Coca-Cola catalyst for consideration
of Canadian recycling
When the Coca-Cola Bottling Company challenged
the deposit system of Canada’s recycling program for beverage
containers, they shed light on recycling in general, galvanized
public opinion, and may have instigated short-term and long-term
changes in public policy.
Only soft drinks and beer are required by
law to have a deposit on them ($0.05 and $0.10 respectively).
In 2002, Coca-Cola and the Pepsi Bottling Group voluntarily
agreed to put a deposit on some of their other bottled products.
Recently, Coca-Cola stated that it was going
to withdraw from the voluntary system, in favor of ‘blue
box’ and curbside programs. The issue made headlines and
Coke withdrew its proposal.
Robert Lemieux, the president/director general
of RECYC-QUEBEC, the provincial body that oversees a variety
of recycling programs, supports the current voluntary arrangement.
wanted to use the blue box and the deposit and return system,”
he said. “The explanation was to make it easier for consumers,
but consumers are used to the deposit and return system because
it has been in place in Quebec since 1984. We wanted them to
keep the present system alive and help it grow.
“The deposit and return system, for
the time being, is a lot more efficient than the blue box,”
he added. “In due time I hope that the blue box will be
as efficient, and then maybe we will question the necessity
of deposit and return system.”
Christina Smith, director of government and
industry relations for the Coca-Cola Bottling Company Canada,
explained why her firm favors curbside recycling for the beverage
containers in question, pointing out that Quebec’s legislative
assembly passed a bill in March 2005 that mandates industry
to pay 50 percent of municipal curbside recycling programs.
This is already the case in the neighboring province of Ontario.
“Because we now pay into the system
in Quebec,” said Smith, “we decided to remove the
voluntary deposit on some of our containers.”
The payments by individual companies are based
on the weight of packaging and the value of the material.
“In Quebec curbside recycling is fairly
new, but it reaches every household,” said Smith. “We
think it is the best way to capture the most beverage containers
that are not under the deposit system.”
However, following a February 6 meeting with
the Minister for the Environment, Coca-Cola will maintain the
voluntary system “in order for the government, industry
and retailers to find an equitable system and a long-term solution
Quebec is considering implementing a fee for
plastic water bottles, wine bottles and other beverage containers.
“It would be a government decision,”
said Lemieux, “but it’s been mentioned a few times.
We are discussing it with the water industry, juice industry
and so on to see if they can do it on a voluntary basis and
inviting citizens to put their containers in blue boxes. If
we had more success with that, if we could increase the rate
of return on a voluntary basis without some deposit and return
system, we could go on that track.”
Lemieux stresses that industry has to come
up with viable proposals this year – “with good
objectives and a good means to do it. We expect industry to
move rapidly this year. If we are not satisfied, the government
will have to make a decision.”
At playing fields and public places, many
water bottles and drink containers end up in garbage bins rather
than recycling containers.
“That is where we want industry to act,
to make recycling available to everybody and soon – places
where we can put those containers and then have system to collect
them and bring them to the right place,” said Lemieux.
“This is the same problem we had in 1984 and years prior.”
Smith shares Lemieux’s concerns about
recycling at public places.
“We spent a considerable amount of effort
trying to increase the recovery rate on our soft drink containers
and non-carbonated beverages,” she said. “We manage
the deposit system through Boissons Gazeuses Environment (BGE)
and we work with Collecte Sélective Québec to
find innovative ways to try to recover more beverage containers
that are not part of the deposit system.”
Coca-Cola has worked with BGE to recover containers
at various public places and is part of a cross-industry group
that is studying the problem and confers with government officials.
“There is still a lot of work to do
in Quebec,” said Smith. “We feel the best way to
do this is through public recycling systems. We need to work
with the government to find solutions for public recycling.
We’re working on some pilot projects right, which we are
going to submit to the minister of the environment. We have
already submitted some very concrete proposals.”
In 2002, Quebec had a six percent recycle
rate for plastic water containers.
“We are now close to 20 percent,”
said Lemieux. “That would include four-liter, one-liter
and smaller-sized bottles.”
While Lemieux said that the plastic industry
has not set up recycling bins at public places, despite attempts
by RECYC-QUEBEC encouraging them to do so, “the recycling
industry is interested in that plastic. Everybody wants it now.”
He stressed the importance of having recycling
bins at schools, airports and in downtown cores, particularly
for smaller sized containers.
“More and more of Montreal’s festivals
are working with RECYC-QUEBEC,” said Lemieux, who is pleased
that the public is warming up to recycling, but also insists
that funds are needed to create education and promotional campaigns.
“It’s the people that made Coke change its mind.
It means that more people are conscious about recycling.”
But recycling isn’t just good for the
environment, it’s profitable too. There are markets for
recycled materials from Quebec. Much of the glass collected
is purchased by Owens Corning in Illinois and China, and aluminum
cans placed in the blue box return to the marketplace as finished
products in about 30 days.
The rate of return for glass wine bottles
is close to 50 percent, mainly via curbside recycling. Wine
in Quebec is sold at government–run outlets and grocery
stores. Lemieux says these stores do not want to be responsible
for deposit and return system, but adds that some of the western
Canadian provinces do have bottle deposit centers.
“It does work,” he said. “If
we consider it, it will be part our talks with industry. If
we could increase that rate to 70 percent in the next 2 to 3
years, we wouldn’t need a deposit system. It’s in
bars and restaurants where we have some work to do. Most of
them do not recycle.”
For beer bottles, which are part of the deposit
system, the rate of return is 97 to 98 percent.
The rate of return for aluminum cans that
contain carbonated drinks, juices and other beverages is about
“We wish to reach 80 percent,”
said Lemieux. “It’s getting tough because the deposit
system is only $.05. Maybe we would have to double it to reach
Smith points out that aluminum beverage containers
are the only source of positive revenue in the blue box system.
“They not only pay for themselves,”
she said, “aluminum cans pay for recycling.”
“There are a lot of different solutions
and there is a lot of work that industry intends to do with
through municipal and provincial governments, as well as with
retailers,” she added. “We really can find innovative
solutions to sustain the environment.”