Nunavut scraps bottle deposits because glass, plastic end up in landfill

The commission says it 'doesn't make sense' to run the container deposit program because there are no facilities that rebottle or recycle plastic and glass in Nunavut.

Inherited program an 'awkward fit' for territory with no recycling facilities

Wine bottles on a shelf at a liquor store in Manitoba. The liquor and cannabis commission in Nunavut said it has ended its container deposit program because there are no rebottling or recycling programs in the territory, and materials are ending up in local landfills. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Residents in Nunavut are no longer being charged — or refunded — deposits on plastic and glass alcohol bottles, a decision the territory's liquor commission said it made because both materials were ending up in the landfill anyway.

The fee — 14 cents for a beer, cider or cooler bottle and 29 cents for a wine or spirits bottle — stopped being added to alcohol sales on March 31. The Government of Nunavut gave people four months, up until the end of July, to collect refunds from the deposits they had already paid. 

The container deposit program was inherited from the Government of the Northwest Territories in 2004 and was "an awkward fit in Nunavut from the start," the Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission (NULC) said in a statement to CBC News, through Weichien Chan, the communications manager for the Department of Finance. 

"As an example of an awkward fit, the NULC has for years charged and refunded deposits on the glass bottles it sold even though there were no rebottling or recycling facilities in the territory," the statement read. "This means that, until a couple months ago, the NULC was charging its customers a deposit on bottles just to see them end up in local landfills anyways.

The NULC said Northern Collectables was the only business that participated in the program — it would keep four cents from every bottle returned as an administrative fee, and would return either 10 or 25 cents to the customer based on the type of bottle they were returning.

The NULC said it decided to cancel the program because it "doesn't make sense" to have a deposit program that encourages recycling when recycling facilities don't exist in the territory. 

However, deposits are still being charged and refunded for aluminum cans in Nunavut. 

"There is more opportunity to collect and send them south for recycling," said the NULC. "This is different than glass, which is heavy to ship and breaks too easily in transport for reuse." 

The deposit for aluminum cans is 15 cents — consumers will get 10 cents back for each can returned, while partner organizations get five cents. The businesses can also keep whatever profits they make from selling aluminum cans to recycling depots in the south, said NULC. 

The NULC said it's hoping to partner with other businesses in the territory to expand its aluminum can return program.