British Columbia

B.C. recycled 1 billion drink containers last year — and it wants more

Encorp, the organization that leads the B.C. beverage recycling program, is planning to boost the province's 75 per cent return rate by introducing a more convenient way for people to drop off their empty containers.

'We're conscious that consumers and residents these days are busier and busier,' says Encorp president

B.C. kept a billion beverage containers out of the landfill last year.

British Columbia kept one billion drink containers out of its landfills last year, and the non-profit organization in charge of recycling them is thirsty for more. 

Encorp, the organization that leads the B.C. beverage recycling program, is planning to boost the province's 75 per cent return rate by introducing a more convenient way for people to drop off their empty containers. 

"My hope is over the years we'll continue to drive the [return] rate higher and higher," said Allen Langdon, Encorp's president. 

The organization runs B.C.'s self-service bottle return depots called Return-It depots.

As in most provinces, consumers in B.C. pay a mandatory 5-cent to 20-cent deposit on each beverage container. They can collect a refund when that container is returned to a depot or other places that accept empties, like some liquor and grocery stores. 

About 90 per cent of the province's drink containers that are returned arrive at a Return-It depot, Langdon says.

There, those who drop off their containers sort them by type, then stand in line for an attendant to count them and issue a refund. 

Starting next July, people across the Lower Mainland will also have the option to just toss their empties into a bag with a label, drop it off at an express depot, and see the refund automatically deposited to their bank account 48 hours later. 

"We're conscious that consumers and residents these days are busier and busier," Langdon said. 

Encorp has already been trying the new Return-It Express, at about 25 locations, and hopes to expand the program to all depots in the Lower Mainland and further afield.

Popularity of drinks not abating

In B.C., the return rate for drink containers hovers between 75 and 85 per cent — Encorp says it usually increases when the economy dips and more people recycle their bottles for money.

The highest rate of return was in 2009, when British Columbians returned 1,072,598,232 containers. 

Langdon says professional bottle pickers, known colloquially as binners, play a large part in increasing the return rate in large urban centres — although Encorp doesn't keep statistics on who returns containers. 

Getting the recycling rate to 100 per cent would be virtually impossible, Langdon says, adding that it's worth increasing the return rate as people continue to consume more and more drinks. 

"Given the continued growth of the global economy, and what's probably going to be, over time, scarcer and scarcer resources, I think it's very prudent that we're able to find ways to use these materials multiple times over," he said. 

Plastic bottles get recycled right here in B.C., Langdon says, and are remanufactured within weeks. Aluminum can also be recycled many times over, he says.

'We've come a long way'

The new option in depot returns is one of many milestones in the history of recycling in B.C. 

Monday will mark 20 years since B.C. expanded its mandatory deposit and refund system. The program started in 1970, but was mostly limited to soft drinks and beer. 

"I think we've come a long way since then," Langdon said.

On Oct. 1, 1998, B.C.'s beverage recycling program expanded to include all ready-to-drink containers except for milk and milk substitutes.

That change led to 196 million more containers being recycled. A year later, polycoat containers like juice boxes were also included.

Today, B.C. accepts nine different types of beverage containers. The most common is still aluminum cans. 


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