s environmental interests and the people’s health, we urgently adjust the imported solid wastes list, and forbid the import of solid wastes that are highly polluted” read China’s filing of intent with the World Trade Organisation. Details were scarce beyond general statements about multiple plastics, mixed paper, textiles, and other materials. But the impact of the announcement itself has been significant.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) called the new move potentially “devastating” and “catastrophic” for the US recycling industry. The Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) labelled the new policy as “serious” and wants more time before it comes into effect.

For Canadians involved in the international recovered paper trade, the challenge is that no one yet fully understands exactly what will be banned. The wording that is being used is “unsorted paper” and “mixed plastics.” If this is taken literally then most of the Canadian paper fibre currently being exported to China will not be impacted. The Green by Nature consortium that handles British Columbia’s Blue Box materials, for example, sorts all residential paper and does not ship single stream (or mixed) unsorted material to the republic.

“If this is not acceptable,” says consortium partner Al Metauro, CEO of Cascades Recovery, “then we will have a challenge. The challenge will not be on the curbside fibre but rather on the demand for old corrugated containers (OCC). The Chinese mills rely on imports and with no curbside fibre they will need an alternative. On the other hand, the Chinese government could also ban imports of OCC considering some of the poor quality being shipped.”

Metauro says a ban on “mixed plastics” will impact material recovery facility (MRF) operators that are not sorting their plastic, glass and metal recyclables (the container stream). This will be a bigger challenge in the US, he says, where many program operators are currently shipping commingled single stream material direct to China. In British Columbia, by contrast, all residential plastics are sorted and consumed locally.

John Mullinder

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

More Posts - Website

Canada diverting only 27% of its waste

For those promoting a more circular economy where materials are used again and again rather than made, used and dumped, the latest data from Statistics Canada provides a solid gut check on how far we have to go. Only 27% of our waste is currently being diverted from landfill or incineration. The “good” news is that at least our diversion rate has been steadily improving, up from 22% back in 2002.

The data measures the industrial, commercial, and residential waste 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.

The only “good” news here is that the data, we believe, substantially understates the recycling that is going on in this country because it doesn’t include tonnages from provincial deposit/refund programs or the mostly paper materials that go from a retailer, say, direct to a paper recycling mill, rather than through a waste hauler or local government. Canada’s recycling success story (up 36% since 2002) will be the subject of a future blog.

In the meantime, we get to dwell on the bad news. As noted in our previous blog on this subject, Nova Scotia (and to a lesser extent British Columbia) are way out in front of everyone else. The diversion rates for New Brunswick, Alberta, Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador have declined over the last 12 years.

Waste Diversion by Province

John Mullinder

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

More Posts - Website

The good, the bad, and the ugly about Ontario’s Blue Box

The good news is that the reported recovery rates for almost every single material category in Ontario’s Blue Box have improved over the last 13 years, some by as much as 20 The Uglier Truthpercentage points. The bad news is that several categories have made very little progress and lag way behind the others, and that the real recovery rates are much lower than those reported.

Here is our Report Card by material group, based on the latest recovery numbers from Stewardship Ontario. Please note that this is not a judgement on the merits of individual materials but rather an assessment of how well they are being recovered in Ontario’s Blue Box system. There is clearly room for improvement.


PRINTED PAPER                                                            A 

Printed paper has been a consistent good performer, rising from 67% reported recovery back in 2003 to 82% today (2015). The recovery rate for old newspapers and old telephone books is in the 90s. Somewhat further back, and dragging the printed paper category down, is the recovery rate for printing and writing paper (Other Printed). This has ranged from 39% up to 59% and is currently at 55 per cent.

 GLASS PACKAGING                                                    B+

The reported recovery rate for clear and coloured glass is an impressive 80 per cent. Years ago, all we heard about was glass going to landfill or being used as road fill. Beyond talk of glass breaking in the collection process and contaminating loads of other materials, however, glass recovery is apparently in good shape. A lot of recovered glass these days goes into blast and filter media rather than higher end uses such as fibreglass and cullet which have more demanding quality requirements.

PAPER PACKAGING                                                       B 

Old corrugated containers (OCC) or boxes have the highest reported recovery rate of all Blue Box materials (98%). From there it’s a drop back to paper-based gable top cartons which have surged from a 10% to a 61% recovery rate; boxboard at 43%; followed by aseptic cartons (made of paper, plastic and aluminum), and laminants. The relatively low recovery rate for old boxboard is a concern. It reached as high as 65% recovery in 2008 but has dropped back to 43% since. Stewardship Ontario did target boxboard toothpaste cartons, toilet paper roll tubes, tissue boxes and other toiletry packaging in an advertising campaign in 2015.

