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August 2007

Bottles and bears in Alberta, Canada

The Alberta Beverage Container Recycling Corp. (ABCRC) is the entity in Alberta, Canada that is the “collection steward” for beverage containers mandated to be recycled in Alberta’s “bottle bill,” according to Dawne Pettipas of the ABCRC. Under this legislation, most beverage containers have a specific refund fee that consumers receive when returning bottles to collection depots. The deposit system has been in effect since 1972.

By law, manufacturers are responsible for picking up the empty containers from the depots, but instead of acting individually, the ABCRC was formed to be a single agency responsible for picking up and processing containers for a variety of manufacturers.

New recycling containers from the ABCRC are made from heavier metal to make them bear, bee and wasp resistant.

Milk containers are handled through a voluntary recovery program at the depots. Beer containers from manufacturers in Alberta are recovered by the Alberta Beer Container Corporation (ABCC). Beers produced elsewhere that are recycled in Alberta are handled by the ABCRC.

The ABCRC collects the deposit money from the manufacturers, doles out the refunds and handling fees, and collects, processes and markets the scrap. For managing the system, the ABCRC makes its revenue from the scrap value of the material as well as any unredeemed deposits.

The ABCRC sorts wine and liquor containers by color, and refillable containers are sorted by type and manufacturer. Non-refillable soft drink containers are sorted by material type (aluminum, glass, plastic, etc.) and color when needed. Some containers are crushed or baled before being sent for further processing.

Recently, through a partnership with the Alberta Parks system, the ABCRC placed 140 collection containers in 50 parks, in locations chosen by the parks department.

John Findlay, operations manager for Alberta Parks, explained that some of the bigger parks already had recycling “partners” and that these containers are still in place. The partners are typically private groups of citizens or other nonprofits who collect the beverage containers, take them to collection depots, and use the deposits for the benefit of the parks.

However, Findlay said that it was “hit or miss” when it came to recycling at the parks. Many the smaller parks didn’t have partners, and parks on the east slopes of the Rocky Mountains “never had a program because they never had appropriate containers,” that could fend off the local wildlife, including grizzly bears.

The partnership with the ABCRC and the new containers “creates programs in other parks where it wasn’t before,” Findlay said. Unlike standard collection containers, the new containers from the ABCRC are made from heavier metal to make them bear-resistant, and the arrangement of the flap where people drop the cans and bottles makes the containers more bee- and wasp-resistant as well.

Pettipas said that the sturdier containers should help to keep the bears away from human territory, and make it safer for both park visitors and workers as well, since it’s much less likely they’ll find bees or wasps building nests inside the recycling containers.

According to Pettipas, the containers cost the ABCRC approximately $150,000, as part of the “Community Champions” program. “This is a fabulous opportunity to be partnered with the parks and the Alberta government,” she said.

Findlay echoed that sentiment. “This has been a great opportunity for the parks,” he said.

Unlike beverage containers dropped off at recycling depots, consumers don’t get refunds from the containers deposited at the parks. Instead, the deposit money goes to the parks, as a sort of donation. Prior to the ABCRC placing the containers in the parks, if there wasn’t a local group handing the recycling, visitors either took the containers home for recycling, or simply threw them into the existing trash containers, which put the containers into the waste stream.

Recycling at the parks is part of an effort to get bottle recycling in Alberta up to the target of 85 percent of the containers that are sold in the province. As of December, 2005, the Alberta Beverage Container Management Board reported an overall redemption rate of 78.42 percent.