Quebec tries to catch up, with an overdue overhaul of its recycling programs

Refundable deposits rising to 10 and 25 cents, wine and liquor empties included

Although it’s been two years since Quebec pledged to upgrade the province’s recycling capacity with a new liquid container consignment program and higher refundable deposits on empties, Benoit Charette, the environment minister in the Legault government, announced last week that the program won’t be getting underway until spring 2023 – six months longer than originally planned.

Covid blamed for delay

Initially announced to be starting up by the fall of 2022, Charette, who is also responsible for the CAQ government’s climate change portfolio, blamed most of the delay on labour shortages caused by the Covid pandemic.

“We are very, very aware of the issues and the impacts from the pandemic which have caused a lot of harm to various players, and this is the reason why we are agreeing to an additional six-month delay,” Charette, who is the MNA for Deux-Montagnes and Minister Responsible for the Laval Region, said during a webcast press conference.

10 and 25 cent deposits coming

Under the new rules, the number and variety of glass, plastic and metal liquid containers that will have to be recycled is being extended to include anything as small as 100 millilitres and up to 2 litres. Some other types of liquid container, such as plasticized multi-layer juice box-formats, will become subject to deposit and recycling two years after the program begins.

Quebec Environment and Climate Change Minister Benoit Charette announced major changes last week for the province’s recyclable materials programs.

The deposits, which now range from 5 cents for soft drink cans to 10 cents or higher for larger containers depending on size, are being standardized at 10 cents and 25 cents. When the program starts up, this will include wine and liquor bottles, on which deposits of 10 and 25 cents will be due.

Public consultation in March

According to Charette, a province-wide public consultation will be taking place on the recycling overhaul until this March 11.

While some media are reporting that Quebec has long lagged behind other Canadian provinces in updating its recycling capacities, Charette’s ministry claims the province’s reform will “allow Quebec to become a global leader in this domain.”

All the same, the environment ministry acknowledges that the Quebec overhaul “was inspired by the best practices in Canada and internationally,” with local goals added.

Expanded role for Recyc-Québec

The new system will be largely self-governing and led by a consortium of companies whose products are packaged in recyclable containers. Recyc-Québec, an umbrella group already supervising a large expanse of recycling responsibilities in the province, will be mandated to oversee the new entity.

“Thanks to proposed regulations, we can at last foresee a net improvement in the management of our waste materials with a reduction in the amount sent to landfill,” added Charette. “At the same time, we will be helping to strengthen the recovery and recycling industries in the coming years with local outlets. This is another way to reduce waste of resources, while encouraging the circular economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

More use of recyclables

By not sending up to 50,500 tonnes of waste into landfill, the government expects to prevent the release of around 26,500 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. In 2020, the equivalent of $50 million worth of materials composed of paper, cardboard, plastic, rubber and glass were imported into Quebec from outside. The government believes most of these materials could be replaced by materials coming from recyclables produced by the new recycling system.

According to the environment ministry, a large consigned container returns and deposit refund network will need to be developed, requiring 1,500 points of service in order to reach more than 90 per cent of Quebec’s population beginning in 2023. 

Containers not included

Not included in the overhaul are drink containers of less than 100 millilitres or more than 2 litres, as well as containers for concentrates, ready-mixes, condiments (bouillons, sauces, etc.), medicated syrups, beverages sold in soft packaging (wines), self-serve-type containers (ground coffee pouches), and multi-fill containers (8-litre water tanks, for ex.), which according to the ministry are already subject to their own deposit systems.

‘We can at last foresee a net improvement in the management of our waste materials with a reduction in the amount sent to landfill,’ said Charette

The environment ministry says the amount set for each type of deposit is intended to serve as an incentive to improve recycling, while creating a uniform system whose ultimate goal is to make life easier for consumers and others who play a role in the system.

Waste goals unmet, says BAPE

In addition to increasing the private sector’s role in the province’s recycling efforts, the government says the reform will also help to focus more attention on the role of municipalities as entities which are closest to the population.

Charette unveiled the new program a day after Quebec’s environmental impact consultation agency, the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE), upbraided provincial officials for not meeting waste reduction goals.

According to the BAPE, nine of Quebec’s 38 landfills will reach capacity by 2030, while 13 others will get there between 2030 and 2041 if the dumping of waste continues at the current rate.