Through a glass darkly: bottle refunds don’t lead to recycling

“So 18 years, and many letters in, glass is still not recycled”


Pieces of a broken bottle lie beside some rocks in Iqaluit. The Government of Nunavut's deposit system for glass bottles does not seem to be creating any recycling or conservation. (PHOTO BY COURTNEY EDGAR)

Pieces of a broken bottle lie beside some rocks in Iqaluit. The Government of Nunavut’s deposit system for glass bottles does not seem to be creating any recycling or conservation. (PHOTO BY COURTNEY EDGAR)

Next time you share wine and cheese with friends, consider this: where does that glass bottle go?

A lot of Iqaluit residents don’t know and, it seems, neither do some of the people responsible for the territory’s recycling policies.

It turns out that glass bottles collected by the city’s only recycling depot are not, in fact, recycled. Instead, they’re brought to the landfill.

Last Friday, Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone raised in the legislature that the most recent annual report of the Nunavut Liquor Commission shows $178,000 in expenses related to the Nunavut bottle deposit refund program last year.

Those funds are collected from a 29-cent deposit charged on every liquor bottle sold in Nunavut.

But no glass bottles purchased in Iqaluit actually get recycled―they haven’t for years.

Iqaluit’s only recycling operation does ship out crushed aluminum cans for recycling. But it sends the glass liquor bottles it collects to the local landfill.

That raises the question of what purpose is served by the territory’s bottle deposit program.

“We have a contract agreement with a local contractor to accept recyclables for alcohol. Can the minister clarify what the entity’s responsibilities are under the agreement with respect to where the bottles and cans ultimately end up?” Lightstone asked Finance Minister David Akeeagok, who’s responsible for the Nunavut Liquor Commission.

The entity that Lightstone referred to is Bryan Hellwig’s Southeast Nunavut Co. Ltd.

Customers that bring bottles to Hellwig’s company receive their deposits back, less a handling fee of four cents per bottle earned by Hellwig.

Hellwig said he ships about a million beer cans a year out of Iqaluit to be recycled.

But when it comes to glass, Hellwig says it’s too expensive to ship to Montreal’s recycling plants.

In response to Lightstone’s questions, Akeeagok said “the onus is on the company to do the recycling.”

Lightstone also asked Akeeagok if the recycling program requires bottles to be shipped out for recycling.

“I have instructed my officials to look into the contract and how they are supposed to go and provide the recycling,” Akeeagok said.

Akeeagok said he has still not received a report on the issue three months after it was first brought up in the legislature, adding that if it is the case that glass products are being driven to the dump and not recycled, it is “unacceptable” and that he is “looking into it.”

But Hellwig acknowledges what is happening. He says he has told the territorial government for years that he does not ship glass products out of Iqaluit for recycling.

Hellwig even said he has asked repeatedly for the bottle refund deposits to be dropped as they serve no apparent purpose.

“I sent the GN a list of recommendations on how to improve the recycling in Nunavut. However, until recently I never would receive a formal response,” Hellwig said.

“So 18 years, and many letters in, glass is still not recycled.”

He says if the city wants to see glass head south for recycling, then they need to put money toward that concept.

“Recycling is not a simple endeavour here,” Hellwig said.

Hellwig doesn’t do it for the money, he said. In fact, he said the money he makes is not enough to live on. He said he considers it his community service for the last 20 years.

Iqaluit’s restaurants take their liquor bottles directly to the dump. A manager at one restaurant said that every four months, that establishment takes about half a truckload of bottles to the landfill, and then the business gets a rebate from the government.

Typically, it’s a couple of thousand dollars, which is broken down between aluminum and bottles, he said.

He also pays a dump fee of over $100 just to throw the empties out.

“You should ask the government liquor management how much they bring in for deposits versus what they pay out and they will tell you they always have excess,” Hellwig said.

“People who buy in the communities have no way of bringing their bottles back to me, but still pay the deposit. I’m not the bad guy here. I do what I am supposed to do, and it is the GN that needs to make changes like I have asked over the years.”

Hellwig said that if the handling charge reflected the costs of shipping, maybe then glass could be shipped.

“I hope this government will really take recycling seriously and come up with solutions. And with recycling in the North, that means coming up with money.”

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