Friday, 23 September 2011

Is Drinking Pop the Best Way to Support Healthy Watersheds?

There are moments when I think that PEI is so far behind the rest of the developed world, that it's actually ahead.  I certainly felt that way about the regulations requiring  refillable glass bottles for beer and pop rather than aluminum and plastic like everyone else.  Yes the can ban lasted so long to protect jobs at island owned Seaman's Beverages, and yes there were all kind of juices and other products sold in cans, but so what. From an energy and environmental standpoint refillable glass will always be the better choice. Shiny thin aluminum cans are a modern miracle, but the bauxite mining and enormous energy resources needed to produce the cans are the industry's dirty secret. Don't get me started on plastic.

In 2008 PEI passed the Beverage Container Act  which dragged/pushed the province into the glorious age of the six pack in a plastic holder that always seems to end up around the neck of some sea creature. (I'll stop the sarcasm., I think I've made my position clear).  Just over 58 million (yes million) glass/can/plastic bottles were purchased on PEI last year. Just over 45 million were returned, a very respectable 78%  recovery rate (compared to other jurisdictions).  This includes 23 million aluminum cans,  and 15 million plastic containers. (the rest:  glorious glass refillable beer bottles, love the bottle, love what's in it).

 And we were promised more than convenience, there would be large amounts of money raised that would be used to fund environmental programs. Just like the bottle count, the money attached to the deposit and return program is quite substantial:  consumers paid $6 million dollars in deposits (other collected material push the revenue side up to $6.5 Million). Just over $2 million was returned to those who took the time to return bottles/cans to the recycling depots. As well a lot of cans and plastic end up in the blue-bag recycling program and Superior Sanitation gets the refund, that costs  about $250,000.  So there's just over  $4  Million left,  and we've still got a ways to go before getting to those promised environmental programs.  The depot operators (many of the same people who recycled the glass bottles before) get about $1.5 million,  and another million is spent on administration, collection and what's called processing.  Bottom line: about 73% of the deposits are used for consumer refunds, and handling charges. According to people who follow the recycling/reusing industry nationally ( ), this is a respectable figure.

OK, now we finally get to what's left from the original $6.5 Million for 2 environmental programs: the Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS), and watershed management, $1.8 Million. ($1 Million for ALUS, and $800 Thousand for Watershed management) I've written a fair bit about both here:

I think both programs are very, very important to our economic and environmental well being, and both deserve as much public financial support as we can give them, and that's the rub. What the government has done with the Beverage Container Act  is in fact get out of the business of supporting these programs and pass it on to the people who buy pop and beer. With the passage of the act the government no longer had to make room/ take responsibility for these programs using the hundreds of millions in taxes and transfer payments available every year. Instead it's been downloaded to pop and beer drinkers, and so far limited to what's left after refunds, handling and administrative costs are covered.  The Liberals have mentioned ALUS during the election campaign, and promised $4.75 Million over 4 years (which would be an 18% increase from what's being paid now). Will the increase (about $185 thousand a year) come from general revenues, an increase in deposit fees, taken from the watershed management support which is already woefully inadequate?  I'll be watching and if it's new money from general revenues (and if watershed groups also get increased support) then it's a useful promise.

 I think the volunteers who make up the bulk of the watershed management groups, and farmers who take steps beyond what the law requires to protect the environment deserve our respect and our support. I don't think we should have to count on people drinking more pop and beer for them to get it..

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