Colin Isaacs recently wrote an article for his environmental newsletter (The Gallon Report) panning the Province of Ontario’s recent announcement that it’s placing wine and alcohol beverage containers on deposit. I found Isaac’s protets rather over the top. I was going to write my own critique, but then got hold of a rebuttal written by Todd Pepper, General Manager for the Essex-Windsor Solid Waste Authority.
I have reprinted both items below for readers’ interest. You might wish to real the bottom entry by Colin Isaacs first, the Todd Peppers reply.
I have always respected your independent voice and environmental commitment, but I have to admit that you have lost me on your editorial where you recently commented that the LCBO deposit-refund program announced by Premier McGuinty would strangle the “world class recycling program” here in Ontario.
I thought that you would be the last person in the world that I would have to tell that blue box recycling programs and deposit-refund programs co-exist in almost every other Province in Canada, as well as many other jurisdictions in the world, that are much more effective and efficient at diverting paper and packaging waste from disposal than the stand-alone blue box program that exists in Ontario. How you can think that a 60% recovery rate of wine and spirit bottles in Ontario’s blue box program is world class compared to the 91% recovery rate for wine and spirit bottles in British Columbia and Alberta, the 89% recovery rate for these bottles in Nova Scotia and the 86% recovery rate for these bottles in Saskatchewan is beyond me. If you want world class, come with me to the Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka or Costa Rica where recycling programs that I have worked with in those countries go so far as to separate the Johnny Walker scotch bottle from the Napoleon brandy bottle to take back to the distributor of that brand in that country so that the bottles can be re-used, instead of recycled, or, as you seem to support, using glass as an aggregate substitute.
If glass is not recycled, perhaps instead of mining the UNESCO World Heritage Niagara Escarpment for aggregate materials they instead will be mining the sand dunes of Pinery Provincial Park or wreaking havoc in a less developed country with lower environmental standards than Ontario or Canada to mine the natural resources required to make new glass bottles instead of recycling glass cullet from an efficient deposit-refund program here in Ontario into new glass bottles.
If you don’t think it is true that glass is being landfilled, then I suggest you drive about 100 kilometres up Highway 6 from Fisherville and watch 100% of the glass that goes in the front door of a recycling centre come out the back door to be sent to the Green Lane Landfill for disposal. That is just one of many examples where glass collected in a blue box recycling program is landfilled every day in Ontario.
As an environmentalist with your track record, you should also know that the only environmental benefit of recycling glass has to do with the energy savings of making new glass bottles with glass cullet as opposed to making new glass bottles from mined natural resources. However, that energy savings is lost as soon as the glass has to be sent more than 80 kilometres to market. There are very few blue box recycling programs in Ontario that are within an 80 kilometre range of a glass manufacturer or glass recycling facility. Sending wine and liquor bottles destined for recycling back in the same truck as beer bottles destined for recycling can at least help narrow that energy gap. What would be even better would be if the truck that just delivered cases of wine and spirits to the local LCBO retail store was filled back up with empty wine and spirit bottles destined for recycling instead of that truck driving empty back to an LCBO distribution centre.
Finally I want to address the issue of cost. Ontario property taxpayers and stewards of Stewardship Ontario are spending millions of dollars a year to recycle a packaging material from a Crown Corporation that produced a profit of over $1 billion in 2005. The Province of Ontario also collected another $50 million in “environmental levies” on every bottle of wine and spirits manufactured in Ontario. Why you would think it appropriate that property taxpayers and the other stewards of Stewardship Ontario should subsidize the collection of a material in the blue box program that has $0 value is beyond me. If you don’t believe that coloured glass has a $0 value, then I refer you to the CSR price sheet at http://www.csr.org/pdf/pricesheet/08_2006ps.pdf so that you can see what glass is worth when recycled through the blue box program.
As you will see in that price sheet, revenue for the sale of coloured glass has been at $0 or a negative revenue (actually an additional cost associated with transportation) since 1996 when revenue for coloured glass first began to be tracked. The revenue for clear glass is not that much better. Since glass is the only material marketed from the blue box that is generally not sold F.O.B. the recycling centre the actual amount received is not the $36/tonne shown in the CSR price sheet, but $36 minus transportation or a net of approximately $15/tonne after municipalities have spent over $200/tonne to collect and process the glass in their blue box programs in the first place.
Todd R. Pepper, General Manager
Essex-Windsor Solid Waste Authority
ONTARIO STRANGLES WORLD CLASS RECYCLING PROGRAM
By Colin Isaacs
Ontario’s Blue Box recycling program is the world’s most successful selective collection program, collecting more recyclable materials from more homes over a larger area, city, small town, and rural, than any other recycling program in the world. It was established by the Liberal government of Premier David Peterson. Now the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty seems to want to kill it.
