Solid Waste & Recycling


Consumer Alert

Changes Recycling Centres in British Columbia handle recyclable materials and waste recovery on behalf of Save-on-Foods stores, one of the larger grocery chains in the province. With several locations...

Changes Recycling Centres in British Columbia handle recyclable materials and waste recovery on behalf of Save-on-Foods stores, one of the larger grocery chains in the province. With several locations, consumers across the province can conveniently return materials to the stores at which they were purchased. The in-store centres — designed and equipped to handle these materials in an efficient or cost-effective manner — are an excellent example of how a retail chain can benefit from environmental responsibility.


Save-on-Foods are part of the Overwaitea Food Group, a division of Jim Pattison’s Great Pacific Industries. In 1990, Dennis Kinsey, formerly director of consumer support for Overwaitea, initiated the environmental department of the company.

“Our goal was to address growing concerns from consumers and the government regarding packaging stewardship,” says Mr. Kinsey. “Most consumers in B.C., the province responsible for starting GreenPeace, are very progressive and concerned about their environmental footprints.”

Most ready-to-drink beverages sold in B.C. are legislated under a deposit-refund system. In 1999, the province expanded its Beverage Container Stewardship Program Regulation to include all beverages, with the exception of milk and milk-substitute containers. The regulation holds brand owners responsible for setting up beverage-container return depots in all areas of the province and to ensure their containers are either refilled or recycled.

Retailers are required to accept for return and refund any container type of brands that they sell. The deposit schedule is 5 cents for non-alcohol and 10 cents for alcohol containers under one litre and 20 cents for containers over one litre. Brand owners are required to meet an 85 per cent recovery rate. Failure to meet this recovery rate may result in the provincial government requiring that brand owners increase the level of the deposit, provide greater education and advertising and/or broaden the number of depot sites.

After much debate about how to implement the most progressive recycling and diversion strategies possible at Save-On-Foods, the Changes Recycling Centres were launched in 1999, starting with four centres in the Greater Vancouver Regional District. (See “Times Are A Changin'” in the August/September 1999 edition.) There are now eight more locations: Burnaby, Mission, Chilliwack, North Vancouver, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, North Delta and Richmond.

Recycling centres

The automated recycling centres are activated when customers return their recyclable materials (most of which are indicated by a shelf tag). Full-time recycling clerks are onsite to facilitate a smooth recovery process, to answer consumer questions, and to provide education, i.e., all containers must be empty and clean, but labels should remain. The level of automation is so sophisticated that the clerk never needs to actually touch the materials.

Recyclable containers and materials — including glass, plastics, aluminum (soft drinks, juice, non-alcoholic cans), metals, cardboard cartons, and polycoat gable top (aseptic drink boxes) — are sucked through an elaborate maze of large glass tubes to a compactor at the back of the store.

Over six million deposit containers have been returned as of June 1, 2001.

Some of the centres have recently been enhanced with aquariums boasting native and exotic fish to keep children and adults alike interested while transactions occur.


Changes Recycling Centres, along with select brand owners — including Dairyworld Foods and Lever Ponds — contribute service fees toward the program. The centres accept 95 per cent of Lever Ponds packaging and Dairyworld’s plastic 4-litre milk jugs.

Of course, while the program aims to reduce the amount of packaging sent to landfill, the overriding goal of all the companies involved is to be profitable. The recovered material is sent to Wastech Holdings, a recovery facility in Coquitlam, where it’s baled and shipped to market. Milk jugs are sent to Merlin Plastics in Delta, where they are processed and pelletized. From there, the pellets are shipped to the U.S. where they are used to make non-food containers such as plastic oil cans and shampoo bottles. The volume of containers handled has increased annually since the first year of the program.


When consumers bring their deposit beverage containers to any Changes Recycling Centre they can either receive a cash refund or purchase two “Save-On-More Points” for each penny stated on their refund. Consumers can also receive five bonus points for every 4-litre milk-jug returned, even if it was purchased from a competitor. The centres now also accept used inkjet cartridges in exchange for 100 Save-on-More bonus points.

Consumers also have the option of donating the bonus points to a favourite charity. Save-On-Foods matches the contribution so the charity gets twice as much. Over the years, Overwaitea has sponsored three regional children’s hospitals in B.C. and Alberta, with contributions to date totalling over $3.5-million.

Connie Vitello is editor of this magazine.

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