 STEEL PACKAGING                                                      B 

The latest reported recovery rate for steel food and beverage cans is a respectable 71 per cent. Other steel packaging such as aerosols and paint cans drag the overall steel category down 10 per cent. In fact, paint cans are the only category in the Blue Box whose recovery rate has declined over the last 13 years.

ALUMINUM PACKAGING                                          D 

The low reported recovery rate for aluminum food and beverage cans in Ontario (42%) has always been a bit of a puzzler and is frequently compared unfavourably with its far higher recovery rates in Canada’s many deposit provinces where recovery ranges between 61% and 97 per cent. One reason offered for the difference is that the recovery rate for cans in Ontario is only for those that end up in the home. It doesn’t include those used at public events, in offices, or factories. The aluminum stewards also reported residential sales some 13% lower in 2015 than what various waste audits used to provide a provincial total suggested was in the home. But even if you allow for this difference, the reported recovery rate only rises to 48 per cent. We doubt that Blue Box scavengers are grabbing the other 52 per cent.

 PLASTICS PACKAGING                                                D 

The reported recovery rate for plastics packaging reached 32% in 2015. The highest rate was for PET bottles (66%) and the biggest increase over the years was turned in by the “Other Plastics” category with one-third now being reported as recovered. Apart from PET and HDPE bottles, however, the plastic recovery rates are poor.


The far uglier truth about all reported Ontario Blue Box recovery rates, however, is that they don’t tell the real story. They are basically “sent for recycling numbers,” in most cases, what was sent to an end-market from a material recycling facility or MRF. These reported “recovery” rates don’t deduct the various yield losses that occur in remanufacturing that curbside material back into new products, or the contamination that must be removed (and is normally landfilled) before remanufacturing can actually take place.

For example, all reported paper numbers need to be shaved by at least 10% because paper fibres shrink in the re-pulping process. When a municipality sends 100 tonnes of paper to a paper recycling mill, only 90% of it will come out the other end. And with single-stream collection there is a lot more plastic, glass and metal contamination in the paper bales. This is usually sent to landfill. And you can chop maybe 30% off the reported PET bottle “recovery” rate since PET yields at the end-market range, at best, between 60 and 70 per cent.

A recent attempt by the Canadian Standards Association to grapple  with this issue and come up with a definition of recycling, falls short in our view, and is one of the reasons why PPEC is developing a more accurate and real measurement of what paper materials are actually being recycled in this province.

 

P.S. In our last blog on the Blue Box, we claimed that “over 75%” of what the Ontario Blue Box collected in 2015 was paper of one kind or another.  The “alternative fact” is 74.55%. Close but not correct. Sorry!

 

Reported Recovery Rates

 

Source: PPEC    Analysis of Stewardship Ontario Blue Box data between 2003 and 2015

John Mullinder

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

More Posts - Website

False and misleading claims removed from IFCO website

The North American paper packaging industry has served notice that it will challenge (legally, if necessary) any false and misleading claims about its operations and environmental impact. Case in point: major plastic crate supplier, IFCO.

IFCO is lobbying North American grocery retailers to move away from the traditional corrugated box system of delivering fruit and vegetables. In the course of promoting its plastic crate alternative, IFCO has made various economic and environmental claims. This is its right. But IFCO (and others) also have a responsibility to be able to substantiate any such public claims when challenged.

Among the most pernicious of IFCO’s recent claims were that “most (corrugated) boxes” were disposed of in landfills, and that only “a small percentage of used boxes (were) recycled.” These claims were so patently false (certainly to the corrugated industry) that for a while they served as a great example of IFCO’s lack of credibility on this issue.

Colley: Need for facts and data back-up.

Colley: Need for facts and data back-up.

