Why Tories should bring back bottle deposits
Inefficient government regulations don’t work, wasteful practices cost taxpayers money, markets solve problems if you let them.
These are touchstone principles for most Conservative politicians and the voters they court.
So why not act on these principles and clean up the billions of plastic beverage bottles that clog Ontario’s streets, lakes and landfills?
Right now only about 50% of the 3 billion of these water and pop bottles produced every year are recycled. The rest end up in our landfills or water bodies, where they very slowly degrade into micro-plastics that absorb toxic chemicals, end up in the stomachs of wildlife, and further contaminate our environment.
This does not have to be the case; a simple market mechanism could stop it from happening. It is called “deposit/return,” and you already know how it works because you do it for beer bottles and cans. Each time you buy either of them you pay a 5 or 10 cent deposit and you get it back when you bring them back. It works incredibly well: 98% of beer bottles and 85% of beer cans are returned.
Ontario and Manitoba are the only two provinces where this system does not exist for plastic bottles. It is time we took advantage of the fact that people will return for refund on that which they pay for.
The deposit return system also has some great advantages for municipalities and businesses. For municipalities it means large volumes of plastic do not end up in public parks and recycling bins, and any that show up in the blue box are worth a hundred times more for their deposit value than they were for their plastic content alone.
For businesses, there are new jobs building reverse vending machines that take the empties, shred them and give you a redeemable receipt or cash. There is also a clean, sorted stream of recyclable plastic for use in new bottles, giving a shot in the arm to companies involved in this clean tech industry. Employment is also created at retail stores or collection centres and the deposit means that the bottles now have a value that means those discarded on the street or highways are unlikely to stay there.
The system pays for itself and does not require new taxes on bottling companies or consumers. Instead the costs of running and administering the program can be paid for from the sale of the collected material and a portion of deposits that are not redeemed (in most places this is 10 to 15% of the bottles) because they still end up in the trash.
Finally, any leftover unredeemed deposits can be used to help pay for programs that protect the drinking water that comes from our taps. This can include support for programs to help farmers create stream buffers and wetlands to reduce nutrient run-off into the Great Lakes. It can help municipalities to develop more water absorbing public and private spaces, and provide support for community groups to acquire and restore critical watershed areas.
It is not often possible to get such a cascade of benefits from one simple market-based change.
That’s why Ontario’s new government should stick to its Conservative principles and help the market solve a long intractable problem that no other approach has cracked. They should do this as quickly as they can and watch the results speak for themselves.