Three years ago the McGuinty government implemented the Waste Diversion Act, an initiative developed by the Conservatives and guaranteed to ensure that the Blue Box program would be very limited in its ability to expand to include additional materials. Now the McGuinty government has announced that, effective next February, all wine and liquor containers will be put on deposit with consumers being asked to return them to beer stores. Ontario, once a bastion of policies which could be traced back to prohibition, has a quaint system where wine and beer are sold by government owned and operated liquor stores, as well as by an increasing number of winery-owned outlets, while beer is sold in stores owned by the breweries as well as in government liquor stores. Most beer cans and bottles carry a refundable deposit while liquor and wine bottles are recycled through the province-wide Blue Box recycling system.
McGuinty’s plan to include liquor and wine containers in the deposit system with returns going to beer stores is a stake through the heart of the Blue Box system. While deposit-return and selective collection can, and have been shown to, co-exist amicably in some jurisdictions, this is always in a location where the selective collection is less successful than it is in Ontario. In Ontario, deposit-refund for liquor and wine containers will weaken the Blue Box system.
First it means that the province will pay for parallel systems for collection of recyclable glass, aluminum, and flexible beverage packaging. McGuinty has not, and is not likely to, put a deposit on all beverage containers. We are not suggesting that he should. But with a deposit on alcohol beverage containers, the people of the province will be paying for recycling of glass, aluminum, and flexible packaging twice, once through the Blue Box and once through the Beer Store. At least, this is inefficient. Jim Bradley, now Minister of Tourism but once the best Minister of the Environment Ontario has ever had and initiator of the province-wide Blue Box system, was quoted in 2002 in the Toronto weekly paper Eye as saying about LCBO deposits: “[It would occur] in the best of all possible worlds — and you’d receive the accolades and applause of the green community on this — [but] you have to know it will actually work. They deal with all kinds of different bottles, different shapes, different sizes, different-coloured bottles that it would be a virtual nightmare dealing with it that way.” Pity Premier McGuinty didn’t listen to this wisdom before jumping into bed with a private sector recycling system.
Second, the costs will be higher than anyone expects. Actually, higher than anyone except McGuinty expects. When asked what the cost of LCBO deposit-return system would be, McGuinty said he did not know. This is one of McGuinty’s trademarks: to announce a policy, such as the shut-down of coal-fired power plants, without having the slightest idea how to do it or what it will cost. So it will be with LCBO deposits. Taxpayers will be hit with another tax: unredeemed deposits. The province will almost certainly pay The Beer Store to start up the program. Other brand owners using the Blue box system, including food and consumer product brand owners and retailers, will be hit with higher mandatory fees for their packaging to go into the Blue Box, and municipalities will face higher costs and lower revenues: the LCBO initiative will remove perhaps as much as 20% of the highly remunerative aluminum cans from the Blue Box stream; the $5 million a year that the LCBO has been putting into the Blue Box system may be lost; and the costs of managing the smaller amounts of glass containers still in the Blue Box system will increase. All of those increased costs will be passed on to one pocket, that of the hapless consumer and taxpayer
Third, the amount of glass actually recycled will likely decrease. One of the municipal concerns is that glass is a difficult material to handle in the Blue Box system. By removing some of the glass, it will become even more difficult to handle the remainder. Liquor and wine bottles are durable and easy to handle compared to other glass beverage bottles and such containers as pickle jars. With less glass in the system, many municipalities will take even less care to properly recycle glass containers.
The question of glass recycling is an interesting one. Some advocates have argued that much of the glass collected in the Blue Box system ends up in landfill. That is not exactly true. Contaminated loads occasionally end up in landfill because ceramics and stones can create dangerous conditions for workers if they find their way into glass furnaces. But many more contaminated loads are crushed and applied in such uses as road fill and asphalt surfacing. Some environmentalists have argued that this is not proper recycling. When building roads and parking lots we can either use crushed glass or we can use stone aggregate. Perhaps we should not be building more roads, but while we are doing so surely it is better to use crushed glass than to have to open more pits and quarries to provide the necessary aggregate material. One senior Liberal advisor who knows a lot about the Blue Box system has spent the last few years fighting a quarry in his neighbourhood along the UNESCO World Heritage Niagara Escarpment. A note to him: The deposit on LCBO containers makes it ever more likely that the province will allow more quarry applications, such as the one in your backyard in East Flamborough.
The Ontario government has bungled the waste management issue. Strangling the Blue Box is not any kind of solution to getting more waste out of landfill. Time is running out for real action if waste management, along with energy, are not to become a killer issue in the October 2007 provincial election.
Colin Isaacs, Editor