But now the kid gloves have come off. The US-based Fibre Box Association recently sent a “cease and desist” letter to IFCO demanding documentation to substantiate its claims, or removal of them from the IFCO website. Within 24 hours of IFCO receiving the letter, the untrue statements had been removed. “Let’s use this (example) as a reminder,” said FBA President/CEO Dennis Colley, “to be fact-based; to have data to back up our claims; and to challenge those who don’t.”(1)FBA Forces IFCO Website Change, Board Converting News, December 22, 2014

For the record, some 89% of US corrugated boxes were recovered for recycling in the most recent data year. (2)US EPA Municipal Waste Characterisation tables, 2013. PPEC estimates the Canadian rate at about 85 per cent.(3)The most recent national recycling statistics for packaging materials in Canada are now 18 years old! In 1996, Statistics Canada estimated corrugated recovery at 76%. PPEC estimates this has improved since then, partly because of increased residential recovery efforts. The recovery rate for corrugated in Ontario’s Blue Box program, for example, was 85% in 2012.  In both countries, most grocery stores recover nearly all of their corrugated boxes in backroom balers. The baled material is then sold to generate revenue before being recycled back into new corrugated boxes.(4)“When we divert cardboard, not only do we reduce the cost and the environmental consequences of sending it to landfill, it’s all recycled and turned into revenue for us.” – Loblaw Green Team member quoted in Canadian Grocer magazine. PPEC estimates that Canadian retailers received over $50 million in revenue for their old corrugated boxes last year.

John Mullinder

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

More Posts - Website

References   [ + ]

1. FBA Forces IFCO Website Change, Board Converting News, December 22, 2014
2. US EPA Municipal Waste Characterisation tables, 2013.
3. The most recent national recycling statistics for packaging materials in Canada are now 18 years old! In 1996, Statistics Canada estimated corrugated recovery at 76%. PPEC estimates this has improved since then, partly because of increased residential recovery efforts. The recovery rate for corrugated in Ontario’s Blue Box program, for example, was 85% in 2012.
4. “When we divert cardboard, not only do we reduce the cost and the environmental consequences of sending it to landfill, it’s all recycled and turned into revenue for us.” – Loblaw Green Team member quoted in Canadian Grocer magazine. PPEC estimates that Canadian retailers received over $50 million in revenue for their old corrugated boxes last year.

More than a thousand new tree seedlings are planted every minute in Canada

John Mullinder, Executive Director

In the time it takes you to read this sentence, 169 new tree seedlings will have been planted somewhere in a commercial forest in Canada. By the time you get to the bottom of the page that number will have jumped to over 2500. On average, more than a thousand seedlings are launched on a new life every minute, regenerating what Canada has plenty of — forests. The latest annual harvest for timber and pulp and paper amounted to less than 0.2% of what’s out there[1].

CounterWithImage21

Average number of new seedlings planted per minute

Forest companies regenerate the forest they use because of self-interest (they want it to be there when they need it in future), but also because over 90% of Canada’s commercial forests are located on crown land, owned by the provinces. By law, these companies must meet provincially-set sustainability levels. At the moment, timber is being harvested at rates 30% below what’s considered to be the sustainable limit for Canada’s wood supply[2].  The Canadian forest industry is also a world leader in both independent third-party certification of forests and chain-of-custody certification (responsible sourcing of its raw materials)[3]. This environmental indicator is endorsed by the global alliance of retailers and consumer goods companies, The Consumer Goods Forum[4].

What’s this got to do with paper packaging? Canada’s paper packagers are by no means the major “consumers” of the forest (bugs and insects chomp their way through 14 times as much as the whole lumber and pulp and paper industries combined, forest fires almost four times as much)[5]. And, in fact, most of the boxes and cartons manufactured in Canada are made from 100% recycled fibre collected from the back of factories and supermarkets, or from curbside. But public perception always seems to come back to the tree, and to our collective stewardship of it. We don’t have a problem with this, because we can prove that Canada’s forest industry has done, and is doing, a pretty good job.

It does make us wonder, though, why more attention is not being paid by our customers and governments to the stewardship of the non-renewable resources used by our packaging competitors, who don’t seem to have any qualms about throwing mud at us, an industry that’s founded on resources that are actually renewable. Where are their independent third-party certifications of the resources they use? Where are their chain-of-custody certifications?

The major retailers and consumer packaged goods companies are loud advocates of the principle of a level playing field between themselves and between importers of packaging when it comes to extended producer responsibility or EPR schemes; and are adept at arguing for the principle of a level playing field (no cross-subsidisation in the funding fee formulas) between packaging materials. Many of these same level playing field advocates have endorsed and insisted that their paper suppliers meet independent third-party forest certification and chain-of-custody standards.

