Returns: Good for your wallet & the environment!


 |  Making a Difference

The Starfish

Photo by Aine D |

The July long weekend is about many different things for the many different types of Canadians that call this country home. Aside from the patriotism, red and white, fireworks, friends and family, barbequing, and being outside, one thing that many Canadians get excited about for the July long weekend is beer.

Beer immigrated to Canada way back in the 17th century and has been part of many Canadians’ culture ever since. It is an extremely unique product when you look at it. Not many other products can boast that you have to be a certain age to consume them, that they come in so many different varieties and flavours, that they have traditions spanning multiple centuries and that their marketing places a strong influence on popular culture. Furthermore, (and this is the part that The Starfish is interested in) not many products have waste material that people have incentive to pick up and recycle! Yep, that’s right; I’m talking about that good old fashioned bottle deposit.

Bottle deposits in Canada range depending on where you go and the recycling systems they have in place. In Ontario, people pay deposits on alcoholic beverages that come in glass, aluminum cans, polyethylene tetraphalate (aka PET plastic bottles), tetrapaks (aka a mix of a few different things) and bag in box containers (aka the ever so classy “wine in a bag”). Many Ontarians may have noticed that on soft drinks there is commonly a note that says, “CONSIGNÉE 5 ¢ REFUND QUÉBEC.” This is due to the fact that unlike Ontario, Quebec and other Canadian provinces have a bottle deposit program for non-alcoholic beverages as well.

Now you might be thinking, “what’s all this noise about bottle deposits anyways? I still see beer bottles and cans on the side of the road. Are these programs actually doing anything?”

Short Answer: Yes. In Canada roughly 70% of beer is sold in bottles, 20% in cans and 10% as draught. Most beer bottles can be re-used 15 to 20 times and most beer cans can be recycled into cans again or other aluminum products. In 2004, The Brewers Association of Canada reported a national recovery rate of over 90% for bottles and 80% for cans. As an example in 2004, the efforts of the bottle deposit return program saved an estimated 60 million dollars in landfill space and 550,000 tonnes of beer packaging waste.

Long Answer: Yes. Remember when Ontario didn’t require deposits on things you bought from the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) such as wine bottles or liquor bottles? Well that ended with the “Bag it Back” program (aka the Ontario Deposit Return Program) in 2007. The result: in the year prior to the Bag it Back program, the return rate was 67%. In the immediate year following the introduction of the program, the return rate was 73% and has increased to 77% in 2010.

The main reason that many countries worldwide use bottle deposit systems is that they provide the extra incentive needed to push consumers to return their bottles. In most countries the return centers are either found exactly where the consumers purchased their product or in multiple convenient locations.

Some countries even have much higher bottle deposits to incentivize greater returns from their citizens. For example many European Union countries have single beer bottle deposits at roughly 15 cents Canadian. One of the most interesting examples is that the German deposit on single use glass, aluminum or plastic bottles (which are commonly used for soft drinks in the country) is a whopping 35 cents Canadian! 

So whether or not the 60 cents or toonie and change you get from hauling that six pack or 2-4 back to the Beer store makes a difference in your wallet, at least know that your efforts to return your bottles are making an actual difference on the environment! Happy returning!