Let’s get the facts straight on Ontario’s Blue Box

The current debate over what to do about Ontario’s Blue Box frequently confuses at least four distinct but interrelated issues: waste management in general; the recycling option; the relative roles of industry and householders; and the nature of the Blue Box program itself.

First, the broader context. The Blue Box program is just one waste collection system, among many. Others include the deposit/return systems for beverage containers run by the Beer Store and the province itself through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario; some industry stewardship programs; private sector recycling efforts; and numerous return-to-retail options.

The Blue Box program does not, and was never intended to, address the almost 13 million tonnes of waste that Ontario generates every year.[1] To suggest, as some critics have, that the Blue Box is somehow failing because it focuses on only about 10% of Ontario’s generated waste, totally ignores its objective and scope.

What are these critics suggesting? That we should load up our Blue Boxes with meat scraps and leaves, rusty fridges and stoves, and old planks of plywood? These are best handled in other ways (used tires, laptops and cellphones, for example, already have separate, industry-led stewardship programs).

But the province does need to act more urgently on this front because it will run out of landfill space within 12 years. Typically, it takes between five to 10 years of consultations and reviews just to get all the approvals in place to site a new one.[2] Remember NIMBY and NIMTOO (not in my backyard and not in my term of office)? The clock is ticking on this one.

Disposal bans and landfill surcharges have been adopted in other provinces and regions, with varying degrees of success. For its part, the paper packaging industry has for seven years now lobbied successive Ontario ministers of the environment to introduce disposal bans, specifically on organics and paper (which give off greenhouse gases when left to rot in landfill). The province has talked a lot but done little.

Blue Box is a residential system

Second, the Blue Box program is a residential waste collection system. It focuses on what is in Ontario homes. It was never intended to collect materials from factories or supermarkets, offices or hospitals. And for good reason. The wastes from these operations are quite different in both nature and percentage composition. A Blue Box for wire strapping, chemicals, steel drums, and wooden pallets, as well as for paper, plastic, glass and metal? It doesn’t make sense. And who would do the collection? Municipalities?

These wastes are best left to ‘industry’ to manage. Sure, existing regulations need to be tightened and broadened, and here again, disposal bans and higher landfill fees, would be useful. At the moment it’s far cheaper to dump stuff than to recycle it. Industry needs an economic incentive to do the right thing. Again, the province holds most of the cards here but has done little.

False claims

Third, it would be remiss of me not to address some of the false claims being made about the relative contributions of residential and industrial waste. It is not true, for example, that “two-thirds of Ontario’s waste is generated in the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC and I) sector.” In fact, the consumption blame is pretty evenly spread. According to Statistics Canada (2016 data), almost half (46%) of Ontario’s waste was generated by the residential sector, with 54% coming from industrial (or IC and I) sources.[3]  Industry may be doing a far poorer job of diverting this material from landfill (extensive data is lacking), but overall, it is not consuming a huge amount more than householders. And it is our collective excessive consumption habits that are causing the waste problem in the first place.

Nor is it true that packaging is likely a major component of this industrial waste, as some critics have charged. Packaging represented only 13% of total solid waste according to Statistics Canada’s last national packaging survey way back in 1996. Over 70% of all packaging consumed in Canada was re-used or recycled, it found. And industry, not householders, was responsible for almost 75% of the packaging that was recycled.[4]  While there has certainly been an increase in residential recycling of packaging over the years, we seriously doubt that industry has stopped doing what it was doing before. Bring on some credible data!

Blue Box is a recycling program

Fourth, Ontario’s Blue Box is a recycling program. It is not a reduction program, although materials have been light-weighted over the years, more likely to save on costs than to avoid Blue Box fees. Nor is it a re-use program, although some of the materials do get re-used in one shape or another. And while the recyclability of a material is clearly a good thing, it is not the only factor to be considered when analysing a material’s overall environmental impact.

The Blue Box cannot achieve all of these very desirable outcomes by itself, and it should not be expected to. It is a recycling program, focussed on gathering dry recyclables (paper, plastic, glass and metal) from residential households and sending them on to end-markets to be made into new products and packaging. Its current universe is some 1.3 million tonnes of waste (10% of Ontario’s total generated waste) and while recovery has flatlined a little bit recently, the Blue Box is still sending just over 60% of Ontario’s dry household waste on for recycling. It is responsible for 25% of Ontario’s total recycling effort (not 7% as some critics recently claimed).[5]