So where’s their action (not words) on developing similar independent third-party certification and chain-of-custody requirements for the extraction of non-renewable oil and natural gas deposits, for example?  Don’t we have a right to a level playing field too?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Planting of tree seedlings per minute derived from over 500 million planted per year; Canada’s harvest area (0.2%) from The State of Canada’s Forests, Annual Report 2013, Natural Resources Canada, pages 11 and 19.

[2] Ibid., page 11

[3] Ibid., page 4. Some 38% of the world’s total certified forests are in Canada. Also see PPEC press release on its members’ Chain-of-Custody certification here.

[4] Consumer Goods Forum, Global Protocol on Packaging Sustainability.

[5] The State of Canada’s Forests, ibid., page 45. Harvest area 0.6 million hectares; Fire burned 1.9 million hectares: Defoliated by insects and beetle-killed trees 9.2 million hectares.

 

John Mullinder

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

More Posts - Website

Environmental Labelling

Proposed environmental labeling system could lead to claims of industry greenwashing

The US-based Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) has transplanted a UK environmental labelling idea to a North American context and is encouraging Canadian companies to pilot it. While we commend the initiative, in our opinion there is a serious danger that companies adopting it could leave themselves open to claims of greenwashing.

The problem lies in the current use of the word “Recycled” or “Recycling” in the SPC logos. In Canada, as in the US, claims about the recyclability of packaging hinge on the access question: on whether the consumer has access to recycling for that material through curbside, depot, deposit or whatever. Claims for recyclability in both countries have nothing to do with whether that material is actually sent for recycling.

So here’s the problem. The words on the three category boxes SPC has chosen (Widely Recycled, Limited Recycling, and Not Yet Recycled) do not mention access at all. But they imply that recycling has taken, or is taking place, at the levels cited (at least 60%, between 20% and 60%, and less than 20%).

Some examples of where the results of this approach can be very misleading:

Example 1:  In Canada, the Carton Council (according to a 2011 press release) claims “nearly 94%” access to the recycling of gabletop and aseptics (and therefore under the SPC model would be able to claim “Widely Recycled”). But in fact, at least in Ontario’s residential Blue Box program, the actual sent for recycling rate for gabletops and aseptics in 2010 was only 34% and 12% respectively. That’s not exactly “Widely Recycled”, although we recognise that one province’s numbers, while admittedly a major one, don’t tell the whole story.

Example 2: While access to polystyrene recycling in Canada  is increasing (placing it in SPC’s between 20% and 60% “Limited Recycling” category), its actual sent for recycling rate (again using Ontario residential numbers only) was only 4% in 2010 (the latest year for which data is currently available).

Under the SPC model, both examples cited above would appear to be over-claiming, and in effect, blurring the crucial distinction between access and actual recycling. Indeed the media (and presumably consumers), would be totally misled by the recent treatment in Canadian Packaging and Canadian Manufacturing magazines of a CPIA press release on access to plastics recycling. CPIA was meticulous in qualifying its statements with the “access” word. Canadian Packaging, however, completely missed the qualifiers and stated the access numbers as recycling numbers in its headline and text. If the packaging trade press, which should know something about packaging issues, can’t get it right, what hope do consumers have?

A chart outlining the differences between claimed or assumed access to recycling and what was actually sent for recycling is attached for information.

The solution would appear to be simply changing the wording in the boxes and reference chart by including the word “access” as below:

Labelling

This way it is very clear that we are not talking about actual recycling rates but rather whether consumers have access to recycling for that material. That’s supposed to be what claims for recyclability turn on (access). The last thing we want is for industry to be accused of greenwashing (yet again)!

Claimed "Access" vs. "Sent for Recycling"

John Mullinder

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

More Posts - Website

British Columbia has golden opportunity to get it right.

British Columbia is the latest province in Canada to regulate extended producer responsibility (or EPR) for printed paper and packaging. Publishers, packaging brandowners and first importers (collectively known as stewards) have until November 19 to deliver a plan on how to do it. The big difference with BC is that industry will not only be paying the full cost, it will also be having a large say in program design and execution (a first for North America).

So the BC stewards have a golden opportunity to design a program that works for them and that is not encumbered or restricted by elements of the current system (for example, municipal control of contracts and program design). The stewards need to assert control from the start by clearly defining the program scope. What exactly does it cover? This is not the time to produce a “patch-up” job that sits somewhere between steward and municipal interests. This is the time to design something that works for the stewards while meeting all regulatory obligations. What happens in BC has implications for stewards far beyond that province and is a great opportunity to create a new EPR model.

Read More →

John Mullinder

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

More Posts - Website