The good news is that Ontario householders are generating less paper, plastic, glass and metal waste these days, 14 per cent less than they were back in 2003, says John Mullinder, The Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council. That is the year the province regulated industry to share the net cost of the province’s popular Blue Box program and waste statistics became more widely available.
Of course, the population has increased since 2003, which normally means more waste is generated, but on an individual basis Ontarians have done well here too, reducing their generation of Blue Box waste by an impressive 27 per cent over the period.
Generating less waste in the first place, normally means sending less waste to garbage. Which, in this case, is also true. Ontario households dumped 22 per cent less printed paper and packaging in 2019 than they did some 16 years ago. As individuals, Ontarians were even better, dumping 34 per cent less than before.
The ‘bad’ news is that waste performance is usually measured by weight: by kilograms per person, tonnes per household. Unfortunately, measurement by weight distorts the overall picture somewhat because it is not the weight of materials that fills up recycling trucks and landfills, it is how much space they take up -- their volume. Landfills get fat, not heavy.
This caveat on measurement, weight instead of volume, helps explain the other piece of bad news: that Ontario’s Blue Box today is sending less material on for recycling than ever before. In 2003 the system was estimated to be recovering 53 per cent of all Blue Box materials. In 2010 it peaked at 68 per cent, but ever since then it has been on a progressive downward slide to its current 57 per cent. This is lower than the province’s required 60 per cent target.
In addition to some straight out elimination of printed paper and packaging there has been a significant light-weighting of materials over the years (reducing the size and shape of newspapers, using lighter and thinner variations of paper, plastic, glass and metal, cutting out a layer here, a flap there).
But there has also been a major change in the type of material ending up in the home. Gone are many newspapers, replaced by digital alternatives. The generation of printed paper has plummeted 36 per cent over the last decade. And these, of course, are heavier materials.
At the same time, there has been a major increase in the amount of lighter weight plastics in the home (up 20% per person since 2010). The biggest increase has been in the catch-all category of “other plastics” (things such as yoghurt containers, hand cream tubes, margarine tubs and lids, blister packaging for toys and batteries, egg cartons, and laundry detergent pails). Most of these (65%) currently end up in the garbage.
We are generating less waste but the waste we are generating today tends to be lighter and less recyclable.
Source: The Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council November 19, 2020