Bottle $ervice in Quebec

Disclaimer: if you are looking for tips on how to score cheap bottles at the club this is not the post for you

If you’re like me and not from Quebec or a place that has a bottle deposit system, the idea of being able to bring all of your bottles to the store and having a guy give you three shiny coins is mind blowing (can anyone say samosa money?!). Not only is the consumer benefiting from this transaction, but we reduce the amount of litter that ends up landfills and wildlife habitats. I’ve always wondered how this system worked and if you were in the same boat as me, today is your lucky day!

As a child growing up in the glorious US of A, I was always curious about what my Coke can meant when it said 5 cent refund and listed a bunch of states that weren’t mine. Then when I found out that California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon (the OG), Vermont, and EVEN DELAWARE had bottle deposit programs where residents got 5 cents back from their cans. I was upset I could not be a part of the action. Twinkies in the snack line were only 25 cents so you can imagine how hurt I was when I biked past recycling bins filled to the brim with soda cans.

Mmmmmmm… What obesity epidemic?

In Canada, all provinces and two territories have their own deposit system, Nunavut being the exception. In the United States, bottle laws are not as common as they should be since corporations + chemical companies x lobbyists / congress = nothing getting done. My wonderful “progressive” home state of Maryland (for those of you not from the US, it’s that one state with Baltimore in it, and no I have never seen The Wire) attempted to pass a bottle bill last year, but of course this would have promoted fraud and EVERYONE recycles now anyways so it would have been pointless, right? In the opposition’s defense, having a bottle deposit system would have caused hordes of Virginians, West Virginians, and Pennsylvanians to flock into Maryland and abuse our system. I mean… that’s exactly what happened in all of the other states. I used to frequently drive over to Delaware to claim that glorious $1.25 (they actually repealed their bill and opted for a tax in 2009, maybe the figured out my plan…). The delightful Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Beverage Association compiled a compelling list of reasons why this would destroy our state as we know it, including but not limited to:
– Products being FIVE CENTS more expensive!
– DEMANDING consumers to travel to redemption centers!
– FORCING taxpayers to pay more to maintain the curbside recycling program!
I’m sure Marylanders would suffer immensely to overcome these challenges, especially since we have the highest income in the United States, median and per capita, but enough about that – let’s talk about real progress.


Here in Quebec, most depanneurs and grocery stores will happily take your cans and glass bottles. The bottle deposit system is run by a crown corporation, Recyc-Québec, the same people who collect the junk in your blue bins every week. It’s been around since the 80’s and in 2012, 73.3% of five cent deposit containers were recovered. For soft drinks, an industry founded nonprofit organization, Boissons Gazeuses Environnement, runs administrative details and keeps everything in check. Soft drink distributors pick up empties from retailers in their territory and pay them the respective “Return Incentive” which covers the bottle refund plus a handling fee. There has been some tension between soft drink producers and other beverage producers since only soft drinks currently bear a deposit, but the industry now contributes to the curbside recycling program as well.

Refillable beer bottles are under a private consignment program, with redemption rates over 95%. Beer bottle collection is run in a similar fashion, except retailers do not receive a handling fee. To ensure that brewers use refillable containers, there is a quota in place to prevent them from using too many non-refillable containers.

According to Boissons Gazeuses Environment, in 2010 alone the province recovered 708 million aluminum containers, 215 million plastic bottles and 5 million glass bottles. That is approximately 22,290 metric tons, or for a more fun comparison, 5,300 elephants. On the other hand, about $20 million in unredeemed deposits get thrown away in the garbage each year.

Yes, 5,300 of these bad boys
(source: BBC)

In January of 2013, the province made a controversial decision to hike the deposit fee, from 5 cents to 10 cents. Debates on whether or not this move actually helps the environment or just hurts retailers sparked. Pierre Arcand, the Minister for Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks, argued “By updating the deposit system, we will improve the recovery rate of containers, and pursue efforts for a greener, cleaner and more sustainable Quebec”.

A few flaws in the system include not being able to deposit wine and liquor bottles, which as a frequenter of the SAQ, I find a little frustrating. In neighboring Ontario, all alcoholic beverage bottles are welcome, but residents are not too keen on having to return liquor and wine bottles to the Beer Store or other Bulk Return Locations, which are separate from the LCBO. On the other hand, according to wikipedia (yeah, yeah, I know.. let me know if you find a better source), the Beer Store has close to a 100% return rate for beer bottles and bottles can be reused 15 to 20 times.

In Quebec, sources claim that retailers actually don’t mind having to deal with bottles since it generates traffic. I can vouch for that since pretty much every time I’ve gone to return bottles I also pick up some groceries or more beer. Larger grocery chains such as IGA and Metro have those cool machines that do all the troublesome counting for you!


All I see is dollar signs

As a McGill student, take advantage of this system. I know most of you do already since almost every Sunday morning I’ve gone to a grocery store I have seen four dudes sporting McGill gear with five boxes of empty bottles and a pissed off cashier counting them one by one. In our house, we take turns depositing bottles and have currently saved up about… $10? Which, lets be real, we will probably spend on more alcohol. But at the end of the day it really shouldn’t be about the money; landfills are overflowing and we are hurting wildlife populations by dumping our trash everywhere. It’s time we take advantage of programs that help reduce waste and take responsibility for the damage we are causing.

If you haven’t seen this video yet, find your happy place. Stay there for a few minutes, then press play.

Second-year mechanical engineering student Christiane Alford claims “I find the system really practical and an efficient way of recycling especially with the big student population in Montreal but I wish some of the places would extend their hours of buying them back as well as accepting more types of bottles. HINT 4 Freres HINT.” Just a heads up for those of you living around St Laurent, 4 Freres doesn’t collect bottles after 5 PM. I learned that the hard way.

If all of us did our part, think about how many bottles we could save at McGill alone. I don’t even want to look up the alcohol consumption statistics for our campus, but I know we could fill a few decently sized landfills with all the waste. It takes about 1 million years for glass to break down naturally, and it only takes 8-12 weeks to be recycled and returned to a store shelf.

So the next time you’re feeling lazy and opt to throw your cans and bottles on the curb for the trash man, think about one of those dying birds. Or how there may only be 5,299 elephants worth of bottles being deposited this year. Or just call me and I’ll come pick up your bottles.


Our house invested in one of these bad boys to make transportation easier.

What are your thoughts on the bottle deposit system? How could it be improved? Should it be the responsibility of the retailer, distributor, or both? What is the system like where you are from? Comment with your opinions!

Happy Recycling!
– Laura

Check my sources:
There are a lot of processes and statistics in this piece that come from various places. If anything is wrong or something is not explained correctly, please let me know and I will be more than happy to correct it!

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