Bottle deposit-refund services to resume in Quebec following COVID-19-related closures

Return-It hopes the deposit increase will help increase the number of beverage containers returned and recycled. (Shutterstock.com)

Despite being labelled an essential service, depots that allow Quebecers to trade their bottles and cans for a few cents have been off-limits since the end of March.

But they’re on their way to reopening. 

Since the machines are located at store entrances, owners were worried they would create too much traffic amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In several stores, employees tasked with disinfecting shopping carts and baskets are stationed at the entrance, and sinks have been installed for customers to wash their hands before they browse the shelves – leaving little room for people to use the machines while keeping their distance. 

Through a collaboration between the provincial government, RECYC-QUÉBEC, brewers and retailers across the province, services will be back up and running – in physically-distant ways – during the week of May 18.

Details of the reopenings will be hashed out in the coming days, but the idea is to have people drop their bottles and cans off in store parking lots rather than inside – whether it will be by simply handing them over to a designated employee, or in other ways. 

Stores that can’t accommodate collection services themselves are being asked to coordinate with municipal and community organizations to “organize major operations in municipal spaces or in shopping centre parking lots.” They’re also being asked to direct their customers to them. 

Some items, like bottles that brewers rely on to house their products, might be prioritized over others as collection services pick up again. 

“For brewers, those are bottles that are reusable,” said Brigitte Geoffroy, a RECYC-QUÉBEC spokesperson. “So, it’s important for them to be able to take them back, to wash them and reuse them and put them back on the market.” 

Bottles can be reused up to 15 times but need to be returned to stores to get back into the brewers’ hands, Geoffroy explained. 

“It was a pretty critical issue for them,” she said. “There are about 350 million of them in circulation. I can’t tell you how many were missing, but it was beginning to be critical for brewers.”

More information will be communicated during the week of May 18. In the meantime, RECYC-QUÉBEC is asking people to hang on to their containers until they can safely deposit them.

Consignaction, an organization that promotes the recovery of deposit-refund containers in the province, says on its website that 565,000 million recyclable soft drink containers per year end up in landfills in Quebec, representing around $32.8 million in lost revenue. 

“In a few days, people will be able to dispose of the reusable containers they have accumulated at home, while respecting the directives issued by public health and the operational capacity of retailers,” Benoit Charette, Quebec’s environment minister, said in a press release. “We will thus be able to maintain desirable gestures for the environment and preserve jobs both for producers who need the containers and for the rest of the recycling chain.”

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