Almost 80,000 more tonnes of plastic in Ontario homes than 10 years ago

An analysis of the last 10 years of data on Blue Box-type materials generated by Ontario households shows a 34% increase in the amount of plastic packaging ending up in the home. And most of it (70%) did not get sent on for recycling.

The major increase is in the catch-all category of “other” plastics, things like yoghurt containers, hand cream tubes, margarine tubs and lids, blister packaging for toys and batteries, egg cartons, and laundry detergent pails. The amount of “other” plastics in the home increased by 67% between 2010 and 2019. There have also been big increases in the tonnages of PET drink bottles (up 54%) and mostly non-recycled plastic laminants (up 30%). Other materials to register significant increases over the period are aseptic cartons (up 46%), boxboard cartons (up 29%) and coloured glass (up 25%).

Blue Box materials in Ontario Households including plastic packaging

What is missing from Ontario homes compared to 10 years ago is a lot of paper, almost 200,000 tonnes of it. Most of this is newspapers no longer being published (generation is down 35%), but telephone directories, magazines and catalogues, and printing and writing paper have also taken a big hit (down 87%, 51%, and 23% respectively).

These changes in what Blue Box materials end up in the home impact how much is recovered for recycling (Ontario’s Blue Box recovery rate has dipped below the provincial target of 60% for the first time since 2005); and how much the recycling system costs. For example, most paper packaging is recyclable and relatively cheap to recover. Plastics packaging, on the other hand, is currently not widely recycled at all (only 31% in 2019 compared to paper’s 68%) and is two and a half times more expensive to recycle. But that subject deserves a blog all by itself!

Ontario Blue Box recovery rate slips, but paper steady

The reported recovery rate of Ontario’s residential Blue Box system has fallen to its lowest level since 2005. The draft recovery rates, to be finalised by Stewardship Ontario in December, show a 2016 recovery rate of 62.4%, down 2% on the previous year. This will make the recent “request” by Ontario’s minister of environment and climate change for a new Blue Box recovery rate of 75% rather interesting.

Some 75% of what’s currently being recovered is paper of one kind or another, the same as it was back in 2003. Printed paper (newspapers, magazines and catalogues, telephone books and printing and writing paper) has the highest recovery rate overall (81%), followed by glass packaging (70%), paper packaging (67%) and steel packaging (63%).

Paper packaging is the only material grouping whose recovery rate has either stayed at the same level or improved in every category (boxboard up 9%), with corrugated boxes again the recovery leader overall at a hard-to-believe 98 per cent.

The glass recovery rate has dropped significantly from 2015 but the Blue Box laggards continue to be aluminum and plastics packaging at 38% and 29% recovery respectively. Plastics packaging recovery has gone down in almost every category and now represents 43% of what ends up going to disposal (on a weight basis). It’s also by far the most expensive material to recover (the net cost of recovering plastic film, for example, is listed at $2,646 a tonne).

Here are the latest (draft) numbers for 2016 with a comparison to 2015 and way back to 2003.

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

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)

This blog on recovery rates first appeared on the PPEC site on January 10, 2017

For an interesting read here is another post on recovery rates

 

Paper recycling represents 40% of Canada’s waste diversion

A recent Statistics Canada report on household e-waste reveals some interesting diversion data on other materials.

Paper, for example, represented 40% of what was diverted in Canada from both residential and non-residential sources in 2012. Paper recycling has increased by about 8% since 2002. The diversion of organics has really jumped, however, and now represents 29% of total diversion, with construction and demolition materials following at close to 8 percent.

Here’s the diversion line-up, expressed as a percentage of total tonnes diverted:

StatsCan Paper Recycling report

Source: Statcan EnviroStats, Trash talking: dealing with Canadian household e-waste. Table 1: Materials diverted from residential and non-residential sources, by type, Canada, 2002-2012.

 

The reports of paper’s death are greatly exaggerated

We frequently hear and see comments about paper “dying” or being supplanted by other materials. It’s not happening, or at least not happening in the way many people think.

While the weight of paper entering Ontario homes, for example, fell by 8% between 2003 and 2014,(( PPEC analysis of Stewardship Ontario Blue Box data for 2003 and 2014. PPEC analyses on the generation, recycling, net costs, and EPR fees for all materials across Canada are available to members upon request.))  at least part of the reason is the continuous light-weighting of paper products that’s gone on over the years: newspapers and magazines with narrower pages, fewer flaps and layers of packaging, and a tighter fit between packaging and product. The introduction of lighter, high-performance board or micro-flutes has also displaced what some boxboard or paperboard used to do. Who could have predicted, for example, that a fast-food hamburger would one day be delivered in a lightweight corrugated box! Check out that distinctive corrugated ripple in the packaging next time you visit one of the chains.

Measuring generation by weight, of course, doesn’t give a complete picture of what’s going on in the marketplace, where volume and sales units rule. But it can be a useful indicator of changing market forces. Printed paper (especially newspapers), for example, has taken a severe hit from its electronic competitors. The weight of newspapers ending up in Ontario homes fell by 21% over the period, magazines and catalogs by 25%, telephone directories by a whopping 47% and “Other Printed Paper” by seven percent. This is the demise part of the paper story we mostly hear about.
Packaging exceeds newsprint in Ontario for the first time
But at the same time as printed paper generation declined by 20%, the use of paper packaging increased by 16%, basically offsetting any major changes to paper’s overall share. In fact, for the first time in Ontario, more paper packaging (corrugated and boxboard) ended up in the home than newsprint. So paper products, whether printed or packaging, still represent two-thirds of the dry recyclables in Ontario households by weight.

The two main household packaging types (boxboard/paperboard and corrugated) are up 27% and 9% respectively, with the small market gable top and aseptic containers also making significant gains (up 24% and 118 percent).

When you put these two changes together (newsprint down and paper packaging up), we pretty much have the status quo, although the trend line within the paper group seems to be clear. And as e-commerce distribution ramps up in Canada, more and more paper packaging (mostly corrugated) is expected to end up in the home. The good news is that most of it is 100% recycled content already, with almost all of it (98%) being collected for further recycling.