Solid Waste & Recycling


Ups & Downs

Beverage containers are ubiquitous. In Canada, collectively, this worked out to about 1.5 million tonnes of scrap material collected for recycling, worth about $200 million in 2008.

Beverage containers are ubiquitous. In Canada, collectively, this worked out to about 1.5 million tonnes of scrap material collected for recycling, worth about $200 million in 2008.

It cost more to recover used beverage containers last year due to the economic downturn and deflated commodity prices. The substandard quality of some over-abundant materials may have required further processing, landfilling, or warehousing. High fuel and labour costs made the problem worse.

On a positive note, compaction technologies can help, reducing transportation costs by more than 40 per cent. Leading-edge measurement tools on the environmental benefits of recycling (from a life cycle perspective) continue to show the upstream benefits of recycling containers, including greenhouse gas reduction.

Throughout North America, deposit-refund programs are being expanded or newly introduced. Last year Alberta became the first province to place milk containers on deposit. Oregon, New York and Connecticut all expanded the scope of their deposit-refund schemes. In many non-deposit jurisdictions, the beverage industry is trying to recover more containers from public spaces and commercial establishments, and picking up some of the costs.

In central Canada (Ontario and Quebec) brandowners and first importers finance part of costs associated with container recovery and recycling. Here, industry pays municipalities to collect, process and market recyclables. Many municipalities have used these funds in part to introduce public space recycling bins and regular collection; these costs may also soon be absorbed by industry through proposed legislation. Ontario and Quebec are moving toward 100 percent industry financing with high material-specific targets. Manitoba recently introduced an 80 per cent industry financing model (which commenced on April 1, 2010) that mandates 75 per cent recovery of beverage containers.

Canada’s overall recovery rate for refillable and non-refillable bottles is estimated at 66 per cent. About 98 per cent of refillable beer containers – a minority of total beverage sales (19 per cent) – are recovered. About 59 per cent of non-refillables – which make-up the majority of containers (81 per cent) – are recovered. (See Collection Rates: Table 1)

Canadian deposit-refund systems combined have a total recovery rate of 83 per cent, while combined non-deposit systems have a total recovery rate of 41 per cent (accounting for containers sold and recovered at home and away-from-home).(See Total Beverage Container Recovery Rates Deposit and Non-Deposit Program: Chart 1).

These are interesting times for the beverage industry. As bottlers, distributors and retailers assume a greater responsibility in the end-of–life management of their packaging, they’re keen to lower costs, increase efficiency, and maintain consumer acceptance (i.e., not disrupt sales). (See Who Bears the Share of Program Costs: Chart 2)

Let’s look at developments province by province.


Alberta increased minimum deposits from 5 to 10 cents (some deposits were already at 10 cents such as beer), and 20 to 25 cents as of November 1, 2008. After only 11 months, recovery went from 76 per cent to 81 per cent.

Notwithstanding the higher deposit (and recovery rate), sales steadily increased from 2006 through 2009, according to statistics reported by the Beverage Container Management Board (BCMB).

Also in June last year, Alberta became the first jurisdiction in North America to introduce a deposit on all milk and liquid cream beverage containers. The deposits are the same for milk as all other beverages – 10 cents under one-litre and 25 cents over one litre. From January to March 2010, the recovery rate has surpassed 80 per cent for HDPE milk jugs and cartons over one litre. For the last three months of reported return data, milk jugs (all sizes) reached a combined recovery rate of 71 per cent and milk cartons of all sizes reached a combined recovery rate of 61 per cent.


On September 24, 2009, Manitoba’s conservation minister approved a program plan for packaging and printed paper recovery to replace the previous program. The new program is modelled after the industry-funding programs currently operating in Ontario and Quebec, where stewards (brandowers or first importers) of packaging, including all beverage-related consumer packaging, must finance a portion of recycling costs. In Manitoba’s case, that portion is 80 per cent.

The plan provides details on how waste packaging material and printed paper from households across Manitoba will be diverted from disposal. The plan defines a funding formula to calculate industry payments (stewardship fees) and outlines funding provisions to support market research, public education, and the promotion of waste reduction and recycling. The new program commenced on April 1, 2010.

