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 .

 

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.

Nothing is 100% recyclable or 100% compostable

Claims for 100% recyclable and 100% compostable seem to be proliferating. Are they accurate? Are they legal? Or are they just another form of greenwash?

It’s not surprising that North American consumers are confused. Because in common speech, the words “recyclable” and “compostable” can mean three different things:

  • technically recyclable or compostable, meaning that the product can be physically taken apart for recycling or broken down for composting
  • able to be collected, meaning that the municipality or service provider says you can put it out for recycling or composting collection
  • that the product or material is commonly being recycled or composted already.

Each of these meanings is significantly different. But in terms of environmental labelling, which is what we are talking about here, the Competition Bureau Canada will accept only one. And that is whether the consumer can actually send the product or material for recycling or composting. It does not matter whether the product or material is technically capable of being torn apart or composted. It does not matter what the actual recycling or recovery rate of that material might be (that’s a whole other issue). What does matter is how many Canadians have access (“reach” in the US) to the recycling (or composting) of that product or material.

And the Competition Bureau has guidelines on how that access is determined and when you can use the words: “It is recommended that if at least half the population has access to collection facilities, a claim of recyclable (or compostable) may be made without the use of any qualification.” If less than half the population has access, claims must be qualified: “the specific location of the recycling (or composting)programs or facilities should be identified whenever it is possible and practical to do so.” (10.1.3).

Recyclable and compostable claims, then, are based on whether and to what extent consumers have access to recycling or composting facilities. Putting 100% in front of these words, however, Nothing is 100% recyclable or 100% compostabletakes the issue to a whole new level. We are not lawyers, but to us the clear inference consumers would draw from a claim of “100% recyclable” or “100% compostable” is that 100% of Canadians have access to the recycling (or composting) of that product or material. And that is plainly not true.

While most Canadians now live in cities and towns that have access to recycling or composting facilities, there are a small but significant number of people who live in more remote locations who do not, and probably never will have “conveniently available” access to recycling or composting. Therefore, 100% access for Canadians will likely never be achieved. Which is why we in the paper packaging industry say that virtually all Canadians have access to the recycling of paper packaging. The actual number is 96% for corrugated boxes and paper bags, and 94% for boxboard cartons, determined through an independent third-party study.

Anybody putting the 100% in front of recyclable (or compostable) is therefore, in our view, failing to follow the Competition Bureau guidelines for using the words, and is leaving themselves open to prosecution for misleading advertising. They are compounding existing consumer confusion about what recyclable/compostable mean; or worse, deliberately indulging in what amounts to greenwash. Doesn’t labelling a product or material as 100% recyclable or 100% compostable just serve to dilute and undermine the whole access criteria on which the current use of the words is based? Are we wrong on this?

cc: Competition Bureau Canada

Paper, paper, everywhere, and not a scrap to waste

Every Tuesday night I come face-to-face with the twin issues of consumption and “sustainable materials management” or the latest buzzword favoured by governments, the “circular economy.” For Tuesday night is Recycling Night.

From the bathroom and bedroom, I gather toilet rolls and tissue, envelopes and writing paper. From the kitchen and dining room, I grab the box of recyclables holding newspapers, cartons, cans, jars, and bottles; the special food scraps bag (made of compostable paper, of course) that’s stored under the sink; and the small “garbage” bag of other stuff. Then I head for the big carts parked in the garage before wheeling the appropriate ones (this week, recycling and organics) out to the curb for the morning pick-up. All told, it takes me maybe five or ten minutes. And I feel good about it, doing my little bit for the circular economy.

What I have learned from this exercise is that education and convenience are key. It is very true, as someone has said, that waste diversion is all about a flick of the wrist, that crucial moment when the householder decides whether something goes into the recycling or into the garbage. If garbage is easier, that’s where it goes, and generally, that’s where it stays.

I have a special interest in enhancing the recovery of paper, and Ontario’s Blue Box system is doing very well in this regard with almost three-quarters of it being sent on for recyclingBut far too much paper is still slipping through the cracks: mainly old boxboard (such as cereal and shoe boxes) and printing and writing paper.

