Open letter: Maintaining deposit refunds just makes sense

October 23, 2009 – During Quebec’s Waste Reduction Week and at the launch of the long-awaited new Quebec Residual Materials Management Policy, we would like to remind the Government of Quebec how important it is to maintain the province’s deposit-refund system. The deposit-refund system is expanding in all other neighbouring jurisdictions because it is recognized to be one of the best economic and environmental tools. It is based on two principles –  increased responsibility for producers and the “polluter pays” concept – that come into effect with a deposit refund system.

In Quebec, the brewing industry puts into circulation about 1.5 billion beer containers every year. Of these, 83% are brown glass bottles with a 10-cent deposit that are reused about fifteen times before being destroyed and recycled. In this way, over 95% of refillable bottles are recovered and reused, which makes the deposit-refund system extremely efficient, both from an environmental and economic perspective. The private deposit-refund system is managed by the brewers themselves and operates in parallel with a public deposit-refund system managed by the Ministère de l’environnement through Recyc-Québec. This latter system has been in operation since 1984 for non-refillable containers (cans and non-refillable bottles). Despite the fact that deposit charges have not increased for 25 years, and that the value of the deposit amount on cans (5 cents) and bottles (10 cents) is no longer what it was in 1984, around 68% of these containers are returned to stores. And 100% of these containers are recycled!

The private and public deposit-refund systems and waste sorting activities complement each other – they need to be improved over the years to increase recovery rates for beverage containers.

In addition, to better understand the Quebec public’s perception of the deposit-refund systems for beer in Quebec, a survey was carried out by CROP in order to better appreciate Quebecers’ awareness of deposit-refund containers.

The results speak for themselves: over 90% of Quebecers are aware of and appreciate the deposit-refund system for beer and soft-drink containers. What’s more, half of respondents (49%) believe an increase of between 5 and 10 cents per deposit on cans would encourage people to bring back more containers to stores. Even more significantly, among the questions raised by the survey, the public’s misunderstanding of the various types of containers available on the market is clear. In fact, among the most popular brands such as Budweiser, Labatt Blue or Molson Ex, only 55% of people know that they come in refillable bottles. On the other hand, only 35% of respondents were able to correctly identify the Heineken bottle as being non-refillable. There is a total lack of understanding regarding the two systems. If the Government of Quebec were to abolish the public deposit-refund system, it would inevitably result in the private deposit-refund system being threatened. The financial and environmental toll would immediately be felt. Furthermore, if the current system ceased to exist, the contamination problems of broken glass mixed with other materials in sorting facilities, as well as breakages and injuries caused by these broken containers, would increase enormously.

This is surely not the message that the Government of Quebec wishes to send to the public in its approach to sustainable development. Besides which, it would be unfair for beer producers to assume financial responsibility for sorting other materials along with aluminum cans, as certain groups are demanding.

What matters to us is finding ways to protect and improve the systems that already exist. Consequently, the Government of Quebec needs to defend the acquired benefits of all the province’s deposit-refund systems.



Action RE-Buts

Richard Boisvert, ex-cadre supérieur retraité de Recyc-Québec et ex-responsable de la gestion des systèmes de consigne sur les contenants au Québec

Martin Comeau, Consultations Libera Mutatio - Économiste de Recyc-Québec de 2002 à 2008

Consortium Écho-Logique

Front commun québécois pour une gestion écologique des déchets

L’Association des brasseurs du Québec

L’Association des Micro-Brasseries du Québec

Les Bouteilles Recyclées du Québec (BRQ ) Inc

Clarissa Morawski, directrice de CM Consulting

Regroupement national des conseils régionaux en environnement