As Europe elevates its recycling targets, a new report says a deposit-return system for non-alcoholic beverage bottles in Ontario would eliminate 118,000 tonnes of plastic, glass and cans from landfill, incinerators and litter.
Those findings, and the estimated annual savings of $12 million, rely on an alignment between deposit returns and the current blue box program, says the report, called “Better Together: How a Deposit Return System will Complement Ontario’s Blue Box Program and Enhance the Circular Economy.”
Unlike some of Canada’s traditional bottle-return programs, with low deposits (providing little incentive to return) or remote collection depots, this study based its findings on a 15-cent deposit and a flexible system that includes the option of “reverse-vending” machines that take the containers and return consumers’ money, said Clarissa Morawski, managing director of Reloop, a network of industry, government, and non-governmental organizations. Morawski has worked on recycling issues in Ontario for years.
Reloop commissioned the report from Eunomia Research and Consulting, whose environmental work, Morawski said, has been reflected in high-profile recycling policy changes enacted by the European Commission. The commission’s recent directive outlined a ban on single-use plastics, such as cutlery and cups, starting in 2021.
According to the study, the introduction of a deposit system for non-alcoholic beverage containers would cost $34 million annually and just 0.91 cents for each bottle or can returned. It would, the report says, find savings through reduced blue box collections, lower processing costs and the potential for recycling of materials that the report says have low recycling rates, like the boxboard used for cereal or tissue boxes.
None of these ideas will succeed, said Morawski, unless the Ontario government makes ambitious targets for recycling — and holds the producers of the containers responsible. In Canada, only Ontario and Manitoba do not operate bottle-return programs for non-alcoholic drinks and Quebec has deposit returns on soft drink bottles, she said.
“The Ontario government would be foolish not to take advantage of the report and follow some of the guidance that the report offers,” Morawski said. “I’ve been observing Ontario for years. Things have not improved. Nothing has changed.”
Earlier this spring, the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks cited a “stalled” 30 per cent overall recycling rate and, in a discussion paper on recycling, asked for feedback on the value of a ban on single-use plastic items.
Sebastian Prins, a spokesperson for the Retail Council of Canada, said Ontario’s plans to expand the sale of wine and beer throughout grocery and convenience stores is “starting a conversation” about the need for new bottle-return programs.
The Beer Store, with 450 outlets across Ontario, currently collects empty wine, liquor and beer bottles with an 81 per cent return rate. Increased competition under liberalized alcohol sales policies will likely lead to some Beer Store closures, Prin said. Some bigger retailers, he said, are recognizing the need for new return programs and the Eunomia report “presents a possible solution,” he said.
The report did not look at an expanded alcohol deposit-return system, but “we can see benefits of a harmonized system although these potential benefits were not modelled,” Eunomia spokesperson Sarah Edwards said in an email.
“A deposit system for non alcoholic beverages along side the current alcoholic system would increase the number of redemption points for consumer to return to and convenience is key to a high performing system.”
Moira Welsh is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow her on Twitter: @moirawelsh