The Fourth 'R'

September 25, 1998

By Michael Jessen

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle -- and starting October 1st you can add refund to the three R's.

That's the date the BC government's new beverage container stewardship program regulation comes into effect. The regulation expands the deposit-refund system from soft drinks and beer to include wine, spirits, juices, water and other ready-to-serve drinks, with the exception of milk and milk substitutes.

The refund system is being simplified for non-alcoholic beverages by reducing the number of deposits from three to two. All containers up to and including one litre in volume will have a five cent deposit. Containers over one litre will carry a twenty cent deposit.

With slightly over a week before the introduction of the new program, there is no sign of the extensive, province-wide, educational campaign planned by Encorp Pacific, the beverage industry organization which contracts with local bottle return depots.

According to Malcolm Harvey of Encorp Pacific, the roll out of their education program was "severely impacted" by the time the BC government took before deciding to exempt polycoat paper containers from the new program.

When the beverage container strategy was announced in April 1997, all beverage containers -- whether glass, plastic, aluminum, TetraPak, or gable-top -- were to be included in the new deposit-refund system. On September 9, Environment Minister Cathy McGregor announced that polycoat paper containers known to consumers as drink boxes (TetraPaks) and gable-top containers would not be part of the new program.

The provincial government introduced the new beverage container regulation for two main purposes: (one) to keep beverage containers from being landfilled and (two) to convince producers of beverages to refill or recycle their containers.

Now the manufacturers who market in TetraPaks and gable-tops (the paper milk carton-like package) have convinced the government to give them a one-year extension to implement their recycling plan.

The Recycling Council of BC, however, points out these containers have been subject to deposits and refunds in the Alberta beverage container program since September 1997 and that the containers are recycled at a plant in Wisconsin. Could it be the BC manufacturers using TetraPaks and gable-tops are trying to avoid the spirit of the government's legislation which is to ensure that all producers of beverages in BC take stewardship responsibility for their empty containers?

These manufacturers are not being penalized for this one year extension despite the fact the government's regulation mentions a fine not exceeding $200,000 for not meeting the regulation deadlines.

"Allowing any particular container type, or segment of the industry preferential treatment creates an uneven playing field for all the other participants in the system," said Raymond Gaudart, past president of the Recycling Council of BC and Solid Waste Management Coordinator for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary.

"TetraPaks will essentially continue to enjoy a taxpayer subsidy to dispose of their product," said Gaudart. "It's simply unacceptable."

While TetraPak argues that the lack a recycling facility is the problem, the issue is the use of complex multi-material (three layers of plastic, three layers of paper, and one layer of aluminum) containers that are extremely difficult to recycle and designed to be thrown away.

Helen Spiegelman, vice president of the environmental group SPEC, says close to 100 million US-made TetraPak drink boxes could end up as litter or filling municipal landfills because of this exemption. She charged that pressure from fruit juice companies like Kelowna-based SunRype and the Swedish-owned manufacturers of these "aseptic packages" (who supply the packaging material to Canadian juice producers from a manufacturing plant in Denton, Texas) caused Cathy McGregor to approve the exemption.

"If there's no way to recycle these boxes, then beverage producers should choose a better container," says Spiegelman. "The aseptic box was designed for use in developing countries without refrigeration. It is excessive packaging for our market where we can use recyclable containers which can be manufactured here in BC. TetraPaks are not recyclable and instil a 'throw-away' culture in kids."

Just like the other three R's, Refund is experiencing its own growing pains. Stay tuned.

TRASH TIP - Out of every $11 spent on food, $1 goes for packaging. North Americans spend more on the packaging of their food than farmers receive in net income.

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