Every day, thousands of Ontario consumers play a major role in Canada’s largest beverage container recycling program, ensuring that glass bottles are re-used and millions of cans and other bottles are recycled rather than sent to landfill. But this isn’t the Blue Box I’m talking about – it’s The Beer Store’s deposit-return program for taking back beer containers (and, since 2007, wine and spirit containers under the Ontario Deposit Return Program).
This fact might come as a surprise to many readers. The Beer Store’s deposit-return program for beer containers is so well-known to Ontario residents and so well-entrenched that most Ontario consumers don’t stop to consider what actually happens to their bottles and cans after they’ve returned them. In celebrating its 85th birthday as a retailer (and the 85th birthday of the deposit-return program), The Beer Store faced the dilemma: how do you educate consumers about a program they’re already familiar with?
The Beer Store’s solution has been to start with the basics. That’s why The Beer Store’s recently released annual stewardship report is packed full of facts about its voluntary, industry-funded deposit-return system – 85 facts, in fact, for the 85 years it has been in operation.
For example, did you know that taking back empties to The Beer Store is older than sliced bread? Or, that most beer bottles are actually re-used an average of 15 times? How about the fact that 94% of the almost 2 billion beer containers sold in Ontario in 2011-2012 were recovered by The Beer Store and either refilled or recycled?
“Environmental leadership is one of The Beer Store’s core values; we were green before green was cool,” says Ted Moroz, President of The Beer Store. “We know most Ontarians are faithful participants in our deposit-return program. With this year’s report, we wanted to let Ontarians know more about the program and the significant environmental results The Beer Store has been achieving, with their participation, over these 85 years.”
Perhaps the only Ontario retailer that takes back all the packaging it sells (including plastic bags and cardboard cases), The Beer Store has also been taking back wine and spirit containers since 2007 through a partnership with the Ontario government called the Ontario Deposit Return Program – or “Bag It Back.” As a result, the recovery of wine and spirit containers has gone from about 55% in 2006 (when they went in the Blue Box) to 81% in 2011-2012. In total, The Beer Store now recovers over 2.1 billion alcohol bottles, cans and kegs each year.
While the Blue Box has been, and continues to be, an effective method of recovering recyclable material, collecting wine and spirit containers through The Beer Store’s deposit-refund system has resulted in higher recovery rates and higher-value recycling outcomes (since the glass is colour separated and no longer mixed with other materials).
“The Beer Store’s waste diversion results are outstanding,” says Jim Bradley, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment. “The Beer Store’s efforts mean more glass is recycled into new products like new bottles and fiberglass insulation, rather than taking up valuable landfill space. These results also show that government and industry can work together to achieve results that promote both environmental sustainability and a strong economy.”
The scale of The Beer Store’s program can be overwhelming. Consider that the over 480,000 tonnes of beverage alcohol packaging diverted from landfill last year was equal to more than half (approximately 53%) of everything diverted by the entire Ontario Blue Box system. And that diversion helped avoid over 205,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, which is equivalent to taking over 40,210 cars off the road.
But one number really sticks out: because the system is paid for by industry, The Beer Store’s program saves Ontario taxpayers over $40 million annually. That figure alone should encourage us all to make many more happy returns.
Brian Zeiler-Kligman joined Canada’s National Brewers in 2011 as their inaugural Director, Sustainability. In this role, Brian drives regulatory and policy initiatives related to industry sustainability, including container recovery and management, across multiple jurisdictions. You can follow Brian on twitter @EnviroBeerGuy