Quebec’s deposit system: Environmental changes on the rise
I have very fond memories as a kid returning my cans to the grocery store machines, eager to see how much money I would get. Although most soda cans were valued at 5 cents apiece, it added up. It was worth bringing them back when you walked away with a $5 or $10 bill.
All across Canada, provinces have implemented a return system that takes back metal cans and glass bottles. The programs generally only accept alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverage containers. The user is entitled to the monetary deposit at which the container is valued. Different provinces have different policies and procedures for what and where you can return these containers, but for the purpose of this article, I will explain what Quebec does and what its new plan entails.
Quebec’s deposit system is simple. The customer will pay a deposit fee (which ranges from 5 to 20 cents depending on the containers) in addition to the original cost of the beverage. Once consumed, the customer can return the container to a machine found at most major grocery stores. The customer is then returned their original deposit.
The grocery stores will return the containers to the processing plant, where the materials are sorted and transported to aluminum, plastic, or glass recyclers. At the recycling plant, the materials are either transformed (i.e., the aluminum is smelted for manufacturing ingots or coils) or recycled and generally reused (as is the case of glass beer bottles). These materials are also used to manufacture hundreds of items, such as clothing, bicycles, cars, construction materials, and so much more.
I wasn’t able to find any evidence of how successful this program has been, but Quebec’s deposit system has existed for close to 40 years, so they must be doing something right. Sure, you can put these containers in the regular recycling (and I know many people still do), but the chances of the materials actually being recycled are questionable, especially if the materials have been contaminated with something else in your bin. Quebec’s deposit system ensures that 100% of the materials are recycled.
As of November 1, Quebec is announcing a few changes to the program that would include expanding the type of accepted containers and increasing the deposit fee. Traditionally, in Quebec, you would only pay a deposit on soda and beer cans. But with more aluminum beverages hitting the shelves (think Bubbly or Perrier water cans), it was time for a change to ensure that these beverage containers were also being recycled.
Quebec is now accepting the return of ready-to-drink beverage cans, which include fruit juice, sparkling water, flavoured water, and small vegetable juice cans. Moreover, instead of the deposit being 5 cents per container, they are increasing the deposit fee to 10 cents per container, no matter the beverage content.
Even more exciting is that by March 2025, Quebecers will be able to return water bottles, wine bottles, ciders and spirits, and large and small cartons of juice, milk, and bio-sourced drinks (such as soy milk). It’s about time wine bottles are included in the return processes because where we thrive in soda can recycling, we have traditionally missed the mark on wine bottle recycling!
The goal of this new program is to recover and recycle greater quantities of beverage containers and improve the way we reclaim materials. As I mentioned before, it’s a guaranteed way that materials will actually get recycled instead of getting lost and potentially thrown into landfills.
Adding an increased deposit will also get people to think twice about simply throwing away their containers. Only the people who throw away their containers (shame on you) will bear any financial cost. If you’re like me, who collected cans until they barely fit in the trunk of my parent’s car, you can end up with a good chunk of change. Quebec’s deposit system is a win for society and the planet and is a movement in the right direction for environmental change.