Beverage Container Programs — the Secret to their Success
I remember going to the general store thirty years ago (shh... no old jokes) and getting a discount if I drank the pop at the store and left the bottle there. The bottles were washed and reused by a local bottler, as are glass beer bottles today. This type of stewardship happens naturally because the container has value to the producer.
No government regulations were needed to make the pop/beer bottle situation work. The producers ran the program to get the bottles back. They did that by offering an incentive, in this case, a deposit, to the consumers. The incentive seems to be working: brewers boast over 95% returns on their glass bottles.
Once pop bottlers started closing up local shops and shipping beverages in containers intended to be used only once, then we needed regulated programs to keep the cans and bottles from filling up landfills and ditches. Saskatchewan’s beverage container stewardship program, run by SARCAN, started in1988 in response to industry pressure to supply pop and beer in aluminum cans. Because these cans, and the plastic and glass one-way containers that followed them, had no value to the producers, government undertook to create a program to handle them. They followed beverage container tradition and used a deposit as an incentive.
Deposits assign a value to the container that no longer has value to the producer. Consumers shouldn’t be upset about paying deposits unless they have no intention of redeeming the container and getting their money back. Deposits show up in many situations. They’re used as a kind of security. So I guess we could think of beverage container deposits as tiny insurance policies where consumers promise the deposit “I’ll come back for you.”
The deposit-return system does work. SARCAN return rates are among the highest in North America, with over 88% of the beverage containers sold last year being recycled. In 2003-2004, SARCAN recycled more than 256 million containers, reducing Saskatchewan's waste by more than 14,000 tonnes.
Deposits on beverage containers contribute to high return rates in the provinces (eight—not Manitoba or Ontario) with programs. Similarly, in the U.S., the 10 states with deposit laws, about 30% of their population, accounted for more than half of the beverage containers collected in the whole country. Residents of these 10 states average 490 containers recycled per person per year. The rest of the country sits at 191.
It makes you wonder what sort of return rates we might get if we found ways to apply deposits to other products or containers… maybe pickle jars or shampoo bottles or … the possibilities are numerous, and intriguing.
(Source: March 2005 WasteWatch)
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