British Columbia | Sustainability

Used beverage container return-to-retail in BC needs improvements

October 28, 2020

The return of beverage containers to retail stores continues to be a major issue in BC for retailers and consumers. There is a similar concern in Quebec.

RCC has been actively calling for system improvements that will benefit both retailers and consumers while at the same time will provide improved environmental outcomes in the return-to-retail system (R2R) for beverage containers. The retailer position is that since depots are appropriately compensated for the return of beverage containers, and since those containers will be better managed, the best result would be for consumers to return the containers to depots.

RCC has prepared key questions and answers that retailers need to be aware of, including:

  • Who is obligated to accept R2R?
  • What does the recycling regulation require?
  • Concerns about R2R

Used Beverage Container Return-to-Retail in B.C. (R2R): How it Really Works

Retail is Canada’s largest private sector employer. Over 308,000 British Columbians worked in our industry before the onset of the crisis precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The sector annually generates over $11 billion (2018 data) in wages and employee benefits for British Columbians. Core retail sales (excluding vehicles and gasoline) in B.C. were $56.4 billion in 2019.  Retail Council of Canada (RCC) is a not-for-profit industry-funded association that represents small, medium and large retail businesses in every community across the country. As the Voice of Retail™, we proudly represent more than 21,000 British Columbian storefronts in all retail formats, including department, grocery, pharmacy, specialty, discount, independent retailers and online merchants.

RCC and our member grocers have been in regular communication with the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, and Encorp Pacific (the stewardship agency for used beverage containers) about improving R2R.  Most British Columbians understand that retail workers were reluctant to handle used beverage containers in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.  This raised the profile of R2R difficulties.

Questions surrounding the safety of our employees and customers will always be paramount for retailers.  But there are other issues.

Who is obligated to accept R2R?

Grocery stores1,600
Public liquor stores200
Private liquor stores700
Drug stores2,000
Convenience stores500
Other retail stores selling beverages2,000
Restaurants and hotels selling beverages10,000
Total (estimate)17,000

What does the Recycling Regulation require?

It requires a retailer to accept the return of clean used beverage containers in the same brand, format and size they sell.  The regulation limits consumers using R2R to 24 containers per day.

Retailer Concerns About R2R

  1. Frequently dirty containers are being returned – often by non-customers.  Our position is that both consumers and retailers need to respect the rules.  Often more than half of the containers a retailer receives are not rinsed – or are not a product that is sold in that store.
  2. Should everyone not get their deposit back?

    Consumers pay a deposit and rightly expect the deposit to be refunded.  We agree.  But, in turn, retailers remit that deposit to the stewardship agency and do not want to be out-of-pocket for the deposit.  Retailers in B.C. are estimated to collectively forego $2 million each year for those unrefunded deposits.  Fairness says that retailers and restaurants should also have their deposits refunded.
  3. Are the containers managed appropriately?

    Encorp Pacific, the stewardship agency, is responsible for the end-of-life management of the used beverage containers – they not only charge a deposit but also charge a Container Recovery Fee (an eco-fee) on each container to cover the cost of return.  The system benefits when containers are properly managed because all containers are accounted for as recovered (improving the recovery rate) and managed appropriately.  When the used beverage containers go back to Encorp Pacific we have assurance they are managed appropriately.

    Currently, many containers being returned to retail stores and restaurants are not managed by Encorp Pacific.  Instead, retailers and restaurants are forced to place these into their commercial recycling bins and they are returned to processors by the commercial recyclers.
  4. Why are those containers not going back to Encorp Pacific?

    Encorp Pacific collects containers from about 400 grocery and 200 liquor stores.  Everyone else is left to fend for themselves.  This means that some retailers return containers to Encorp Pacific depots – but they do not necessarily get the whole deposit refunded to them.  There is operational cost to accepting those containers, and likewise there is cost for retailers to take those to Encorp Pacific.
  5. Does Encorp Pacific not pay handling fees to cover R2R costs?

    Usually not.  A very small number of grocery stores and a segment of liquor stores receive compensation (sometimes a handling fee) from Encorp Pacific.  For the few that receive compensation, they receive a fraction of what a depot operator is paid for each container.  When the consumer returns to a depot, Encorp Pacific pays the depot operator an appropriate handling fee per container and covers the transportation cost from the depot to the processor.

Retailers position is that since depots are appropriately compensated for the return of beverage containers, and since those containers will be better managed, the best result is for consumers to return the containers to depots.

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