Keeping consumers in the recycling loop

As we mark World Environment Day, it is important to recognize consumers’ vital role in recycling. For non-alcoholic beverage producers, container recycling at home or on the go is the start of a process which signifies an active contribution towards closing the loop in the circular economy.

The Canadian Beverage Association is the voice for the non-alcoholic beverage sector in Canada. As the best practice leader in the sector, the non-alcoholic beverage industry continues to be at the forefront of driving transformation and progress in the collection, recycling, and repurposing of its packaging from coast to coast. With over 30 years of implementation, high consumer adoption and the move to extended producer responsibility (EPR), Canadian recycling systems have achieved a national average beverage container recovery rate of roughly 75%. Some provinces with deposit-return systems, (DRS) like Alberta and Saskatchewan, are achieving rates well over 80%.

DRS works by enabling consumer participation via a deposit on beverage containers—including glass bottles, aluminum cans, cartons, and plastic bottles—which are refunded to the consumer when they return empty drink containers for recycling. Funded through unfunded deposits, the sale of recovered material, handling fees and the deposit itself, DRS systems are proven mechanisms to recover beverage containers by enabling consumers. Adding a deposit to a container also communicates that recycled materials are valuable resources. It is also very popular among consumers, with research conducted by Environmental Defence showing that 80% of Ontario residents support a deposit-return for non-alcoholic beverage containers.

Unfortunately, not all provinces are experiencing the same outcomes. Despite innovating the first out-of-home recycling system in Canada, beverage container recovery rates in Ontario remain far off from their target of 80% by 2030. To address this, the CBA is working with supply-chain stakeholders in a Government of Ontario-led working group to investigate a potential deposit-return system (DRS). The goal is to develop a DRS on a series of principles, most notably the need for efficiency and a consumer-first approach.

The association’s work in Ontario is not the only way we are improving recycling rates. For over two decades, Canadian beverage companies have worked hand-in-hand with recycling partners and all levels of government to improve recovery rates. This includes the modernization of Quebec’s DRS program, the ongoing transition to EPR across Canada, and the development of DRS across Canada. Now more than ever, the recycling landscape across Canada and each province and territory is also evolving with the advancement of technology and innovation in the sector.

Beverage producers believe that greater harmonization can facilitate a seamless and consistent approach to recycling. Working together and sharing experiences and solutions between jurisdictions is critical in this process as it will enhance the strategy’s effectiveness. It would also help to establish
recycling targets, improve consumer experience, and provide a framework for consistency across provinces and territories.

We believe Canada has an opportunity to become a global leader in sustainability through a national framework. This would improve container recycling rates, leverage a nationwide scale, and streamline recycling. A National Framework will work to close the loop in the circular economy – in short, harmonization means higher national recovery rates, increased supply of recycled material, and more products and packaging made with recycled material.

While it’s up to government to move forward on recycling policy that works best for Canadians, consumers are the heart of recycling. We believe that advancements in recycling are only possible if more beverage containers are going through the recycling process. For this reason, CBA and our members are working with industry partners toward a harmonized system for reporting and adopting lessons learned from other jurisdictions. Through said collaboration, we can get every container back.

Krista Scaldwell is president of the Canadian Beverage Association.