Paper the key

And key to understanding the Blue Box recycling program is that 73% of it is paper. Paper is the success story of Ontario’s Blue Box. More than 70% of all the paper that Ontario households generate is recovered through Old Blue. Several paper materials (corrugated boxes, magazines and catalogues, and newspapers) have recycling rates in the high 80s and 90s. And while the revenues for paper grades fluctuate and are currently somewhat subdued, they totalled some $43.7 million in 2018 or 51% of total Blue Box revenues.[6]

What's being collected through Ontario's Blue Box
What’s being collected through Ontario’s Blue Box Source: Stewardship Ontario (2018 data)

Most of this recovered paper is supplied to Ontario packaging mills that use it to produce new, 100% recycled content, boxes and cartons. Ontario thus already has a home-grown circular economy where used paper is recycled over and over again. It is in nobody’s interests to destabilise this situation by penalising the local paper industry, even inadvertently.

The materials that are not doing very well in Ontario’s Blue Box system are widely known (mostly plastics) and are the target of much of the bad press about the Blue Box. But we have to be very careful when coming up with solutions to the plastics’ problem that we don’t imperil the Blue Box itself. One solution is for companies to get out of plastics entirely. Another is to launch re-use programs. A third is to introduce deposit-refund schemes that have far higher material recovery rates than Ontario’s current broader-based multi-material approach. Then there are return-to-retail options, landfill bans and surcharges, minimum recycled content requirements, diversion targets, and EPR fees. But these options, my friends, deserve a whole new blog by itself. Stay tuned.

 

This blog was orignailly posted on the PPEC website on September 3rd 2020


[1] Statistics Canada, Disposal of waste, by source (Table 38-10-0032-01) and Materials diverted, by source (Table 38-10-0033-01). Ontario generated 12,785,183 tonnes of waste in 2016 (comprising disposal of 9,475472 tonnes and diversion of 3,309,711 tonnes. Ontario’s overall waste diversion rate was therefore 26% (not 7% as recently claimed).

[2] Ontario Waste Management Association, Ontario Needs New Landfills, July 10, 2020

[3] Statistics Canada, ibid. Generation equals what was disposed plus what was diverted. In 2016, Ontario residences disposed of 3.7 million tonnes and diverted 2.1 million tonnes for a total waste generation of 5.8 million tonnes. In the same year, ‘industry’ disposed of 5.7 million tonnes and diverted 1.2 million tonnes for a total waste generation of 6.9 million tonnes. Ontario’s total waste generation was therefore 12.7 million tonnes, with residences contributing 46% and ‘industry’ 54%.

[4] This Statistics Canada monitoring exercise over 10 years, and its final result, while now very dated, covered 31 separate industry sectors of the economy and 32 different packaging material types, using surveys as well as information derived from Statistics Canada’s international trade   merchandise data and a national study of household packaging recycling. Some 10,000 surveys representing a total survey frame of almost 400,000 businesses were sent out, with the 61% response rate regarded by Statistics Canada as “consistent with other similar surveys.’’ (Milestone Report, Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, CCME, pages 6-7). Two significant findings of the National Packaging Monitoring System (NPMS) were that over 70% of all packaging consumed in Canada was re-used or recycled, and that industrial recycling of packaging (mostly corrugated boxes) accounted for almost 75% of all packaging recycling (Tables 1 and 29).

[5] Stewardship Ontario, Blue Box data. Table 1: Generation and Recovery (2016 and 2018). Ontario’s waste generation in 2016, according to Statistics Canada, ibid., was 12,785,183 tonnes. The Blue Box in that year sent 836,227 tonnes for recycling. Therefore, the Blue Box was responsible not for 7% of Ontario’s recycling diversion (as claimed recently) but rather 25% of it (836,227 divided by the 3,309,711 tonnes that Ontario recycled).

[6] Stewardship Ontario Blue Box data (2018). Table 1: Generation and Recovery and Table 2: Gross and Net Costs.

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.

FSC 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.

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).

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).

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

This letter first appeared on the PPEC website on April 8, 2020

 

How much forest lands 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).

 

This was originally posted on the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)’s website on January 24th 2019

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}.

 

This blog was first published on the PPEC website on October 4, 2019

 

Industry veteran compiled PPEC’s early recycled content reports

Telf DenardIt was a one-paragraph obituary near the bottom of the page. H.T. “Telford” Denard had passed away. Cremation had already taken place, and no formal services would be held “as per his wishes.”

This was so Telf, as we called him. A quiet, self-effacing man, he’d gone and died on us; been cremated; not even given us a chance to celebrate his life. It had been a long one. He’d made it to 94, quite an innings.

Born in England, Telf had served as a Royal Air Force pilot during the Second World War, delivering new aircraft from North America across the Atlantic. Later he had settled in Canada and become involved with the paper industry, specialising in the kraft paper used to make paper bags.

