Bottle depot group pushes for deposit on cannabis containers in Alberta

The Alberta Bottle Depot Association is pushing the province to have a deposit placed on cannabis packaging in a bid to keep more single-use plastic out of landfills.

Deposit proposed as solution to cannabis container recycling problem

Recycling cannabis containers could be achieved by introducing them into the provincial deposit system, according to the Alberta Bottle Depot Association. (David MacIntosh/CBC News)

The Alberta Bottle Depot Association is pushing the province to have a deposit placed on cannabis packaging in a bid to keep more single-use plastic out of landfills.

When cannabis was legalized nearly two years ago, federal regulations created stringent requirements for packaging, but, as many consumers have observed, the rules made for a great deal of cast-off cardboard and plastic.

"I think the amount of packaging is going to remain at a fairly high level," association president Jerry Roczkowsky said in an interview for CBC Radio's Edmonton AM

"So why not make sure things are properly recycled?"

The Alberta Bottle Depot Association represents over 200 depots throughout Alberta, which are independently owned and operated. Roczkowsky predicts a deposit might bring depots another half-million dollars in revenue several years after being established.

The association says much of cannabis packaging cannot be easily managed by municipal recycling systems because of the size and composition of the containers. 

A deposit refund system would create a legal requirement for manufacturers to package products in recyclable materials, according to its proposal.

One association wants a deposit put on cannabis so the containers can be recycled. We’ll find out about the push for province to approve the idea. 5:18

Roczkowsky said cannabis containers and tubes are likely to get caught up in municipal mixed plastics collection, losing their potential value due to contamination.

"The whole idea of bringing it into the deposit system is to allow those materials to be kept as pure as possible so they have greater value."

Neil Kjelland, director of sustainable waste processing for the City of Edmonton, said it was unlikely cannabis containers would be sorted for recycling due to their mixed-format composition.

"Mixed-format packaging (e.g. paper/plastic or paper/tin mixes) is screened out because end-processors only accept materials that are not contaminated with other compounds," he said in an emailed statement.

Smaller items like cannabis containers are also sometimes screened out as part of the mechanical sorting process, Kjelland said.

Counts are not conducted for mixed-format intake, but Waste Services did a waste composition audit last week in response to a CBC News inquiry.

Technicians found no cannabis containers in the recycling bags sampled, Kjelland said.

Recycling discussions ongoing

Roczkowsky says offering a deposit would encourage Albertans to bring in cannabis packaging for recycling. He suggests attaching a 10-cent return to plastic containers, the same as bottles under one litre.

Albertans consume around 2.4 billion beverage containers with 85 per cent making their way into depots, according to Roczkowsky.

"So Albertans are going into depots already. And so it'd be a matter of just putting these containers in with your beverage containers."

Roczkowsky said he has met with officials from the Albertan government and other stakeholders but believes the issue has moved to the back burner since the pandemic hit.

The Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis says it is in discussions to address cannabis containment recycling.

The agency is working with licensed producers, retailers, and the Alberta Beverage Container Recycling Corporation, which oversees the collection and recycling of non-refillable beverages in the province, to develop a program the industry could grow with while leveraging existing systems, spokesperson Heather Holmen said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

There are also some private recycling companies working with licensed producers to put bins in place at retail locations, she said. Some producers are also developing their own recycling programs.

"However, with the pandemic right now, some of these programs are on hold," Holmen said, adding that the desire to implement a recycling regimen was one shared by consumers, retailers, licensed producers and provincial jurisdictions.

With files from Stephanie Dubois.


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