Places like United We Can exist because of bottle deposit regulations. A binner I know recently told me that he liked binning in the summer more than winter, not because of the weather, but because everybody wants a cold drink in the summer. In the winter everybody drinks coffee and paper coffee cups haven’t got a deposit. My point being, if there were even a five cent deposit on coffee cups, you’d rarely see one in the dumpster.
BC’s deposit law, the British Columbia Recycling Regulation (2004), has been around since 1970. The Recycling Regulation is an extended producer responsibility regulation which means that it “is a strategy designed to promote the integration of environmental cost associated with goods throughout their life cycles into the market price of the products.” (Wikipedia). Governments pass regulations which require producers to internalize the cost of the disposal of certain products (electronics, automobiles, packaging, bottles and containers, etc…). This cost is then reflected in the price of the item for a consumer, tying disposal cost into the market price of a product. In situations where there is no deposit, disposal of packaging or an item is usually subsidized by the public in the form of a waste management utility.
In BC, any alcohol container up to and including one liter has a deposit of 10 cents; containers over one liter have a deposit of 20 cents. Non-alcoholic containers have slightly lower deposits: 5 cents for up to and including one liter, 20 cents for over one liter.
“All ready-to-drink beverages sold in the province are required to be offered for sale in recyclable or refillable containers. All are subject to a deposit; with the exception of milk and milk substitutes.” (Bottlebill.org)
Binners I know will root through dumpsters, comb streets, parks, sidewalks and knock on doors in order to collect glass, aluminum, and plastic containers. A good night’s work can result in a haul as high as ninety or a hundred dollars. Some people claim to have brought in more, but I think such a payload is an anomaly.
In BC there are two organizations charged with making the producer responsibility thing work: Encorp Pacific and Brewers Distributor Limited (BDL). Encorp is a not-for-profit company with members of the beverage industry and retail grocery industry on their board of directors. BDL is a private joint venture company owned by Labatt and Molson Breweries “for the wholesale distribution of beer and the collection of returnable, refillable and recyclable beer containers within the four Western Canadian Provinces, as well as Northwest Territories and the Yukon.”
In 2011, Encorp claims that it reached a 79.8% recovery rate of beverage containers in BC. What this means is that of the 1,237,182,406 containers sold in BC, 987,186,525 ended up in Encorp’s hands. Now what they do with the bottles afterward is another matter, but the idea is that they are not burying them in a landfill or burning them in an incinerator.
BDL claims a 93% return rate on all beer bottles and cans for 2011, saying that over 554,000,000 beer containers were recovered, 120 million of which were refillable beer bottles. They also claim that glass beer bottles are refilled an average of 15 times.
I’m not sure what to say about bottle deposit regulations as policy. I think that they do achieve the desired effect of keeping a specific item from landfilling or incineration, but I also think there is a tendency to be a little too optimistic about how well these items are recycled. Refilling bottles seems to be pretty good. Melting down aluminum cans to remake aluminum cans also seems good, at least better than chucking the aluminum in the landfill where it doesn’t do anyone any good. Bottle deposit regulations also seem to create an industry–from binners to organizations like Encorp.