It was in this capacity that I first met him almost 28 years ago. He was then the chairman of a small kraft paper mill group which would soon merge with another (containerboard). This broader group in turn would become part of a new body (the Packaging Mills Association of Canada) which later folded; most mill members then joining the current Canadian Corrugated and Containerboard Association (CCCA).

Throughout this time, Telf was closely involved with the environmental arm of the industry, the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC). In fact, he and Irving Granovsky of Atlantic Packaging, hold the record for longest terms of service to the council; over 20 years.

Telf’s major contribution to PPEC, apart from the deep industry knowledge that he willingly shared, was the compilation of industry statistics, particularly related to recycled content. It was his formative work that led to PPEC issuing a recycled content report every two years from 1990 onwards. This public tracking of the industry’s use of recycled content (which has jumped from an average of 47% back then to 77% today) was both educational and explanatory, and is frequently cited as an industry example to follow.

Over the last 10 years, Telf reduced his unofficial involvement with the council but we kept in touch, most recently about three months ago when we lunched in Brampton. He had just successfully passed his driving test (at the age of 94) and insisted on driving from his home to the PPEC offices. Stubborn maybe. Independent. Definitely. With a weakness for apple pie and ice cream. Thanks for the contribution and the memories, Telf.

Telf Obituary

Guest Book:

 

The future of retail and e-commerce

The Canadian retail industry is undergoing massive change, shedding bricks and mortar for the new exciting world of e-commerce. In the driver’s seat are consumers. Click and point with the mouse. It’s so easy. In today’s world, convenience is king.

But what’s the impact on the retail trade? What happens to those huge store fronts, the money tied up in real estate, those massive parking lots, those attractive consumer-friendly displays of merchandise that aren’t needed any more? What about data and transaction technology, and logistics?

And then there’s the supply side. The potential is staggering. Amazon’s retail segment in the US and corrugated box-related consumption, for example, is currently growing at an amazing <em>30% year-over-year.</em> Mostly in electronics and appliances, entertainment and leisure products.

So far, the market for at-home grocery items has hardly been touched. “Somebody will find a way to crack the grocery nut,’’ said Matt Elhardt of Fisher International recently. “I might buy a new TV once every couple of years, but I buy groceries every week. In terms of where the real opportunities are, I would make the argument that we’re at the tip of the iceberg.’’

Canadian retailers sure want some of that iceberg. Several have already launched e-commerce ventures or are positioning themselves to take advantage of the new opportunities.

There are implications for packagers further down the line as well. Operators of material recycling facilities or MRFs have already noted the change in colour of their surroundings: from the once dominant grey of old newspapers to the now dominant brown of corrugated boxes.

If you want to learn more on the future of retail and e-commerce in Canada, we’ve lined up the perfect occasion. Come hear Diane Brisebois, President of the Retail Council of Canada, talk about the major challenges and opportunities facing Canadian retailers as e-commerce takes hold. For more details and to register for this PPEC event on April 11, click  here .

 

Packaging stewards should be rewarded for using recycled content

Recycled content is central to the “Circular Economy” approach that Ontario and some other provinces say they want to adopt. It keeps raw materials flowing through the economy longer, reduces the pressure to extract more virgin materials from the earth, and delays their eventual disposal as waste. It’s something which governments say they want to encourage, and for which stewards of paper products and packaging should be rewarded.

The Canadian paper packaging industry has spent millions of dollars over the years investing in cleaning and screening machinery so that it can re-use and recycle recovered paper. Packaging mills in Southern Ontario led North America in recycling old boxboard for the first time back in the 1990s. Today, some 94% of Canadians can recycle it. And today, most of the corrugated boxes and boxboard cartons made in Ontario are continuously made from 100% recycled content, a circular achievement in and of itself.

The paper packaging industry gets no credit for this effort, while in the commercial marketplace it competes against mostly virgin packaging alternatives. We have suggested the province level the playing field by setting a target of 40% average recycled content for all packaging sold in Ontario by 2020 and an average of 70% within 10 years. This would place Ontario firmly on the path to the circular economy it says it wants, and create a more level playing field between materials at the same time.

An alternative to provincial regulation is a recycled content credit within the Blue Box funding formula itself. This is not a new suggestion. The producer responsibility organisation in Quebec, Éco Entreprises Québec, already has one. And while Stewardship Ontario does float the idea of a recycled content credit in the draft outline of the new Blue Box plan it is currently working on, its support seems rather tepid.

That’s because some Ontario stewards have objected to the concept in the past. Here are three historical objections, and our responses to them.

