Solid Waste & Recycling

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Wine Bottle Refilling for Ontario

In 2007, Ontario implemented the Ontario Deposit Return Program (ODRP) requiring a 10 or 20 cent deposit return on wine and spirit beverage containers. Three years after the program's implementation, the numbers show that ODRP successfully...


In 2007, Ontario implemented the Ontario Deposit Return Program (ODRP) requiring a 10 or 20 cent deposit return on wine and spirit beverage containers. Three years after the program’s implementation, the numbers show that ODRP successfully captured, sorted and recycled 80 per cent of glass wine and spirit containers. The Beer Store (TBS) has a five-year contract to take back the containers for recycling. However, the Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal is open to discussing the feasibility of establishing a refillable wine program after the contract ends in 2012. Thus, this is the ideal time for the province to conduct an economic and environmental feasibility study to assess the potential benefits of such a program.

Although Ontario doesn’t refill its wine bottles, it does have extensive experience in the area of refilling. Since 1927, TBS has used a deposit return system to capture and refill its used beverage bottles. The program has been extremely successful and TBS is a leader in extended producer responsibility. According to TBS’s 2010 annual Responsible Stewardship report on environmental impacts, 67 per cent of beer containers sold at TBS are refillable. TBS is known for excellent recovery rates: In 2009 and 2010, 99.9 per cent of the refillable glass bottles were recovered and reused an average of 15 times. This avoided the production of 1.2 billion beer bottles and 120,318 mt of GHG emissions.

A number of factors could contribute to the success of a refillable wine bottle program in Ontario. First, Ontario consumes a high percentage of local wine, so vintners could benefit from a supply of inexpensive sanitized used bottles. According to the Grape Growers of Ontario and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), in 2006-2007 Ontarians consumed 54.1 million litres of local Ontario wine and 84.7 million litres of imported wine. If all the local wine was sold in refillable bottles, then 67.3 million bottles would not have to be produced, thus eliminating the production of approximately 26,930 mt of glass. Refillable wine bottles save energy, reduce waste and prevent pollution.

Second, refillable bottle programs benefit from short transportation distances and Ontario has a dense population in close proximity to the wine industry. Over eight million people live in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region. The distance between the centre of this area and the Niagara Peninsula is approximately 100 kms. This reduces the amount of energy used to transport the wine between consumers, retailers and producers.

Third, Ontario has an established system (the ODRP) in place to collect the empty wine bottles. Refillable programs require high return rates to ensure economic and environmental viability. Current ODRP recovery rates are already high and are expected to improve as the program matures. The ODRP infrastructure could be adapted to include a refillable wine bottle program.

Packaging waste experts agree that Ontario should evaluate the possibility of implementing a refillable wine bottle program. Clarissa Morawski, Principal of CM Consulting, explains that implementing a refillable program “could put the Ontario wine industry in an economically advantageous position over foreign competitors.” Usman Valiante, Senior Policy Analyst at the Corporate Policy Group, believes that there’s a real opportunity, now that there’s a deposit-refund system at the LCBO.

“I think we should do some work to study the full economic costs and the environmental benefits,” he says.

Issues that still need to be studied include bottle scuffing issues and the initial economic investment to purchase a “float” of refillable Industry Standardized Bottles (ISB) for white and red wine. If a refillable program is deemed beneficial, it could be ready for implementation when the five year TBS contract is over in 2012.

Julian Cleary, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Geography Department at the University of Toronto, says, “With the deposit-refund system for wine and liquor containers in the province and a large indigenous wine industry, if there is any place in North America where a refillables system could be pursued, it’s Ontario.”

– Catherine Leighton


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