Canadian Packaging

Report slams lack of credible packaging waste and recycling data

The Canadian packaging industry’s efforts to improve its waste diversion performance are stymied by the lack of credible, up-to-date statistical data that accurately measures its share of the overall wastestreams, according to a scathing report from the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) claiming that packaging waste is generally blamed for a far greater share of the country’s waste problems than it should.


December 8, 2010
by Canadian Packaging Staff

The Canadian packaging industry’s efforts to improve its waste diversion performance are stymied by the lack of credible, up-to-date statistical data that accurately measures its share of the overall wastestreams, according to a scathing report from the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) claiming that packaging waste is generally blamed for a far greater share of the country’s waste problems than it should.

Instead, Canadian policy-makers rely on the outdated 1996 Statistics Canada national packaging survey and the agency’s biennial WMIS (Waste Management Industry Survey) reports to draw wrong conclusions about the industry’s environmental burden, often leading to misguided waste diversion initiatives that unfairly punish packaging users and suppliers for allegedly failing to improve their recycling and recovery rates, says the report, titled The Inconvenient Truth about Packaging Waste in Canada.

“What’s wrong with MIS? Well, number one is that it doesn’t cover packaging per se, so it’s hard to conclude anything credible about packaging,” the council laments. “Rather, it covers broad groups of wastes such as organics, tires, construction renovation and demolition debris, electronics, white goods, mixed paper and newsprint, and a bunch of recyclable streams—some of which include packaging materials.

“But it is not clear how much of the glass, metals, aluminum or plastics is actually packaging and how much is non-packaging.”

And because the WMIS surveys  only poll haulers in the waste management industry, rather than industrial generators of potential packaging waste like factories or retail outlets, much of the gathered data is far too general to draw any helpful conclusions, says PPEC.

“As WMIS notes in its latest survey, ‘These data do not include those materials transported by the generator directly to secondary processors, such as pulp and paper mills, while bypassing entirely any firm or local government involved in waste management activities’.”

Such “enormously significant” omissions belittle the real efforts made by business enterprises to boost their recycling and waste diversion efforts, according to the council report.

“Just one large Ontario supermarket chain sends over a half-million tonnes of OCCs (old corrugated containers) through a paper processor directly to a recycling mill every year—more than four times OCCs that all Ontario municipalities sent for recycling in 2006,” the report points out. “But this tonnage is not counted in the WMIS surveys.”

The report also takes issue with several other “misrepresentations” about packaging’s landfill impact:

  • Packaging accounts for a huge part or the wastestream. While the Ontario Minister of the Environment John Gerretsen has been quoted saying that packaging accounts for a third of the province’s landfill waste, the council contends the true figures is closer to 10 per cent, albeit there’s no indisputable proof due to insufficient statistics.
  • Canada is far behind Europe in recycling. While the 15 original European Union countries averaged a 58-percent recycling rate for packaging in 2006, the inclusion of 12 new members drops that average to 49 per cent—not far above the 45-percent rate posted by Canada in 1997, the last year for which such data is available.
  • Municipalities are much better than industry at packaging waste diversion. The council says comparing a 19-percent waste diversion rate for Ontario residents and a 29-percent average for municipalities to the industry’s 12 per cent is meaningless because WMIS covers all waste, not just packaging, “and it doesn’t tell you how much packaging is used in the first place.

“Until we get a comprehensive national database that includes data on packaging,” the report concludes, “the debate will go on and packaging will continue to be bad-mouthed by the ill-informed.”