  1. That assessing recycled content is an administrative burden and costly to track and report.

We think this objection is way overstated. For paper materials we have independent third-party certifiers and chain-of-custody certifications as to where paper materials are coming from, whether from virgin or recycled sources, or a mix of the two. Chain-of-custody certification is an environmental metric supported by the global Consumer Goods Forum, of which most leading Canadian brands and retailers are members.

Making suppliers prove that they have internationally accepted chain-of-custody certification would seem to reduce the administrative burden on stewards and provide a good kick-start to the circular economy at the same time. It would also force other materials to develop chain-of-custody certification programs if they haven’t already done so.

Or stewards could use independently certified industry averages. PPEC has been tracking its members’ use of recycled content for over 25 years and it’s quite willing to open its books to a confidential third-party review. A sliding scale of recycled content usage would reward a lot more stewards and probably be more palatable and make any administration easier. Besides, won’t the new body Ontario has created to bring in the Circular Economy (the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority) be monitoring this anyway?

  1. The funds to credit stewards using recycled content must come from other stewards (i.e. it is cross-substitution).

Well yes, it is. That’s why you do it, to encourage other stewards to be more circular, to reduce the overall environmental burden of the basket of goods that is the Blue Box, for the common benefit. This is the very same principle that’s supposed to apply to those materials that are recycled through the Blue Box versus the ones that are not. What’s the difference? It’s the same principle of rewarding preferred behaviour.

  1. Federal regulations limit the use of recycled content in food-contact packaging. Making recycled content a requirement would be unfair to those stewards.

First, federal regulations on food-contact packaging apply to all materials (i.e. it is material-neutral). Second, recycled content is not excluded. Food safety is the key issue and the onus is on the brand owner to guarantee food safety, whether through Health Canada “No Objection Letters” or through FDA approvals. It comes down to the material’s direct and indirect contact with the food and the element of risk to humans.

Is it unfair to single out “food” stewards?  No. They choose to be producers of foods and the safe delivery of food is part of that. Just as a producer of a washing machine or a microwave is “forced” to use a large package to have his or her product delivered. Or a perfume manufacturer with an elaborately designed stand-out boxboard carton. All choose of their own free will to be in those lines of business. That’s the game they’ve chosen to be in. Whether they can use recycled content or not in their delivery packaging is part and parcel of that original choice.

In summary, rewarding those who use recycled content is a good, fair, and effective way to achieve a circular economy and to level the playing field between “circular” and “non-circular” performers. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

Les cibles de l’économie circulaire doivent tenir compte du contenu en matières recyclées

Le ministère ontarien de l’Environnement et de l’Action en matière de changement climatique (MEACC) se penche actuellement sur ce qu’il appelle les objectifs spécifiques de « gestion » des matières recueillies dans les boîtes bleues, comme le papier, le plastique, le verre, l’acier et l’aluminium. Le ministère a déjà indiqué qu’il souhaite voir le taux collectif de récupération des boîtes bleues atteindre 75 %, alors que le taux actuel est de 64 %.

Avant d’examiner en détail les cibles précises pour les différentes matières, nous devons nous préoccuper d’un enjeu important qui concerne directement l’économie circulaire à laquelle le ministre et la province disent vouloir se rallier, c’est-à-dire la question du contenu en matières recyclées. L’utilisation de contenu recyclé permet de faire circuler les matières en boucle aussi longtemps que possible.

La majeure partie des boîtes de carton ondulé et du carton pour boîtes fabriqué en Ontario, par exemple, est déjà faite à 100 % de matières recyclées, à partir de boîtes et de papier recueilli après usage dans les usines, les supermarchés, les bureaux et les hôpitaux, ainsi que dans les boîtes bleues et les centres de recyclage. L’industrie ontarienne des emballages de papier et de carton a franchi cette étape importante après avoir investi pendant de nombreuses années des millions de dollars en nouveaux équipements de nettoyage et de classement. En effet, les usines du sud de l’Ontario ont tracé la voie en Amérique du Nord en intégrant le vieux carton issu de la collecte domestique à leurs pâtes de carton recyclé dès les années 1990. Aujourd’hui, quelque 94 % des Canadiens peuvent recycler le carton.

Le Conseil de l’environnement des emballages de papier et de carton (CEEPC) a suivi et largement fait connaître au public les progrès de l’industrie vers une économie plus circulaire. Cependant, ses membres se retrouvent en concurrence sur le marché avec des matériaux vierges qui ont fait très peu de progrès vers l’augmentation des matières recyclées ou la « circularité ».

