Time to get serious about disposal bans
Paper recycling continues to dominate Canada's waste diversion efforts, representing almost 40 percent of total material diversion in 2014, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada.
But the collection of used boxes, newspapers, and printing and writing paper from the back of factories, supermarkets, offices and homes remains uneven, ranging from a low of 27 kilograms per person in Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut to a high of 142 kilos per person in Quebec. The average Canadian sent just 101 kg of paper (the equivalent of four heavy suitcases) for recycling in 2014.
We recognize that Canadians use varying amounts of paper in their daily lives. The Greater Toronto Area, for example, is served by several big newspapers, something you don't see in other places. And it's clear that geography, climate and access to recycling determine how much paper is recovered in individual provinces. Small communities that are far from recycling facilities are at a distinct disadvantage. We also recognize that capture rates in high-density condos and apartment buildings are a challenge, although this demographic doesn't entirely explain why Ontario lags so far behind the similarly urbanized province of Quebec.
Nor does this data tell us how much paper it's possible to recover (total generation). So we really can't tell how well Canadians and individual provinces are recovering paper overall. We know as well that significant tonnages are not captured in StatsCan surveys, especially old corrugated boxes that are baled at the back of supermarkets or factories and shipped direct to a paper mill.
Given all these geographic and demographic variables, and the data uncertainties, it is perhaps unreasonable to expect every province to reach Quebec and British Columbia's 142- and 135-kilogram level of annual paper diversion. But if they did, we figure there's another 1.4 million tonnes of paper out there just waiting to be collected. That would boost Canada's overall waste diversion rate by four percent. A national average of just four heavy suitcases of paper diversion a year is a pretty piddly effort. Time to get serious about disposal bans on paper.
John Mullinder is the executive director of PPEC (the Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council) out of Brampton, Ontario.
This article was reprinted with permission in the September 2017 edition of Recycling Product News, Volume 25, Number 6.