Include Milk! - Beverage Container Deposit Refund Regulation

It makes sense to recycle milk containers like other bottles, cans, and juice boxes instead of paying to let them choke the landfills.

by Ann Johnston

Who ever would have expected such a ground swell! In three months, BC's Southern Gulf Islands Recycling Coalition had submitted 19,270 signatures on its "Include Milk" petition to Joyce Murray, Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection. In June, the Coalition from Mayne, Pender, Galiano, Saturna and Saltspring Islands had decided once again to attempt to get containers for milk, and milk substitutes like soya and rice drinks, included under the Beverage Container Deposit Refund Regulation.

Since the regulation came into force in October 1998, we recyclers have all been asked continually by our communities why milk was exempted. There was no acceptable explanation then, nor is there one today.

Where Your Deposit Money Goes

  • If you take your container back to the store, you get your deposit money back
  • If you put it in the recycling, the recycling society or the blue box programme returns the container and gets the deposit money.
  • If you throw it on the street, in Vancouver, United We Can street people collect the cans and the deposits.
  • If you throw it in the garbage, the manufacturers get to keep your money, called an unredeemed deposit. The money they get to keep from your deposit partly pays for the programme.


In 1997, the British Columbia government announced the Beverage Container Stewardship Program Regulation, an expansion of the mandatory provincial beverage container deposit/refund program which had been established in 1970. The flagship programme included all ready-to-drink beverage containers except milk, milk substitutes and meal replacements. All designated containers were brought into the deposit system in the fall of 1998, except polycoat containers such as Tetrapac, (aseptic and gable-top), which were exempted until October 1, 1999.

The regulation had three outstanding features:

  • It made brand owners fully responsible for managing and operating the system,
  • It set a measurable goal of a recovery rate of 85% by October 2001, and
  • It required containers to be either refilled or recycled–no landfilling or incineration. Glass, it is true, is often crushed for roadbed, but paper and plastics are successfully recycled.

The Capital Regional District attributes much of the 37% reduction since 1996 in glass, food and beverage containers in their waste stream to the expanded deposit system.

Milk containers were exempted from the regulation by decision of Cabinet following pressure from the Dairy Council of BC.

Recovery Rates

In the past three years, the three responsible stewardship organizations have achieved recovery rates of:

75% – Encorp Pacific (All non-alcoholic beverages)
85% – Liquor Distribution Branch
95% – Brewers Distributors Ltd

The failure of Encorp to reach the 85% target, despite an active education campaign, is partially explained by the addition of tetrapaks and other new single serve containers to the system over the past couple of years. Also Encorp, an agency set up by the manufacturers to manage their deposit/refund and recycling responsibilities, has made it clear that it is not a 'true-believer' in this system.

Plastic Milk Jugs and Paper Milk Cartons

Even though there is no deposit to encourage their return, the 'recovery rate' for recycling of plastic milk jugs is about 60%. This relatively high rate (for plastics) has been achieved without help from the dairy industry. It was reached because recycling groups have voluntarily collected milk jugs because there is a BC plastics recycling plant that is both anxious to receive this feed stock and willing to pay for it. Merlin Plastics in Richmond is one of the foremost plastics recycling facilities in Canada.

Taxpayers pay the cost of landfilling the other 40% of this most expensive type of 'garbage.' In 1999, approximately 1,600 tonnes of milk jugs were landfilled, based on a June 2000 Report on Rigid Plastic Containers, prepared for a government-sponsored multi-stakeholder steering committee. Rigid plastic containers (like milk jugs) cost almost twice as much to landfill as the next most expensive material at sites where recyclable materials are banned, such as Hartland Landfill (Capitol Regional District) and Burns Bog Landfill (Greater Vancouver Regional District).

The recovery rate remains about 1% for polycoat/gabletop containers, the cream and milk boxes. Norampac paper mill in Burnaby (formerly GreenCoast) has been recently re-engineered to recycle this material, together with tetrapac-style containers. Tetrapacs which contain juice are covered by the deposit law; tetrapacs which hold milk substitutes are not. Tetrapac recycling is, contrary to our expectations, extremely successful, recovering about 90% of the material in the three layers.

