The beverage industry is poised to introduce a pop bottle “tax” in Ontario to handle empties from non-alcoholic beverages. Does that mean we’re getting a new-and-improved program that will boost collection, refill and recycling while cutting litter? The answer – so far – is no. 

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The beverage industry appears to want to keep the same ineffective system that we have today – recycling bins – even though we have proven year after year that deposit-return systems work.

People in Ontario are used to returning beer, wine and liquor bottles. In 2021, we took back 1.3 BILLION alcohol containers, including more than 340 million refillable beer bottles – a whopping 98 per cent of all the refillable beer bottles sold that year. 

The proven success of a deposit-return system makes the system we currently rely on for pop, water, juice, milk and iced tea all the more outrageous. History has taught us that Ontario’s curbside Blue Box program, with complementary recycling bins in parks and along sidewalks, is not as good as deposit-return for ensuring collection, reuse and recycling.

Despite accepting most beverage containers and other packaging in Ontario’s Blue Box, only about 43 per cent of what was sold for household use in 2021 was collected and recycled. Compare that to deposit-return at the Beer Store, which reported nearly 80 per cent for beer packaging and containers, and 72 per cent for LCBO products and packaging. 

Now the beverage industry is looking to add insult to injury by charging us for bottle collection without giving us the one thing that will actually work – a deposit-return program for non-alcoholic beverages. 

Almost every other province has this type of system. The return and recycling rate in Alberta and Saskatchewan is nearly 90 per cent for all beverage containers. They’re already beating the unambitious target the Ontario government set of 75 per cent by 2026 and 80 per cent by the end of the decade. It’s clear that our existing Blue Box program will never reach Ontario’s targets, let alone the laudable rates that our Prairie cousins have achieved. 

The solution to growing mountains of beverage container waste is staring us in the face: an expanded deposit-return. Experience from across the country and around the world tells us that the best programs have higher deposit fees (15 cents) and the option of returning the empties to the places we buy them from. 

We deserve an improved collection, reuse and recycling system – not paying more for the same garbage results.

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