At a time when Ontario’s Blue Box program is in a state of flux (recent changes to confusing regulations and a backroom deal excluding newspaper publishers from stewardship obligations), it’s probably pertinent to look at who’s performing and who’s not.

Overall, the Blue Box only just managed to make a provincially mandated 60% diversion rate in 2020, according to the latest data from the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (RPRA) and Stewardship Ontario (SO). The overall diversion rate has been on a downward slide since 2013, so a 2.6% uptick is welcome.

It’s not such a good story for plastics and aluminum packaging, however. Both remain laggards in Ontario’s multi-material curbside system.

When you look at the broad material groupings, glass led the pack at 77% diversion followed by steel (69%) and paper (68%). Then there’s a big drop-off to aluminum (at 48%) and plastics (34%).

Some individual materials (mostly paper) have performed very well. Corrugated boxes, for example, have retained their 98% diversion record (although it’s not known how much of this is “non-stewarded” material, meaning placed on the market by internet distributors who are not currently paying fees). Old telephone directories (do they still exist?) and old newspapers, both severely declining in tonnage numbers because of digital competition, managed to record a 90% diversion rate.  Steel cans were the next highest at 78%.

The materials that are performing worst are the familiar ones: (in descending order) steel paint cans (11.3%); plastic film (9.1%); paper laminants (9.0%); other aluminum, for example, foil (4.7%); polystyrene (3.5%); and plastic laminants (2.8%). Together these represent over a third of all Blue Box material sent for disposal.

Of course, these latest “diversion” or “recovery” rates are not what actually becomes part of a new product. Those numbers are much, much lower, as an earlier blog, Blue Box Blues: only a third of Ontario Blue Box material makes it into a new product, pointed out.

Little Green Lies Front Cover

John Mullinder is the author of Little Green Lies and Other BS: From “Ancient” Forests to “Zero” Waste. The book covers waste and recycling issues and a broad range of false and misleading claims made by environmental groups, industry, and governments. It is also sharply critical of the lack of basic fact-checking that allows so many “little green lies’’ to prosper and spread.