On September 10, 2006, the Province of Ontario announced that by February 1, 2007, wine, spirits and exclusively-listed beer containers sold by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) will carry a deposit and be returnable to the Beer Store container return network.
The financial and environmental rationale for a deposit-refund system for LCBO containers is clear. While Ontario municipalities spent $10.9 million in 2004 to collect LCBO glass containers, they only received $92,000 in revenue in return. Moreover, of the 105,000 tonnes LCBO glass containers reported as sold, less than 40,000 tonnes (~38 per cent) was actually recycled back into “high-end” uses such a fiberglass and glass containers. The remainder of LCBO glass was either not recovered or recovered in such a manner as to be so color mixed and contaminated as to be unusable for high-end uses and was thus “downcycled” (i.e., used as landfill cover aggregate, filter medium, road bed substrate and sand blasting media).
Stewardship Ontario’s reported blue box costs indicates a net collection cost of about $160/tonne or 7.2 cents per LCBO glass bottle recovered. Incidentally, the Association of Ontario Municipalities (AMO) and the Association of Municipal Recycling Coordinators (AMRC) dispute Stewardship Ontario’s glass collection figures number, citing a glass-specific net collection cost of $234/tonne for green glass and $198/tonne for clear glass (or 9.41 cents per LCBO glass bottle recovered). Allocating Stewardship Ontario’s lower reported net collection costs only on those containers recovered and recycled back into glass packaging or fiberglass results in a net cost per tonne recycled of $267/tonne or 12.2 cents per LCBO glass bottle recycled. (See Editorial on recycling efficiency issues, page 4.)
In addition to the high cost of collecting and recycling LCBO glass to “high-end” uses through the blue box, “downcycling” of glass packaging poses additional financial and environmental costs. A June 2006 report prepared by consultants Grant Thornton Project Finance and Oakdene Hollins — evaluating recycling in the United Kingdom — succinctly identifies the environmental counter-productivity of down-cycling glass packaging stating: “In order to meet tonnage-based recycling targets at the lowest cost, the grinding of glass to make sand and other materials is encouraged even though this form of recycling offers little or no CO2 reduction benefits. This energy-intensive form of recycling, or open-loop recycling, generates more CO2 than if the glass was sent straight to a landfill site.”
Glass is not the only packaging material that the LCBO generates. In 2005 it’s estimated that the LCBO generated over 166,000 tonnes of container-related packaging, including 118,000 tonnes of glass (up significantly due to increases in the sale of spirits coolers), 727 tonnes of aluminum, 43 tonnes of aseptic cartons, 368 tonnes of bag-in-box wine packaging, 1,876 tonnes of PET bottles and 14,114 tonnes of corrugated and boxboard cartons.
These materials embody both large amounts of energy (see “Energy to Waste?” in April/May 2000 edition) and generate significant greenhouse gas emissions in their production. In total, LCBO packaging embodies 1.6 million Giga-joules of production energy — the annual energy demand of over 10,000 typical Canadian homes. “High-end” recycling of 85 per cent of this packaging would result in a greenhouse gas reduction of 63,000 tonnes CO2 — the equivalent of taking almost 16,000 cars off of Ontario roads annually.
These energy and emissions savings are especially real in the case of LCBO glass since Southern Ontario has two major glass packaging manufacturing plants and one major fiberglass manufacturing facility in close proximity to where the bulk of waste LCBO packaging is generated. This avoids long transportation distances of collected recyclable glass (if those plants were located elsewhere). Currently, as a result of the poor provincial glass recycling rates, OI Canada imports in excess of 60,000 tonnes of cullet (recyclable glass) from Michigan and Quebec annually. These imports involve over 2,700 truck trips which consume the annual energy equivalent of 200 Canadian homes.
With targeted communications to LCBO customers, reasonably high deposit-levels and utilization of the Beer Stores’ broad recovery network a deposit-refund system for LCBO containers, it’s expected that a steady-state recovery rate will be attained of 85 per cent of containers and secondary packaging sold (i.e., wine cartons, plastic bags etc.). Moreover, it will produce clean streams of materials suitable for “closed-loop” recycling.
Given the efficiencies of the existing Beer Store deposit-refund based recovery system in concert with high material revenues associated with the recovery of clean, color-separated recyclable materials, it’s expected that the proposed system will be the most cost-effective means for ensuring high rates of “closed-loop” recycling of LCBO packaging.
Usman Valiante is principal of Corporate Policy Group in Orangeville, Ontario. Contact Usman at firstname.lastname@example.org