Revamp container deposit system to save oceans, environmental group says
At one point in a video of a secluded beach on Vancouver Island’s west coast, there are more discarded plastic containers than pieces of driftwood.
The plastics are killing marine wildlife and harming the environment, but the Ocean Legacy Foundation, which posted the video, believes there is a simple way to improve the situation.
The group is calling on the B.C. government to revamp its decades-old bottle and container deposit system.
"Our research shows higher deposit rates equal higher return rates, and what we're hoping in achieving this is to inherently lower shoreline litter rates," said Chloe Dubois, Executive Director of the Ocean Legacy Foundation.
For some perspective, the group compared how many containers were purchased in 2017, against how many were returned for a refund. The difference was dramatic: 387-million containers missing, which either end up in landfills or the ocean.
"When we broke that down into every day, we're looking at more then a million containers missing, and this isn't even including milk, milk substitute and meal replacement containers," said Dubois.
A lot of people might not realize how big of a problem it is, because the hardest hit areas are in distant sections of Northwest Vancouver Island.
"These areas, because a lot of them are so remote, it is out of sight out of mind and the connection with our consumption habits, our plastic consumption, these connections aren't being made because the pollution isn't in our face every day," she said.
Ocean Legacy Foundation is part of the Vancouver Island Marine Debris Group which together study and clean up island beaches.
"The direct impact isn't felt, until you go on one of these clean ups and experience this hands on education or immersive education during these experiences," said Dubois.
The group feels change to the system is overdue.
"The system itself was implemented 50 years ago and it was updated 15 years ago so it needs to be modernized and these recommendations are low hanging fruit," explained Dubois.
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy said it is reviewing all the Ocean Legacy Foundation’s recommendations to reduce ocean plastics.
“In general, they are in keeping with the ministry’s goal to continuously improve our existing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs; particularly targeting plastics and other single-use item. The potential for increasing deposit and refund levels is part of that process,” wrote a ministry spokesperson in an emailed response to CTV News.
The government said more than one-billion containers are recycled annually under the Encorp program, which is due for renewal this year, as well as the Brewers Recycled Container Collection Council (BRCCC) stewardship plan for beer containers.
The government did not mention any review of its own, or specifics on whether it would increase bottle deposits.
Dubois said increasing deposit fees is a simple change which has worked in other provinces and countries, some of which now have return rates in the 90-95% range.
“it's pretty amazing what we are able to do. There's an opportunity here to modernize this and make it better so we're hoping this report catalyzes those changes.”