Why Tories should bring back bot­tle de­posits

Toronto Sun - - COMMENT - Gray is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fence

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.

TIM GRAY

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