Beverage Container Management Board and the Dairy Council

The Beverage Container Management Board was established in 1997 to advise the Minister on the Regulation and the Stewardship Plans submitted by the three beverage agencies. In 1999, it was reconstituted to monitor the programme. Over the past year, the Dairy Council of BC, which is not a member of the Board, has volunteered to report on its plans to increase the recovery of its containers.

In October, the Dairy Council began a year-long study in the communities of Abbotsford and Mission to find ways of most effectively recovering their used beverage containers through the existing municipal infrastructures, instead of by taking full responsibility as other producers have done. This 'multi-material' approach is intended to demonstrate that a 50-50 division of responsibility and cost between industry and municipalities is to the mutual benefit of both. It is no surprise that the co-sponsors of this 'study' are Corporations Supporting Recycling and Encorp Pacific.

Multi-Material Working Group (formerly ProBC)

This industry group appeared a year ago. Corporations Supporting Recycling is the principal organization promoting the Waste Diversion Organization Bill 90 currently being fought out in Ontario. This bill would make those manufacturers which use recyclable packaging responsible for no more than 50% of the cost of handling their waste, while those manufacturers that do not use recyclable materials would be rewarded by paying nothing! The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association are strongly opposed to this perverse bill. Encorp is the administrative arm of the Multi-Material Working Group in BC.

Their objective is to reduce the cost to industry for managing its own waste to a maximum of 50%, with municipalities–ie, taxpayers–picking up the rest. They claim that 'consumers and taxpayers are one and the same,' an argument we absolutely reject. There is every reason to believe that we will hear more of them in the near future.

Full Extended Producer Responsibility

The principle which recyclers in British Columbia have advocated for many years is full product stewardship by manufacturers for the management of their 'waste' in an environmentally sound manner. It is the application of this Polluter Pays Principle that has made British Columbia the acknowledged leader in the stewardship field in North America.

The "Include Milk" Campaign

The campaign to 'Include Milk' is supported by the Bottle Depot Association, various non-profit recycling groups such as the Recycling Council of BC, and the Coast Waste Management Association. Vancouver's Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC) has endorsed our efforts.

The Union of BC Municipalities as well as several regional districts, support the campaign. The Capital Regional District, the Regional District of North Okanagan and the Central Coast Regional District cite:

  • Increased diversion of High Density Polyethylene jugs and polycoat containers from landfills (the former are one of the most expensive materials to landfill);
  • Reduced costs associated with municipal recycling and solid waste management programs;
  • Increased feed stock of plastic and paper fibres for BC recycling industries; and
  • Programming consistency for all ready-to-drink beverage containers sold in BC (a level playing field).

It's time for Minister Murray to save money for taxpayers and save the environment – Include Milk!

* For further information, contact: Ann Johnston, Ph/fax: (250)539-2888, email:

Ann Johnston is the Coordinator of the Southern Gulf Islands Recycling Coalition, a former member of the Interim Beverage Container Management Board, 1997-1998 and the BC Plastic Steering Committee, 1999-2000, and currently sits on the Beverage Container Management Board for the BC Environmental Network

Recycling Fee

In March 2000, Encorp, despite vigorous opposition from recyclers, introduced a 'recycling fee' which is passed on to consumers on top of the container deposit. The organization claimed that the unredeemed deposits (i.e. deposits paid by consumers but not reclaimed, which had been used to finance their system in previous years) and the market value of the recycled material were no longer sufficient to fund their system. It should be noted that this is not a tax but an industry levy.

There was a general outcry because it was considered that any costs should be internalized by the manufacturers, with an increase in price of their product if this were deemed necessary. As a consequence and at the insistence of the Ministry of Environment, (Ron Driedger), Encorp, for the first time, made public its Annual Report. For the year 2000 it shows an excess revenue of over $5 million. Not bad for a not-for-profit organization!

[From WS December 2001/January 2002]

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