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November 2007

Glass beverage container deposit legislation a success for Ontario

The Rubber Manufacturers Association notes continued good market penetration in the sports surfacing marketplace.

by Irwin Rapoport Write the Author

Ontario’s Deposit Return Program (ODRP) – Bag-it-Back – for eligible empty alcohol beverage containers went into effect last February and thus far, the program is a proven success as a means of ensuring the recycling of glass, plastic and metal materials that might otherwise end up in landfills.

“Ontarians have responded enthusiastically to the program and through their participation, we are achieving significant wins for the environment,” says Anne Dunderdale, the media relations coordinator for the Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal. “Finding ways to reduce waste is one of the most important issues facing Ontario and this program plays a significant part in that effort, so that Ontario families can enjoy healthy communities for years to come.” 

The ODRP has one simple goal – to help protect the environment by reducing the amount of trash going into landfills and to funnel these recyclables to industries that can use the material, thus reducing energy consumption that would go into the production of virgin materials.

An early status report was presented to the provincial government at the end of July, which clearly demonstrated that the program was a winner.

“Public response to the program has been favorable and Ontarians have responded enthusiastically – we are well on our way to meeting targets,” says Dunderdale. “We set a goal of 65 percent returns for year one, and when we reported early status, just five months since the launch of the program, we were tracking at a 58 percent return rate. This translates to 80 million alcohol containers returned, equal to about 25,000 to 30,000 tons of material that could have ended up in landfills previously.

“Overall we expect at least 85 percent of wine, spirits and beer containers will be returned for deposit and recycled for high-end products, improving on previous recycling programs,” she adds. “We will provide a more fulsome status update at the end of year one.”

Although some problems have arisen, Dunderdale says that they are being dealt with rapidly.

“Like any new program, implementation issues are identified and addressed as quickly as possible,” she says. “We awarded the contract to implement and operate the program efficiently and effectively to The Beer Store (TBS) because they already have an existing bottle return infrastructure (for beer bottles). They run one of the most successful return systems in the world.”

With a population of over 11 million people (more than one-third of Canada’s population), the majority live in the southern metropolitan region stretching from Windsor to Ottawa. The Canadian province of Ontario has a mixture of urban and rural communities that is comparable to many regions in the United States.

The sale of alcoholic beverages in Ontario is done through TBS and Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) stores (wines and spirits), both of which are government agencies. In many locations the stores are located on the same site or within walking distance of each other. This allows for greater participation rates by residents.

The program covers the following containers: glass bottles, plastic bottles (PET), Tetra Pak containers, bag-in-box, aluminum and steel.

For containers less than or equal to 630mL and aluminum and steel containers less than or equal to 1L, a 10 cent return is given. For containers over 630mL, aluminum and steel containers over 1L, 20 cents is given.

In addition to prolonging the life of existing Ontario landfills, the ODRP will provide feedstock for industries that rely on recyclables in their manufacturing process.

“They can be used to create new products like new glass bottles, fiberglass and polar fleece,” says Erin Jennison, a TBS communications officer. “The program will also free up room in Blue Boxes so Ontarians can maximize the amount of items recovered, recycled and put to environmentally safe use.

“The 80 million containers we’ll collect each year under the new system will be cleaner and color separated,” she adds. “The ODRP will ensure that more glass will be recycled into high value products (bottles or fiberglass), rather than used as road aggregate or landfilled due to contamination.”

Landfilling trash generated in southern Ontario is a problem. The door will soon be closed on exporting trash to Michigan landfills and currently, Ontario does not have sufficient landfill space to handle the waste that has been shipped to the United States on a long-term basis.

The province is taking serious steps to divert solid waste from landfills and has aggressive blue box and green box programs to maximize diversion.

“The new program’s deposit incentive will also enhance the Blue Box program by increasing the number of containers that are recycled, including about 25,000 to 30,000 additional tons of glass from landfill annually,” she adds. “This represents a 32 to 38 percent increase over the approximately 78,000 tons of wine, beer and spirit containers currently being recycled through the Blue Box program and by licensed restaurants and bars.”

“In 2005, the Blue Box program diverted more than 860,000 tons of residential Blue Box materials – a 4.5 percent increase over 2004,” she adds. “Deposit Return will enhance the Blue Box program, help to increase the number of wine and spirit containers that are recycled, and free up space in Blue Boxes, allowing municipalities to expand recycling programs.

There are deposit fees for wines and liquor in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories.

Ontario upgraded its collection system because:

•Municipalities complained that collecting glass was too expensive and would often become contaminated and useless for recycling purposes.

•Ontario wine producers pressed for a more comprehensive recycling system as a better way to increase environmental performance than the LCBO’s push to use asceptic cartons as alternative packaging, which are less recyclable compared to glass.

•Glass container manufacturers, particularly OI Canada with two plants in Ontario, complained of decreased quantities of recyclable glass available through municipal recycling programs and that the LCBO was pressuring its customers to switch from glass to aseptic cartons based on what it construes as specious environmental claims.

“What really drove OI was the fact that it wasn’t getting recyclable glass back from the Ontario waste stream and it was being forced to import glass from out of the province,” says Usman Valiante, a senior policy analyst with the Corporate Policy Group. “In 2005 they brought over 60,000 metric tons of glass from Quebec and Michigan. The LCBO generates about 124,000 tons of glass for wines and spirits and a deposit system would bring 85 percent or more of that back for recycling.

“The LCBO is the largest single purchaser of beverage alcohol in the world,” he adds. “Ontario has a lot of glass end-users – Owens Corning is a large fiberglass manufacturer and a big consumer of recycled glass, so there is a lot of markets for recyclable glass. There is just a supply problem.”

Eleven states in the US are benefiting from beverage container deposit programs for beer, soft drinks, and in some cases, wine and other non-carbonated beverages.

According to Betty McLaughlin, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute, these systems are unparalleled for their success in three key areas: they enjoy high participation rates (66-70 percent return with a five cent deposit, and over 90 percent with a ten cent deposit); they produce high quality material-free from the breakage and contamination associated with co-mingled collection systems; and they are privately funded, using no taxpayer dollars.

“Container deposit laws are enormously popular with the public, and occasional attempts to abandon these programs are met with swift and fierce opposition,” she adds. “Extending refund/return systems to other states for all types of beverages, would undoubtedly be similarly popular. People see this as an effective way to reduce litter and promote recycling.”