Most of Ontario's recyclable drink containers are going right to the landfill. A deposit return system can help.

Less than half of non-alcoholic drink containers in Ontario are collected and recycled in the blue box. This is simply not good enough. Better deposit-return systems could be the solution we need to keep these containers out of landfills.

A deposit-return program (DRP) works by charging a refundable deposit on drink containers, which creates an incentive to return them. This is why they consistently have return rates over 80% and higher.

Ontario currently has a good system in place for alcoholic drink containers. Expanding this tried and true system to include non-alcoholic drink containers like many other provinces is a no-brainer. It’s also a popular idea: a poll commissioned by Environmental Defence in 2023, and conducted by Environics Research showed more than three-quarters of Ontarians support a deposit-return program for non-alcoholic containers.   

So why isn’t this part of Ontario’s new Blue Box regulations, which are meant to fix the lagging recycling rates in our province?

A DRP reduces waste, improves recycling quality, and cuts carbon emissions.

An expanded deposit-return system is a highly effective way to reduce litter. A report by Reloop found that moving to a deposit return system with a 90% capture rate would reduce litter from beverage containers by up to 80%.[1]

Deposits get high return rates, this means more recycling, less packaging in the garbage, and less litter. Further, returned containers don’t get mixed in with other materials in the Blue Box, so there’s less contamination, and higher value materials like glass can get recycled into new glass bottles. Glass collected in curbside bins is usually downcycled into lower-value fiberglass or gravel alternatives.

Preventing waste is also a climate action: Reducing, reusing, and recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions, primarily by avoiding the massive upstream resource extraction, water and energy used to make new single-use packaging. The Ontario Beer Store deposit-return program reused and recycled alcoholic beverage containers, resulting in 203,159 tonnes of avoided greenhouse gas emissions in 2022. This is equivalent to removing 43,072 cars from the road.[2]

How a DRP can shift to reuse and a circular economy:

Deposit-returns systems are good for the local circular economy. It means less beverage container litter and the costs associated with it - think collection, cleanup, and landfilling. They create more jobs than recycling or disposal and costs less than a curbside program.[3]

To be effective, a DRP needs to have a high-enough deposit to incentivize returns, and it should also be convenient, so customers can return empty containers as part of their everyday activities, ideally at the place of purchase. It should also be accountable, with accurate and transparent reporting.

Case Study: Brown Beer Bottles 

Across Canada, we have a great example of refillable systems: major brewers use the same pool of brown beer bottles. Deposit-return systems consistently get 95% or more of these bottles back, 96% in Ontario, far higher than regular recycling systems. These bottles are inspected, sanitized and refilled, so they can be reused up to a dozen times! 

In the long term, to truly shift to a circular economy and reduce single-use plastics and single-use packaging, we need to shift towards a system of reuse, with more returnable, refillable packaging like brown beer bottles.

How we’re making it happen:

TEA and environmental groups have been campaigning for deposits, and it seems like the government is finally considering it. We need a deposit system for all drink containers in Ontario that is convenient, accessible, provincewide, and that has transparent, accountable reporting to the public on performance. TEA and our allies will continue to push to improve Ontario’s current deposit-return system.

[1] Better Together: How a Deposit Return System Will Complement Ontario’s Blue Box Program and Enhance the Circular Economy

[2] Beer Store Stewardship Report 2022 

[3] Better Together - 2019 report - Eunomia & Reloop