HRM council suggests dropping refundable bottle program

If Nova Scotia wants to avoid losing money, it has a choice: Pay more at the checkout, or throw out the refundable bottle and can system.

By Ben DuPlessis

John Gray waits outside of the Clifton Recycling Centre to trade in his night's work. (Ben DuPlessis photo)

If Nova Scotia wants to avoid losing money, it has a choice: Pay more at the checkout, or throw out the refundable bottle and can system.

By 2016, Nova Scotia’s system for refundable drink containers, run by the Resource Recovery Fund Board, will start losing money. The province is looking for solutions to the problem. They asked HRM council for some ideas. Councillors had one that could, by their estimate, make the RRFB $3 million, instead of losing $1 million.

“They’re saying it’s duplication of collection efforts. Enviro-Depots are out there doing one thing,” said Councillor David Hendsbee, “collecting bottles and cans, and then there are guys picking it up at curbside and they just want to eliminate one of those collection streams; I’m saying no, they should not do that.”

Hendsbee was the only councillor to vote against a motion to have the mayor send a letter to the province suggesting the refundable program be removed. It would reduce the ten-cent deposit now paid for cans and bottles to five cents. This would make curbside collection the only way to recycle, without any deposit money coming back for returns.

“I just felt that it was a road the municipality need not go down. The RRFB will have to fix its own problems, and if the province wants to adjust its deposit on refundables, let the province decide that. I think the Enviro-Depots are working just fine,” Hendsbee said.

Taking the fun out of fundraising

The change wouldn’t make much of a difference to most consumers. It would mean not having to go through the trouble of taking bottles to a bottle depot to get back half of the deposit money. The RRFB is in talks with the province to figure out a way to stay in the black.

“There are some challenges in the system, we need to take a look at what can be done, but overall the system’s a well-performing one that provides a lot of benefit to Nova Scotians,” said Jeff MacCallum, CEO of the RRFB.

“The return system is very high-performing; we’ve got over an 80 per cent return rate for the beverage containers. There are also an awful lot of social and economic benefits from that system. You’ve got a depot collection network, which is 82 private businesses, their employees, as well as the truck drivers and the processor in Amherst.”

MacCallum said the bottles help support sports teams, charities and people with low incomes. The people pushing carts weighed down by bags and bags of refundables would have to look somewhere else for money.

Out of the job

John Gray has been collecting bottles on and off for the last five years. Every second night—starting at midnight until the job is done—he pushes a cart through Halifax, gathering bottles and cans from the curbside and bringing them to bottle depots.

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John Gray collects bottles three nights a week.

“It’s a great way to have some kind of an income if they can’t find work or make ends meet. Getting rid of it, I think, could be drastic. It could be a shock to this area, where so many people are dependent on it. I don’t know what they’d do if they didn’t have that for an income. It could be pretty rough,” Gray said.

The decision is ultimately up to the province. It’s suggested raising the price paid for deposit instead of dropping refundables altogether.