A highlight of the recent Zero Waste conference in Orillia, Ontario (August 10-11) was discussion of a policy idea for the Ontario government to accelerate the province toward a more sustainable future. The idea was to call on Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government to require the soft drink industry to sell its products in a deposit-refund system, as exists in most other Canadian provinces.
In the interest of full disclosure, the idea arose out of a break-out discussion group of which I was the chair, and I was the person who proposed the idea. I challenged the people in the room to come up with a “flagship” policy idea that could rally public opinion, and used the example from the 1970s of the Greenpeace campaigns to end the whale hunt and the seal hunt. (Who can forget the iconic ads and billboards showing a white baby seal about to be clubbed to death?)
Beverage container deposits may not tug the heart strings quite like images of baby seals, but it’s an important matter. A significant part of our society’s oversize ecological footprint relates to our consumption of non-renewable fossil fuels, not only for transportation but such things as cosmetics, chemicals, fertilizers and such things as single-use drink containers. The soft drink industry uses such containers not only for ubiquitous soda pop brands as Coca-Cola and Sprite, but also for a dazzling array of isotonic sports drinks and other beverages. To my mind the greatest offender is bottled water — a product that shouldn’t exist in the first place except as perhaps a very niche product. The efforts of the soft drink companies to vilify municipal tap water and convince consumers to load up their cars with skids of water in shrink-wrapped plastic bottles is highly analogous in my way of thinking to the tobacco industry’s getting folks hooked on nicotine.
The idea of pushing deposits in Ontario relates partly to the fact that the province is home to one of the world’s greatest producer responsiblity success stories: the system of refillable beer bottles operated by The Beer Store, which also collects empty wine and spirit containers sold in the province under deposit. Citizens are already conditioned to buying booze in containers under deposit, so extending the concept to soft drinks is almost a no-brainer. Perhaps The Beer Store could be enticed to setting up a depot system for the returns. Honestly, I’d prefer to see soft drinks sold only in refillable glass or PET bottles, but that idea is more of a stretch, though perhaps will happen in time.
I can already hear the objections of the grocers and the lobbyists at Refreshments Canada that such a system is undesirable, and (gosh darn it!) an assault on the “successful” Blue Box curbside recycling program. Those well-worn arguments had their day in the sun in the 1990s and early 2000’s. Enough evidence exists and studies have been done to show that curbside recycling can exists side-by-side with deposits for used beverage containers (UBCs). We only have to look at other provinces to see this, including British Columbia that recently extended producer responsibility to make brand owners pay for the whole waste collection and recycling system. Ontarians aren’t innately different than people in BC and deposits could succeed just as well there as out west.
Putting soft drink containers on deposit would not solve all our society’s environmental problems but it would send an important signal, and could improve diversion rates (from disposal) of a material the recycling of which has somewhat flatlined. Such a program could fit hand-in-glove with extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation that failed to get passed before the last election, but that will no doubt reappear in some form soon.
The call for deposits on beverage containers was picked up by the Ontario Zero Waste Coalition (OZWC) in a news release circulated to media on August 25. Here’s the news release, which contains some useful facts. I also refer readers to the cover story by consultant Clarissa Morawski in our recent August/September edition, which is being mailed as we speak and will be on our website home page (at the right) in digital form soon. That article examines beverage container recycling province by province and new developments. Unsurprisingly, provinces with deposits in place collect far more beverage containers for recycling than those without deposits.
Here’s the OZWC news release:
Monday, August 25 2014
Zero Waste Group Calls for Deposits on Ontario Beverage Containers
Conference calls for Provincial action
Toronto (August 25, 2014) — The Ontario Zero Waste Coalition (OZWC) is calling on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn’s Liberal government to mandate a province-wide deposit-refund system for used-beverage containers, as exists in most Canadian provinces.
The call for mandatory deposits arose from workshops at Ontario’s first Zero Waste Conference held at Lakehead University’s Orillia, Ontario campus on August 10 and 11, 2014. Participants rallied behind the idea of a single action the provincial government could take to shift Ontario onto a more sustainable footing.
“OZWC endorses requiring a deposit-refund on all beverage containers,” says Liz Benneian, founder of OZWC who was a speaker at the conference. She notes that Ontarians have seen great success with the existing deposit-refund system for used beer and alcohol containers, which are returned for recycling rates of 94% and 81% respectively, while the return rates of other kinds of containers (e.g., soft drinks and water bottles) through the Blue Box program has languished for years at only 40%.
Guy Crittenden, editor of industry magazine Solid Waste & Recycling, was at the event and supports the deposit-refund idea.
“While our magazine supports curbside recycling, we believe that used soft drink bottles and cans should be collected under deposit, as they are in other leading environmental provinces like British Columbia and Nova Scotia,” Crittenden says.
“It’s time to create an economic incentive for consumers to return these containers, either to stores or depots, since the municipal diversion rate from landfill flat-lined years ago,” Crittenden says, adding that the industry is externalizing its costs onto taxpayers and the environment in Ontario.
Emily Alfred, Waste Campaigner for the Toronto Environmental Alliance, also supports deposit-refund for beverage containers. ““Beverage containers are mostly recyclable, yet the majority of them are still ending up in landfill, says Alfred. “That’s a real waste.”
Benneian adds, the Zero Waste conference that brought representatives from many sectors together — from municipal leaders to manufacturers, from citizens’ groups to the health care reps — to discuss how to limit waste and create a more sustainable system of resource management, was a valuable beginning. “Building on the momentum the conference generated, OZWC looks forward to working with all sectors, and the Province, to forge a Zero Waste future,” she says.
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For other ideas from the conference that OZWC and others endorse see the attached appendix.
ONTARIO ZERO WASTE COALITION
Founded in 2008, the Ontario Zero Waste Coalition consists of 21 environmental organizations, community groups and NGOs who advocate for legislation, policies and practices that reduce waste and improve diversion for a sustainable future.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Liz Benneian, Founder, Ontario Zero Waste Coalition