Skip to navigation Skip to content

Fact sheet

Our drink containers: deposit-refund, recycling or landfill?

Published on 

We’re in the midst of a garbage crisis in Quebec, where 2 million plastic containers are thrown out every day in 2023. And unfortunately, recycling is far from a lifeline. According to the most recent report on residual waste management in Quebec, 13% of the materials sent to recycling centres are rejected - which represents 144,000 tonnes of material every year! So, what do we do about this?

We generally think that recycling our plastic and glass drink containers is a good enough way to dispose of them - to limit our garbage and waste fewer resources. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

In our beloved blue bins, all our containers and packaging get lumped in together, regardless of their composition. This unfortunately can cause cross-contamination, which can reduce the materials’ value and make them harder to recycle. When it’s possible to sort materials at the source, it can eliminate contamination, increase container resale value and facilitate recycling.

The deposit-refund system does just that. But unfortunately, Quebec’s system doesn’t go far enough, for the following reasons:

  1. Not all drink containers are returnable for refund.

    1. Currently, beer containers, soft drinks and cans are returnable. It won’t be until March 1, 2025 that the program will be expanded to cover all other glass and plastic drink containers.

  1. Deposit-refund amounts are not high enough to change consumer behaviour, thus negatively impacting the return rate.

  2. Refillable containers, one of the best solutions to reduce our waste, do not have a central role in the system.

The deposit refund system must be improved to counter the garbage crisis

From the recycling bin to the landfill site in the blink of an eye

Most people assume that all that goes in the blue bin gets recycled in order to produce new materials, not that it ends up in the landfill.

We know what goes into the sorting centres, but the materials that leave cannot be traced, nor can we know what proportion actually ends up being recycled. What we do know, though, is that the rate of contamination in the container/packaging bundles varies between 1% and 35%, which impacts their recyclability.

Some alarming figures:

🚨In 2021, of the 79,000 tonnes of plastic departing sorting centres, 60% was sold to outside of Quebec. Not sure that counts as recycling… 🤔

🚨A mere 23% of the 220,000 tonnes of collected glass was recycled. The rest was sent to landfill! We need to do better with our glass.

We must take action

In an October 2023 survey of 1,006 Quebecers, 77% felt there was an urgent need to act on the issue of recyclables sent to landfill.

Are you concerned about this issue? To address it, the government must take a more serious and ambitious approach to the deposit refund system. If we wait until March 2025 to expand it to all containers, more than a billion glass and plastic containers will end up in a landfill site!

All our drink containers must be returnable

Take action