The deposit refund system must be improved
To better reuse and recycle our drink containers
- Over a billion
glass and plastic containers will be sent for disposal by the time the deposit refund system is fully rolled-out in March 2025.
- 2 million
plastic containers wasted every day in Quebec.
- 77 % of Quebecers felt it was urgent to take action on the issue of recyclable materials sent to landfill.
Since 2020, we have been eagerly anticipating the government’s planned modernization and expansion of the deposit refund system. The plan, which was finally unveiled in the summer of 2023, was bitterly disappointing in that it didn’t go nearly as far as the government had promised.
The implementation of the new deposit refund system is far too slow. As we wait, containers that could have been returned for refund are being disposed of otherwise.
The revised refund amounts are too low, and so out of step with the current economic context that they won’t improve container recovery rates.
The plan doesn’t encourage refillable container systems, a great solution for reducing waste.
Our expert explains
We’re working to pressure the government to accelerate the full implementation of the deposit refund system and to modify the refund amounts to improve return rates.
The government has been talking about expanding the system since January 2020. It’s time for action. It has the power to expedite the implementation of the system, or at least to stop delaying its roll-out.
We ask the Minister of the Environment, the Fight against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks to respect the deadlines set for the implementation of the extended deposit refund system, to increase the deposit amounts to encourage a better return rate, and to encourage refillable container systems.
What's the deposit refund system?
Since the 1980s, beer and soft drink containers have been returnable in Quebec for a refund. We pay a fixed amount on purchase, the deposit, which is reimbursed in full when we return our containers.
The deposit was initially introduced to combat pollution in public places and to enable producers to recover their containers, which were then reusable! By giving containers a value, we encourage people to take the time to return them to the store.
How are returnable and non-returnable containers recycled?
Returnable containers are mainly collected by recycling bins - at home or in stores. They are then taken to a sorting center along with other containers and packaging made from different materials. At the sorting center, the materials are sorted and then resold for recycling.
One of the key issues is that materials collected in a jumble can be contaminated by what's in the bins. According to the most recent report on residual materials management in Quebec, 13% of materials sent to sorting centers were rejected. That's 144,000 tonnes of material a year!
We know what goes into the sorting centres, but there is no traceability on the materials that come out and on the proportion that is actually recycled. We do know, however, that the rate of contamination of bales of containers and packaging received by packaging and recycling facilities - i.e., when they leave the sorting centres - varies between 1% and 35%, according to the results of a survey carried out as part of the assessment.
A few other facts
Of the 79,000 tonnes of plastic leaving our sorting centres in 2021, 60% was sold outside Quebec. Exporting our plastic is not a responsible way to manage it!
Only 23% of the 220,000 tonnes of glass collected from Quebec households was sent for recycling. The remainder was sent to landfill, either for disposal or as capping material (layers of inert material that are placed between layers of waste to reduce nuisance). We can do better with our glass!
What's the difference between a returnable container and one that goes in the recycling bin?
A returnable container is sorted at source by material category (plastic, glass, aluminum, etc.). Sorting at source eliminates contamination, increases the resale value of containers and facilitates recycling.
A container placed in the recycling bin is transported with other materials to a sorting center, where it is sorted, baled and sold to a recycler. Because materials are mixed together, contamination is more likely to occur, reducing their value and potential marketability.
How can a higher refund rate affect consumer behaviour?
The higher the value of a returnable container, the higher the return rate - it just makes sense! The deposit-refund value has not been indexed for several decades, and the cost of living has risen significantly since then.
Glass recycling plants, particularly the one in Trois-Rivières, seem problematic from an environmental point of view. Can glass be recycled without harming the environment?
This situation is both problematic and of concern to Équiterre. Recycling activities can be carried out while respecting environmental standards and limiting the negative impacts on the communities living near recycling plants.