If most (say 85%) of that perfectly recyclable but dumped paper were instead captured and sent for recycling, provincial Blue Box paper recovery would jump to an amazing 96%, and the Ontario Blue Box overall from its current 64% to a very impressive 78 per cent. Folks, this is actually achievable, if only we set our minds to it!

It’s not as if there are no steady markets for the various paper materials. There are. In fact, the packaging mills of Southern Ontario led North America in pioneering the recovery of old boxboard back in the 1990s. We have gone from boxboard not being collected at all to virtually all Canadians (94%) being able to recycle it in the space of 20 years. An impressive achievement.

No, the issue is not markets, as some government people will tell you, it is capture. We are not physically getting enough paper material out of the home because it’s too easy for householders to flick the wrist. So how do we get them to flick in the right direction?

Education is key. We drool over British Columbia’s new Blue Box program where there is a standard list of materials accepted province-wide. Imagine that! One consistent recycling message across the whole province. Wouldn’t that be great! Remove the confusion. Save money on promotion. Increase the capture rate.

But we also need to engineer the Blue Box system for greater convenience. Municipalities and their service providers have been very creative in this respect: encouraging recycling by charging for garbage bags or bins and by limiting the number of garbage bags allowed at the curb and/or the frequency of garbage pick-up. Restrict the “garbage opportunity” and encourage recycling. Great stuff. And we do recognize that multi-residential apartments represent a special problem. It’s a lot easier to dump something down a garbage chute than to separate the recyclables and carry them in the elevator to a downstairs recycling bin.

But somehow we have to educate Canadians that most paper materials are perfectly recyclable; that there are long-standing and sustainable markets for them; that most boxes and cartons made in Canada, for example, are already 100% recycled content, and that the industry needs this household paper as feedstock to make new packaging; that this ongoing recycling activity provides local jobs and taxes; and that paper recovery is a great example of the circular economy and the goal of zero waste that we all hopefully aspire to, and is in our collective best interests.

Provincial governments have a key role to play too, in getting more paper out of the waste stream. For years, governments have been telling the packaging industry to reduce, re-use, and recycle. And it’s been doing that. But guess what, the provinces can do something too, something that industry can’t. They can introduce disposal bans on materials headed to landfill.

How about it? It’s not as if it hasn’t been done before. Nova Scotia and PEI have had disposal bans on paper materials for years. Wouldn’t a disposal ban send a great message to everyone that paper doesn’t belong in landfill; that it’s a valuable feedstock; that banning it from the dump would reduce the greenhouse gases released to the atmosphere and mitigate climate change? Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to be doing?

The English novelist Charles Dickens once described politics as the art of scurrying nowhere in a violent hurry. We wish some governments (OK, Ontario in particular) would scurry somewhere fast (hint: disposal bans) in more of a hurry! At the moment the province is not even considering disposal bans on paper until “2019 and beyond.” Which just happens to be safely past the next scheduled elections. Shame on them! Hurry hard!

 

Household paper that shouldn’t be in the garbage

(the 26% that doesn’t make it to the Blue Box)

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

Over 75% of what the Blue Box collects is paper, and it has the highest recovery rates

When you crunch the numbers on Canada’s various provincial Blue Box systems, one fact stands out more than any other. The Blue Box is basically a Paper Box, part of a larger feeder supply network for Canadian and other paper recycling mills.

Paper’s overwhelming dominance is more obvious, of course, in the many “deposit” provinces where beverage containers are returned outside of the Blue Box system. But even in “non-deposit” Ontario, paper is king. Over 75% of all the material collected in Ontario’s Blue Box is paper of some kind, whether printed paper like newspapers or packaging boxes and cartons. This has not changed over the last 13 years of data compiled by the province’s Blue Box industry-funding organisation, Stewardship Ontario.

A huge chunk of that recovered paper goes to Ontario recycling mills to be turned into new newspapers, new corrugated boxes, or new boxboard cartons. A local and active circular economy. The mills, and the converters who turn that recycled fibre into new paper products, provide employment to many local communities and pay taxes to municipal governments.

Paper categories also have the highest individual recovery rates of all materials in Ontario’s Blue Box. Used corrugated boxes top the bill at an amazing 98% recovery rate followed by old telephone books (96%) and old newspapers (92%). The paper or fibre stream overall has a very respectable 74% recovery rate. The recovery rate for the container stream (plastic, glass and metal packaging), on the other hand, is only 46%, dragged down by plastics’ lowly 32 percent.

