Solid Waste & Recycling


Carton Recycling in Canada

 How Can We Do Better?

In 2010, the year the Carton Council of Canada (CCC) was established, the national recovery rate for cartons was 41 percent. As of 2018, the national recovery rate had climbed to 60 percent[1].

While it’s true that carton packaging has among the lowest environmental impact within the packaging industry, CCC members (including carton manufacturers Elopak, Evergreen Packaging, Tetra Pak and SIG Combibloc) continue to work to minimize the number of food and beverage cartons that end up at disposal sites. As a result, CCC members hope to see the carton recovery rate grow to 70 percent by 2025.

Achieving this ambition will require all members of the recycling value chain, including sorting facilities, municipalities, waste management companies and other stakeholders, to work together.

Certainly, supporting innovation and the adoption of new technology among material recovery facilities (MRFs) in an effort to optimize positive carton sorting efforts will have a significant impact on the rate of food and beverage carton recovery across the country.

Likewise, stable and thriving end markets for post-consumer cartons are critical to the success of national recycling and recovery efforts. CCC continues to work with municipalities and MRFs to identify purchasers of post-consumer cartons.

The education of Canadian consumers, however, may potentially have the greatest impact on efforts to improve recycling efforts in this country.

Recently, a popular morning show in Toronto produced a segment focused on environmentally-friendly lunch options. During the course of the program, the show’s guest suggested that drink boxes are not recyclable when in fact drink boxes are widely accepted for recycling in municipal recycling programs across Ontario and throughout the country.

While we know Canadians genuinely care about the environment, the waste they create at work and at home, and the steps they can take to reduce their environmental footprint, pervasive myths and misconceptions such as those related to drink boxes continue to threaten the effectiveness of recycling efforts.

The topic of consumer education is particularly timely as Ontario is set to transition its Blue Box Program to full producer responsibility, from the current model under which municipalities and producers share the costs of the program.

When a similar transition happened in Quebec beginning in 2011, industry assumed the full cost of the residential recycling system while municipalities remained in control of service delivery. Promotion and education costs became non-eligible for industry compensation. System contamination increased significantly following this change, going from 5.2 per cent in 2006/2007 to 13.2 per cent in 2018. The reduction of municipal-led education efforts seems to have contributed to this increase.

While the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act (2016) lays out requirement for producers in terms of promotion and education, it will be important to clearly define how this is operationalized well ahead of when actual transition begins, especially given the possibility that several Producer Responsibility Organizations (PROs) may co-exist. It will be equally important to ensure that P&E activities are maintained during the three-year transition period.

As part of its own ongoing commitment to education, CCC regularly finances and produces carton-recycling awareness campaigns. We also partner with existing initiatives, such as EcoSchools Canada, to provide educational programs and recycling infrastructure to schools. Schools themselves can have a tremendous impact on the success of recycling efforts, particularly when they are armed with accurate information.

Aspiring to a 70 percent national recovery rate challenges each of us, in our own way, to celebrate our successes and then find ways to do even better. Looking for ways to share consistent, credible and accessible information with the general public is an important part of that task. Together, we can apply the best of technology, market development and consumer education to move the needle towards this ambitious goal.

[1] CCC relies on publicly-reported data made available by provincial organizations. Some jurisdictions report a recycling rate while others report a recovery rate (i.e. collection rate). The performance that we report is a blended recovery/recycling rate.