Plastic bottle return would protect Lakes

Standard Freeholder – The Ontario government should consider introducing a deposit return program for plastic bottles. Such a program would provide a modest financial incentive to recycle the bottles and hopefully reduce littering, especially in the Great Lakes.

The idea has been pushed by various environmental groups, but has received greater emphasis since an American study in December reported nearly 10,000 tonnes of plastics enter the Great Lakes each year.

Conducted at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Mathematical Sciences, the study estimates the total input of plastic trash and debris into the Great Lakes and also tries to determine where it ends up.

The conclusion is alarming.

Most plastic from Chicago and Milwaukee accumulates on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, while plastic from Detroit and Cleveland ends up along the southern coast of Lake Erie’s eastern basin. Toronto’s plastic accumulates on the southern coast of Lake Ontario.

The study found Lake Huron receives the second smallest amount of plastic garbage (Superior has the least), mostly because Huron’s shoreline population is rather modest.

The problem doesn’t end with the Great Lakes. Environmental Defence, an Ontario-based environmental group, estimates one billion plastic bottles end up in either landfills or the environment. It and 24 other groups are asking for the province to introduce a deposit on single-use beverage containers, such as plastic water bottles.

A spokesperson says part of the problem is Ontario’s blue box program isn’t working close to its potential. Ontario has the lowest collection rate for plastic beverage containers in Canada, 47 per cent. By comparison, provinces with deposit return programs are collecting/recycling up to 95 per cent of plastic bottles.

Environmental Defence suggests placing a deposit on plastic bottles would have a two-fold benefit. Consumers would have incentive to return and recycle the plastic; any revenue collected through deposits could be used to help rid the Great Lakes of plastic litter and other pollutants.

It makes sense, but such a program must include the Great Lakes states. The Rochester study determined plastic doesn’t accumulate at its source. Toronto’s plastic debris, it found, ended up on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, some of it presumably on New York’s lakefront.

This program needs to be bi-national, but Ontario should lead the way.

Source: Standard Freeholder