Unique to the Manitoba program is a specific performance target of at least 75 per cent recovery of beverage containers. As such, the plan contains enhanced programs for litter, plastic bags and beverage containers. In addition, Multi-Materials Stewardship Manitoba (MMSM) can deliver program elements like public space and event recycling, and education or full service recycling, whenever this is more cost effective than having municipalities do it.

The recently formed Canadian Beverage Container Recycling Association (CBCRA) is a voluntary organization made up of grocery stores and beverage companies. CBCRA is focused on implementing and financing an away-from-home recovery program which will help achieve the mandated 75 per cent. The program is funded through a two cent container recycling fee (CRF) that’s voluntarily paid by most (>90 per cent) of beverage companies, and in most cases is passed on to consumers at the point of purchase. Together, these funds will finance both the away-from-home strategy in addition to the municipal curbside obligation (of 80 per cent).


Ontario’s expanded deposit-refund program for wine and spirit containers, first implemented in February 2007, is now in its fourth full-year. The program saw significant increases in overall recovery: 67 per cent in 2007-2008; 73 per cent in 2008-2009; and (estimated) 77 per cent in 2009-2010.

In October 2009, Ontario’s environment minister announced new waste policy directions for the province, with specific amendments being developed for the existing Waste Diversion Act. Suggested policy changes include making individual producers fully responsible for waste diversion in both the residential and commercial sectors. In addition, producers will be required to meet outcome-based performance standards either on their own of through a third-party collective (and face penalties for non-compliance). Public consultation ended in February and draft regulatory amendments are expected this year. The changes will likely mean 100 per cent financial responsibility for packaging recovery in Ontario by stewards (brandowners and first importers), and the expansion of beverage container recovery to away-from-home and commercial locations.


In November 2009, Quebec issued an official policy on residuals management that states a preference for the curbside collection and recycling of packaging, printed papers and soft-drink containers. However, unless the beverage industry can prove it can achieve 70 per cent recovery through alternative mechanisms to the existing system, deposit-refund for beer and soft drinks will remain in place. In addition, in the short term, the environment ministry also stated that if recovery rates fail to increase to 70 per cent or greater in the next two years, the government may actually increase the container deposit.

On March 17, 2010, Quebec’s Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks tabled Bill 88, which
establishes the framework for industry contributions toward municipal recycling programs. More specifically, the Act says industry’s contribution will cover a share of the costs associated with collection, transportation, sorting, conditioning, and indemnity for the management of the program. The Act established that the share of industry compensation cannot exceed 70 per cent in 2010, 80 per cent in 2011-2012, and 90 per cent for 2013-2014.

This year also marks the half-way point in a four-year project funded by beverage and related industries to capture a greater number of containers consumed away-from-home. With its $6 million+ mandate, the initiative focuses on capturing increased volumes from municipal public spaces through the acquisition of bins (and bar/restaurant bins) and in some cases funding collection and processing of recyclables. A mid-term performance report is publicly available, but no official performance data is available.

Performance and total cost data will be of great interest to all members of the beverage industry, especially since Ontario and Quebec have (or will have) regulations to ensure industry pays for away-from-home beverage container recovery costs.

Prince Edward Island

In May 2008, the new deposit return program for non-refillables commenced on Prince Edward Island. Just prior to the implementation of this program, the province repealed the law which prohibited non-refillable soft drinks to be sold on the island. Shipments of refillables by Coke or Pepsi ended in the fall of 2008.

North West Territories

Starting February 15, 2010 the NWT’s recovery program was expanded to include all milk and liquid milk products, including milk jugs, milk and milk substitute cartons, yogurt drink bottles, condensed or evaporated milk cans, boxed milk substitutes and creamer bottles. These containers are accepted at NWT bottle depots. Exclusions include infant formula and any container less than 30 ml.


Starting in May 2010, Tetra Pak and Recuperation Mauricie (RCM), along with three other capital funding groups, will use post-consumer plastic film, gabletop and asceptic packaging in a new process called “thermokinetic mixing” that combines all of these materials into one homogeneous mix that can be used to create flower pots, pallets, plastic lumber and many other products. According to Tetra Pak, this process will use the entire package with no residuals.

Clarissa Morawski is principal of CM Consulting in Peterborough, Ontario. Contact Clarissa at

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