The paper packaging industry wants old corrugated boxes banned from landfill. A couple of provinces have already done so (Nova Scotia and PEI) but so far the others (including Quebec, Manitoba and Ontario) have only talked about it. It’s time for action!
The environmental benefits are clear. We estimate a ban on old corrugated containers (OCC) would reduce Ontario methane and carbon dioxide emissions by up to 175,000 tonnes/year, the equivalent of taking up to 33,000 cars off the road or eliminating the carbon emissions of up to 70,000 homes. It’s a move that’s perfectly aligned with Ontario’s climate change direction, and would demonstrate much needed provincial leadership on the waste or resource recovery file.
A ban would also mitigate a looming provincial landfill crisis (80% of Ontario landfills will be full within 15 years), and create between 200 and 300 jobs (a conservative estimate). It could be extended to other paper grades (packaging and printed) for larger impact.
After hazardous wastes and organics, paper in general is the prime candidate for banning from landfill. And if the province is risk averse to banning all types of paper from landfill, then a pilot project banning OCC first would be a perfect “guinea pig.” Corrugated is a widely recycled material and has been for decades. Its national recovery rate is estimated to be 85 percent. Some 93% of the corrugated that ends up in Ontario homes is captured by the Blue Box1. Even so, some 200,000 tonnes slips through industry and residential hands every year to end up in Ontario or Michigan landfills.
It shouldn’t be there. Every single packaging mill in the province uses old corrugated boxes collected from the back of factories, supermarkets, office buildings, or from curbside, to make new packaging, most of it 100% recycled content.2 We import OCC from the United States because we can’t get enough here.
So how about it Ontario? We understand that banning organics from landfill would make a bigger splash in the greenhouse gas stakes than banning corrugated would, but it could take five years for the necessary organics processing infrastructure to be developed. Why wait for corrugated? We have the infrastructure for recycling it right now. If nothing is done to ban corrugated from landfill for five years, that’s over a million tonnes of OCC needlessly languishing in landfill when Ontario packaging mills could use it; at least $100 million in foregone recycling revenues; an earlier Ontario landfill crisis; and close to 900,000 tonnes of unnecessary GHG escaping into the atmosphere.
We don’t care frankly whether it’s a landfill ban on OCC or a disposal or generator-based levy. Just get the stuff out of there!
1 Stewardship Ontario 2013 data. Sales of old corrugated also provide more revenue to the Blue Box program ($15.5 million) than any other packaging material. 2 There are eight packaging mills located in Ontario. Seven produce 100% recycled content board, the eighth 60% recycled content board.