Manitoba

'Recycle Everywhere' beverage container stats dropped from consultant report, citing lack of transparency

A recycling consultant excluded data on Manitoba's beverage container recycling rates from a national report, citing a lack of transparency on the part of the beverage industry-funded group responsible for reducing waste.

Manitoba-based Canadian Beverage Container Recycling Association stands by its methods, says auditor signs off

The author of a beverage container recycling report says the performance statistics for Manitoba reported by the industry-funded Canadian Beverage Container Recycling Association lack transparency. (Twitter/CBCRA)

Manitoba's "Recycle Everywhere" campaign may be, well, everywhere, but a consultant says it's not clear how many containers are being recycled as a result. 

The Canadian Beverage Container Recycling Association — tasked with reducing the number of single-use non-alcoholic and non-dairy beverage containers that end up in Manitoba landfills — is behind the ubiquitous promotions. They say 70 per cent of beverage containers in Manitoba were recycled in 2016,  just shy of the 75 per cent target mandated by the provincial government.

However, a national report by a recycling consultant published earlier this month excluded Manitoba's beverage container data over what it says is a lack of transparency.
The principal author of CM Consulting's recycling report, Clarissa Morawski, said she excluded Manitoba's beverage container recovery statistics over a lack of transparency. (Submitted by CM Consulting Inc.)

"Due to lack of transparency, granularity and methods and analysis behind the rate, as well as lack of transparency regarding audits, we made a decision to omit Manitoba data from this year's report because we have no reason to believe the numbers that have been officially reported by the producers," states the biannual report by CM Consulting Inc.

The report's principal author said the Canadian Beverage Container Recycling Association (CBCRA) — a not-for-profit organization, funded by industry and tasked with facilitating away-from-home recycling in the province — has not been forthcoming with releasing the full details about how they derive their final bottle recovery numbers.

"All we're saying is that we haven't been given access to all of the underlying data to support the claims being made in Manitoba," said Clarissa Morawski of CM. 

Measuring performance more complicated in Manitoba

All provinces except Ontario and Manitoba have deposit return programs for most single-use, non-alcoholic beverage containers.

Manitobans are used to carting their beer bottles and cans back to the vendor for a refund, but most other Canadians do the same thing for pop bottles, soda cans, glass bottles and, in some cases, milk containers.

In a deposit return system, calculating recovery rates is as simple as dividing the number of bottles returned at depots by the number of bottles sold into the market.

But in Manitoba, where beverage containers are commingled into blue bins along with every other recyclable material, calculating the beverage container recovery rates is done on the basis of weight and as a result requires complex statistical wrangling.
Packed beverage containers ready for shipping, as shown on the industry-funded Multi-Material Stewardship Manitoba website. (stewardshipmanitoba.org)

The beverage container recycling association divides the total weight of recovered qualifying beverage containers by the total reported weight of bottles sold into the market.

However, the entire calculation relies on a series of assumptions and decisions such as whether to include the weight of bottle caps and labels in the initial weights as the product enters the market and how to adjust the recovered weights at the recycling plant to account for contaminants such as leftover liquid, lemons slices and rocks shoved into the container.

The final recovered amounts are derived by extrapolating the results of a few dozen annual recycling composition audits and applying that to the total volume of recyclables generated in the province.

Performance claims not verifiable

CM Consulting says that given all the variables required to derive a final number, their team lacks the necessary details  to verify the performance claims being made by the beverage industry-funded group.

"I would say for the most part, they are not willing to disclose a lot of the key figures sort of under the veil of 'proprietary data,'" said Morawski.

Calvin Lakhan, a post-doctoral researcher in waste management at York University in Toronto, reviewed the beverage container recycling association's reporting and agrees too little information is known to verify the claims.

"Depending on the different variables that you use, you can arrive at very different numbers, which once again points to the summit of skepticism surrounding the results," Lakhan said.

"There hasn't been a lot of internal pressure from within Manitoba to question those numbers. In a lot of instances, it's actually championed — 'Hey, we're doing so much better than Ontario.… Our recovery rates are 70 per cent while yours are languishing in the …​40s.' The question is: is that 70 per cent really accurate?"

Lakhan says the CBCRA's recovery claims are unusual compared to other jurisdictions.

"The recovery rate of plastics is extremely high relative to other jurisdictions. However, the glass recovery rate is significantly lower — it's about 85 to 90 per cent in Ontario," he said.

CBC News requested detailed audit figures by material type from the beverage container recycling association, but has not received confirmation whether the information would be made available.

Methodology is sound: CBCRA

Canadian Beverage Container Recycling Association officials said they are disappointed and confused by CM Consulting's decision to omit their performance results.
The executive director for the CBCRA, Ken Friesen, says performance reports are verified by a 3rd-party auditor. (CBCRA website)

"We spent quite some time walking through the methodology and providing that to them. We actually provide the same level of information and data that other jurisdictions across Canada do," said Ken Friesen, the executive director for the CBCRA.

Pricewaterhouse Coopers is tasked with reviewing and signing off on their work each year, he said.

"They check calculations, were involved in the review of the methodology in its early stages and critiqued it with corresponding amendments made. Their role continues to be to examine the data and ensure the methodology has been followed each year," he said.

In a written statement, Manitoba Sustainable Development did not express concern about the omission of Manitoba data since the results were verified by an auditor.

The Ontario Beer Stores annual report contains a complete breakdown of audit procedures undertaken by their auditor, also Pricewaterhouse Coopers. The CBCRA did not provide a specific breakdown of Pricewaterhouse's audit process, but said it thoroughly reviews the how the numbers are derived.

CM Consulting's report is funded by a collection of industry players, including the Alberta and Quebec governments and private companies that manufacture sorting equipment for recycled materials.

The Canadian Beverage Container Recycling Container Association's 2017 performance numbers will be released in the coming weeks.


Description of the CBCRA's methodology

About the Author

Jacques Marcoux

Data journalist

Jacques Marcoux is a former CBC News investigative reporter specializing in data analysis. He continues to contribute to CBC News.

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