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Eight Points to Know about the British Columbia Container Deposit Law Study

The first government in the world to institute a beverage container deposit and recycling system, Canada’s British Columbia (BC), maintains a strong overall recovery rate, but the program prompts some concerns about cost and transparency in a new study by the Container Recycling Institute (CRI).

The province, which instituted its bottle deposit law in 1970, has an overall recovery rate of 84.2 percent. But the Culver City, Calif.-based CRI expressed concerns in the report about high container recycling fees, a lack of transparency in financial reporting and a bloated reserve fund, according to a news release.

Here are eight points to know about the study on the world’s oldest extended producer responsibility program.

  1. The law applies a deposit of 5, 10 and 20 cents on most packaged beverages sold in British Columbia. It is one of the best-performing recycling programs in the world, CRI said, because of its comprehensive coverage of beverage and container types, convenient return-to-retail and depot consumer return options, its high collection rate and its high use of refillable containers.
  2. Two private stewardship agencies carry responsibility for the program. Encorp Pacific (Canada) oversees the container recovery system for all non-alcoholic beverages, and covers the costs by charging consumers a non-refundable container recycling fee (CRF). Brewers Distributor Ltd. (BDL) is responsible for all beverage alcohol sold in cans, as well as beer and cider in refillable glass bottles. BDL embeds its costs in the shelf price of its beverages.
  3. The combined costs for transportation and processing in BC on a per-container basis are more than twice as high as the neighboring province, Alberta–2.3 cents to 1 cent. Encorp spent more than $22 million on transportation and processing costs in 2013, making it the agency’s second largest expense after handling fees for collection depots and retailers.
  4. Encorp charges the highest CRF in Canada, 35 cents, for glass bottles larger than one liter. This is three times the highest fee in any other province.
  5. Encorp’s presentation of financial data in its annual report makes it impossible to know exactly how much its container program costs, CRI said. The agency doesn’t provide sufficiently transparent financial information to the Ministry of Environment, the agency authorized to carry out BC’s recycling regulation, or to the public.
  6. Encorp’s CRFs have been steadily rising, and its reserve fund has grown to nearly $34 million at the end of 2014, well beyond the $17 million it has calculated as a prudent minimum.
  7. CRI had several recommendations for the program, including: Encorp’s CRFs should support a reasonable reserve level; the agency should provide greater accountability and financial transparency; it should consider allocating transportation costs by volume rather than weight; and it should promote container compaction prior to transport.
  8. But overall, BC’s beverage container stewardship program performs well and is environmentally significant. CRI said it should remain a separate program.
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