Grocers are unsung heroes and key to corrugated’s recycling success story


Grocers are the unsung heroes of a recycling success story that rarely makes the headlines. They are a key part of a closed-loop system that now sees at least 85 per cent of old corrugated containers or boxes in Canada recycled.

“Over the past 20 years the recovery rate of old corrugated containers, or OCC, has increased dramatically. Thanks to grocers, in particular, more and more of this valued material is not ending up in landfills,” explains Robert Lanthier of Norampac, a major recycler.

Grocers and other retailers receive the vast majority of packaging because the goods they need are packed in paper, plastics, glass and metal. Corrugated containerboard in particular has an important role in the protection, traceability and marketing of most grocery items.

Goods that are shipped to store in corrugated are often unpackaged to display or sell. Grocers then sort and bale the used corrugated for pick-up by haulers because it’s a valuable commodity.

Too valuable to waste

Retailers earn good revenue from its collection and resale to recyclers.

Thanks to a solid recycling system and strong participation from grocers, Canadian corrugated now has among the highest recovery rates of all packaging materials. “Year after year we have seen more grocers recognize the importance of having their OCC collected and returned to mills as part of our closed-loop system,” adds Bruce Westaway of Cascades Recovery Inc.

Corrugated as a sustainable packaging solution

The recovery of corrugated in Canada and subsequent remanufacturing into a new box is part of a closed recycling loop. Most new corrugated boxes, in fact, are 100% recycled content, made from old boxes collected from the back of factories, supermarkets, offices, and from curbside. The corrugated recovery rate from Ontario’s Blue Box has just reached an amazing 98 per cent, by far the highest recovery rate of any packaging material.

“We reuse wood fibres over and over again by recovering used boxes to remanufacture into new, valuable material. The environmental benefit is clear and it’s at the very core of our business,” explains Serge Desgagnes of Kruger Inc.

Corrugated boxes recovered from grocery stores across the country are shipped to various recycling mills. They are churned in heated and treated water to make a pulp. It is during this process that debris, tapes, and other foreign objects (contamination) are removed. This mixture is then pumped onto a roller where it is compressed and superheated to create sheets of paper or board.

The resulting containerboard meets stringent performance specifications prior to being shipped across Canada to box plants where the material is converted into new corrugated containers.

“In addition, it is important to note that corrugated boxes made from recovered board also have a long history of safe use in the food industry,” says Stephen Burnett of Atlantic Packaging. “Our industry continuously updates its food safety standards and procedures and remains both CFIA and FDA-compliant.”

“Our plant purchases sawdust from sawmills which rely on trees that have been harvested from managed forests,” explains Pierre Pacarar of WestRock. “We not only create new paper from this byproduct, but we also use the sap we remove from the sawdust as energy to fuel the manufacturing process.”

Ban old boxes from landfills!

In fact, the industry’s environmental council, PPEC (the Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council), is lobbying provincial governments to ban OCC from landfill. So far only Nova Scotia and PEI have. But Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and Manitoba are looking at it. “This is our feedstock for making new boxes,” says the council’s executive director, John Mullinder. “And there’s no good reason it should end up in the dump.”

Visit the Canadian Corrugated and Containerboard Association website for more information.

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