Le secteur du plastique, par exemple, ne publie pas de données sur le contenu moyen en matières recyclées à notre connaissance et le taux de réacheminement global des matières plastiques dans les boîtes bleues est franchement faible (32 %). Le pourcentage de réacheminement de la pellicule de plastique est passé de 6 % à 12 % au cours des 13 dernières années, et celui du polystyrène de 3 % à 6 % pendant la même période.

Pour faire en sorte que les règles du jeu soient justes entre les différentes matières, nous avons besoin de politiques publiques qui encouragent une plus grande utilisation des matières recyclées ou une certaine reconnaissance des résultats obtenus en ce qui concerne les matières recyclées dans la formule de financement des boîtes bleues et les objectifs de rendement. Nous n’observons rien en ce sens actuellement et les emballages de papier et de carton font encore face à la concurrence grandissante des plastiques vierges moins coûteux. Pourquoi la province n’établirait-elle pas un objectif de 40 % de contenu moyen en matières recyclées pour tous les emballages vendus en Ontario d’ici 2020, et de 70 % d’ici 2027? Cela nous mettrait sur la voie d’une économie plus circulaire en plus de créer des règles du jeu plus équitables.

Fact and fiction in the fight to deliver your fruit and veggies

Most consumers don’t see this but there’s an intense battle going on right now in North America for the job of delivering food from the farm to the retailers who sell it to you. An old ding-dong fight between the traditional corrugated box with its colourful graphics showing who grew the produce, and the anonymous reusable plastic crate. Between a system that uses a fresh box every time (minimising the potential for undesirable pathogens and bacteria being carried forward to the consumer) and a crate that must be thoroughly washed and sanitised before it can be used again. An economic and environmental debate between paper and plastic, re-use and recycling.

A recent article in the Globe and Mail newspaper highlighted some of the issues. But it also added to the confusion. Here’s our attempt to sort fact from fiction:

  • Claim (by major crate supplier IFCO) that the scientific studies showing food-safety risks with reusable crates are “flawed” and rely on “faulty methodology.”

FACT:  Several independent studies by reputable food scientists have now been carried out over the last few years in both Canada and the United States, including by the Universities of Guelph, British Columbia, California (Davis) and the University of Arkansas. At least one has been peer-reviewed and published in a scientific journal. The studies range from a lab simulation that shows biofilms surviving common crate cleaning procedures to in-field tests revealing unacceptably high total aerobic and yeast and mould counts, and the presence of E. coli after the crates had supposedly been washedIn the Globe article, a food science professor at McGill University, Lawrence Goodridge, throws his support behind the latest University of Guelph findings.

FACT: IFCO by comparison has not funded any independent research or presented the results of  any in-house studies for public review; has declined to provide details of the standards it deems to be acceptable; and has responded to the data in the above studies only with general and critical sound bites. If its crates are so clean why is IFCO unwilling to share publicly exactly how it draws those conclusions? And why aren’t retailers like crate promoter, Loblaw, and government inspection agencies, putting more pressure on IFCO to share those testing procedures publicly so that food scientists and consumers can be confident that the crates meet acceptable sanitisation standards?

  • Claim (by the Reusable Packaging Association) that the corrugated industry has funded tests on the safety of its competitor’s products but not its own.

FACT: Not true. The corrugated industry has been very open in commissioning independent food scientists to do the crate studies noted above. It had hoped that IFCO and government bodies might fund some joint research on both crates and boxes, but neither party came to the table. It has also tested its own product’s performance. One independent box study shows that the heat of the process of making the box kills all bacteria. Another study tested 720 corrugated boxes in three different US states, and found that every single one of them met acceptable sanitisation levels.

  • Claim (by Loblaw spokesperson Catherine Thomas) that “each year, by using these reusable crates, we keep millions of wax-corrugate boxes out of landfill.”Corrugated Recycles

FACT: Not true. “Millions” is a gross exaggeration for a start. Waxed boxes represent maybe 3% of all corrugated boxes produced and maybe 10% of boxes used for delivering fresh produce today. The waxes provide a moisture barrier so that ice, for example, can be added to the box to keep produce such as broccoli, fresh in transit. The paper industry has spurred development of alternatives to wax treatments and, in fact, sales of wax alternatives now surpass those of traditional waxes. Wax alternatives are perfectly re-pulpable and recyclable in packaging recycling mills throughout North America.

Loblaw and other grocers should check to see what’s actually happening at the back of their stores. Many grocers today are being asked to separate the waxed boxes from the normal (non-waxed) corrugated boxes they receive. The waxed boxes are then baled and shipped to companies that make fire logs or extract the paraffin from them. Stores that take advantage of this opportunity obviously don’t send any waxed boxes to landfill.