Response to the CBC's Article Regarding Plastic Bottle Recycling

CBC News released an article on Tuesday, January 7, 2020 titled “What really happens to plastic drink bottles you toss in your recycling bin”.

While the article highlights some of the benefits of recycling polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and also points out that deposit return systems result in higher beverage container recovery rates, ABCRC would like to highlight some of the specific benefits of the Alberta deposit system currently in place.

As indicated in the article, both Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and deposit-return laws can help to encourage more PET plastic to be recycled. ABCRC agrees wholly with these statements given the successes of Alberta’s beverage container deposit system, which is a great example of an EPR program. In Alberta, beverage container manufacturers using non-refillable beverage containers are required by the Beverage Container Recycling Regulation to appoint an agent (ABCRC) whose mandate includes ensuring that those containers are recycled in a responsible manner that has been approved by the regulatory Board. For 25 years, this has resulted in Alberta achieving some of the best recycling recovery rates in North America, collecting back over 85% of beverage containers sold in the province to be recycled.

The article also indicates that placing more recycling bins in public spaces can help to boost recycling rates, and again ABCRC agrees. ABCRC has a grant program called the Community Champions Program (CCP) that is specially designed for not-for-profit organizations and municipalities in Alberta. Grants of up to $20,000 are provided toward the purchase of recycling infrastructure and, in return, grant recipients are asked to report container counts back to ABCRC. This program has resulted in multiple millions of beverage containers being returned and recycled.

ABOUT PLASTICS RECYCLING AT ABCRC

In 2019, Albertans recycled more than 2 billion total beverage containers of all types of materials. Specifically, over 82% of plastic beverage containers were returned to an Alberta Depot in 2019, diverting over 20,000 metric tons of waste that would otherwise have ended up in landfills. This plastic beverage container recovery rate is one of the best in North America.

After a consumer purchases a registered beverage container and pays the deposit, they can return the empty beverage container to an Alberta Depot. The Depot will accept the beverage container for recycling and refund the consumer their deposit. The beverage containers are then transported to one of ABCRC’s facilities where they are prepared for sale to recycling and commodity markets, to eventually be recycled into new, useful products.

ABCRC has been sending its PET, a thermoplastic resin of the plastic and polyester family, to a Canadian company called Merlin Plastics for more than twenty years. Merlin has over thirty years of recycling experience and their focus is on economically recovering the value of plastic containers. Over time, they have developed patented technology to both raise the grade value of recycled plastics and to find new applications for them. Clear PET beverage containers are recycled into flakes or pellets for use in the manufacture of new food grade beverage containers and clothing. Coloured PET beverage containers or those made from High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) are recycled into pellets for use in the manufacture of new non-food plastic products.

Keeping beverage containers as a separate recycling stream allows for low contamination rates from other materials, and therefore produces a clean, very useful product for commodity markets. None of the material from plastic beverage containers goes to landfills. So when Albertans return plastic beverage containers to an Alberta Depot, they can be assured that those containers are always being recycled in a responsible manner.

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