Select Recovery Rates

Source: Stewardship Ontario (2015 data)

The history of paper packaging in Canada

Interesting to look back sometimes. Here is my contribution to a recent book on 100 years of papermaking in Canada.

Lightweight, Recycled, Sustainable: the Story of Canada’s Packaging Grades

The last 100 years of packaging in Canada have seen the replacement of heavy wooden crates with lighter corrugated boxes, and the rise of plastic and composite packaging, mainly at the expense of glass. While not immune to attacks from both inside and outside the industry, the paper packaging sector has chugged along, with the recent growth in e-commerce giving the corrugated box a timely boost.

The period has witnessed major shifts in product delivery: the decline in movement of goods by rail in favour of more “just-in-time” shipping by road; and changing demographic and consumption patterns: more people in towns and cities, an ageing population with different packaging requirements, more and smaller households (independent servings), and the rapid growth of the fast-food industry and convenience.. Read the rest of my article hereHistory: PAPTAC 100 Years of Knowledge

To purchase your own copy of this book: PAPTAC- 100 Years of Knowledge Connections

Something really fishy about plastic crate study

The battle between the corrugated box and the plastic crate industries for share of the fresh produce market is getting stranger by the minute. The latest twist is the release by leading crate supplier, IFCO, of a comparative life cycle analysis (LCA) that, guess what, favours the crate.

At first IFCO released only the executive summary of the study, garnering the “corrugated is worse” headlines that it sought in the trade press, and effectively delaying public scrutiny of any backup for its claims. LCAs and especially comparative ones, are supposed to be transparent so that everyone can assess the veracity or otherwise of the claims and assumptions made. PPEC requested a copy of the full report and finally received one. In the meantime, of course, IFCO has been touting the results of its study to growers and retailers alike, encouraging them to accept its conclusions as gospel.

Now hang on a minute! We had questions before, but the full study raises even more! In particular, we were looking for substantiation of the claim that more recycling of corrugated leads only to more global warming potential (GWP); and for back-up for the claim that the average recycled content of a US produce box is only 15 percent.

The full report is disappointing on both counts. There is no credible substantiation for the 15% claim, for example, only a deliberately vague reference to discussions with unnamed “industry Plastic Crate studyconsultants and fiber produce container manufacturers” (page 134). With some assistance, because the footnote reference in the study no longer works, we managed to track down one corrugated manufacturer who acknowledged that in 2012 he used 85% virgin board (from Australia) to make some produce boxes for a very specific application involving wet conditions.

That’s it! One guy, and some unnamed consultants! This is the flimsy evidence for surmising that the whole industry works this way. It gets worse. From Appendix F it seems that the Peer Review Panel didn’t even question the validity of the 15% assumption, which is really odd given how the results of the study depend so much on it being correct.

We can understand why the US corrugated box industry is upset. Their average recycled content has been publicly stated and verified to be close to 50 percent. In Canada, ours is even higher, at 80 percent. IFCO and its consultants really need to produce a lot more backup for their 15% claim if they want to be taken seriously.

Plastics industry quietly removes false bag claims

The Canadian plastics industry has quietly deleted a couple of the false claims it was making on its bags website. PPEC highlighted the claims in a blog last month.

Gone is the claim that the ULS Report was completed according to ISO 14040-14043 standards and peer reviewed by North Carolina State University. Not true. Also absent now is the false claim that paper bags have to be made from virgin pulp. In fact, they can be made from virgin or recycled pulp, or a blend of the two.

And instead of saying that “post-consumer recycled paper cannot be used to carry heavy items” (a ludicrous claim considering that much of the paper packaging made in Canada incorporates post-consumer recyPlasticsMay04cled paper, and performs well), the site now says that post-consumer recycled paper used to carry heavy items is “problematic.” About as “problematic,” we would assume, as carrying heavy items with post-consumer plastic. But then who are we to quibble?

All the plastic folks have to do now is remove those irrelevant summaries of old European “life cycle” studies that they love to quote on bags. Yes, the ones that have absolutely no Canadian data on how bags are actually made in this country. Canadians are not stupid, eh.