Bottle deposits: Québec government kicks the empties down the road (again)
In early 2020, the Québec government announced an ambitious plan to expand its bottle deposit program. Once implemented, all beverage containers — from water bottles to wines and spirits, and even milk cartons — would be returnable, just as beer and soft-drink containers have been for decades. The aim: to drastically reduce these containers in Québec landfills.
This reform is a high priority for the Coalition avenir Québec government, which hopes to shed the environmental negligence label attached by its opponents. The importance of the planned expansion of the bottle deposit program was underlined by the premier himself being present at the announcement.
But this high-priority promise has proven difficult to fulfill. In May, Québec's Minister of the Environment, Benoit Charette, announced a second postponement of the deposit system’s expansion, to the beginning of January 2025. This would match the current timeline for multi-layer cardboard deposits coming into effect. The second delay follows a January 2022 postponement, which promised implementation in the spring of 2023. (The original timetable was for implementation as early as November 2020.) If the first postponement could easily be blamed on the global pandemic that broke out shortly after the first announcement, what excuses can the government offer now?
Extended producer responsibility
This reform, like that of selective collection announced a few months later, is based on the principle of extended producer responsibility. Under this principle, companies that market products in Québec are responsible for their end-of-life management. This is why, in both cases, implementation has been entrusted to recognized management organizations, which are essentially the groups that must implement the reforms.
At the end of October 2022, the Québec government officially announced the designation of the Association québécoise de récupération des contenants de boissons (AQRCB) as the designated management organization to manage the deposit program reforms. Since then, not a word, or almost none, has been heard. The AQRCB's website is rudimentary compared to that of Éco Entreprises Québec, which manages the implementation of reforms to curbside recycling. What's more, it appears not to have been updated for some time. Behind the scenes, we hear that the organization faces major difficulties in setting it up: difficulties that reflect the industry's ongoing resistance to the planned reforms.
Time for action to replace excuses
While the environment minister pleaded that the equipment manufacturers, and the public in general, were not ready, the reality is that implementation difficulties have weighed heavily in the decisions to delay. If the government wants this second postponement of the new deposit system to be the last, the minister will have to pull out all the stops. Failing to deliver on this promise would expose the government to high-profile criticism from the opposition and environmental groups, perhaps in the lead up to the 2026 election.
New implementation dates for bottle deposit system reforms
Nov. 1, 2023
Expansion to include uncovered aluminum containers (cans, jars).
Deposit amount increases to $0.10.
Extension of the deposit to glass, plastic and multi-layer cardboard containers.
Initial deposit amount will be set at $0.10.