Ontario bottle-return program coping with start-up problems

58% initial return rate reported but new initiative is not as green as many citizens think


Toronto (27 July 2007) - The first assessment of Ontario's Bag it Back program for wine and liquor containers indicates that about 58% of all wine and liquor bottles, plastic containers and Tetra-Paks are being returned.

However, there has been a cost to workers who run the program. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW Canada) says the plan was hatched so hastily last February that a number of avoidable problems have resulted, including excessive noise, health hazards from glass dust and back problems related to the type of collection bins used to collect the containers.

Other issues are sanitation in work areas, storage capacity, the need to clean premises daily and the failure of management to allow enough work hours in some cases to handle the additional workload.

Most of the containers are generated by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) but the empties can only be returned at Beer Store outlets, run by private brewing companies. The UFCW is working with Beer Store managers to resolve problems.

Program has serious flaws

The program was criticized before it started by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE), which represents LCBO workers.

While all in favour of recycling, OPSEU said consumers have been misled about the environmental effectiveness of the plan. Rather than facilitate the reuse of containers, the program actually guarantees that they are used only once, it says.

All glass bottles are smashed and melted on their return – in some cases using nuclear energy – to make new bottles. OPSEU says this wipes out most or all of the environmental savings. Consumers are also inconvenienced because the LCBO does not accept its own bottles, OPSEU says.

The union argues that consumers should be able to return liquor containers to LCBO outlets and the bottles should be used more than once, a system that can only be worked out between the LCBO and wine and liquor producers.

For its part, the LCBO says the program is diverting a significant number of bottles from Ontario landfill sites.

So far about 80 million alcohol containers have been returned to Beer Stores. The 58% rate of return is lower than the 65% rate the province had been hoping to achieve. However, it has resulted in an estimated diversion of 25,000 to 30,000 tonnes of material from landfills to date.

"Quite clearly Ontarians have really responded to the Bag It Back program," David Caplan, the minister of public infrastructure renewal, told The Canadian Press. "From our perspective it's worked really well." NUPGE

More information:
Ontario launches wine and liquor bottle return system

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