Milk cartons and jugs will be sold with an added deposit to encourage recycling if Metro Vancouver and the B.C. Bottle Depot Asociation get their way.

New push to add recycling deposits to milk

Depots contend future of entire refund system at stake

Metro Vancouver will press the province to add refundable deposit fees to the price of milk and dairy products to improve recycling of empty containers.

B.C. has previously rejected milk deposits on the basis they’d be too heavy a burden on low-income families.

But advocates say there’s no reason milk shouldn’t be included along with deposit fees charged on most other ready-to-drink beverage bottles and cans.

Metro’s waste committee has previously supported the idea, but decided Sept. 14 to mount a more public campaign for milk deposits.

“Somebody’s got to stand up to the lobbyists of the industry,” Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said, adding past claims that deposits hurt families “don’t hold water” or recognize environmental damage from unrecycled containers.

“We know what it’s costing us to dispose of these goods in the garbage.”

A voluntary milk container recycling program by Encorp has return rates of less than 10 per cent with no deposit-refund system.

In contrast, the recovery rate is 80 per cent for all other containers where deposits are charged and refunded.

B.C. Bottle Depot Association executive director Corinne Atwood pointed to Alberta, which in 2009 introduced deposits of 10 or 25 cents on milk containers, depending on size.

Milk carton recycling rates there have since climbed from 22.5 to 61 per cent, she said, and 71 per cent of plastic milk jugs are now returned, up from 61 per cent.

The dairy industry reported no drop in sales, while Alberta cities saw curbside pickup and waste-handling costs drop.

Atwood argues the issue is about more than milk containers.

The provincial government has ordered industry-led recycling programs to expand to cover all packaging by 2014.

That likely means milk containers will be collected through whatever overhauled blue box system emerges.

Atwood thinks big beverage companies – represented by Encorp – will try to eliminate all existing refundable deposits on various bottles and containers and have them also directed through the expanded packaging pickup system.

“This will be the beginning of the end of the used beverage container recycling deposit system as we know it today and bring us back to the days of used beverage containers littering our environment,” she predicted.

Container recycling fees – a few extra cents already charged in addition to deposits on most bottles – would likely go up if deposits are eliminated, she said.

And she expects the same non-refundable recycling fees will be added to milk to help pay for pickup.

Atwood argued it would be better to add a deposit to milk that consumers get back if they recycle than to end up with industry imposing its own added fee that isn’t refunded and may not even be transparently shown on the bill of sale.

Encorp spokesman Malcolm Harvie denied the organization wants to dismantle the existing deposit system or that it has taken any position on how milk containers should be handled.

He said many milk cartons and jugs are recycled through other methods – not just through depots – and the overall recovery rate may be more than 70 per cent.