The Great Leveller: The Bottle Depot

In Alberta our bottles and cans can be returned for a refund, so every once in a while we take them to the nearest bottle depot.
Plastic Recycle via pxhere

There are four people in our household contributing to a collection of empties. We put them in blue bags and line them up at one end of the garage. Today I decided that our line had become too big because I could no longer walk around the bags to get to my car. Clearly, it has been too long since the last time we recycled.

I lowered the backs of the rear seats in my car to create maximum space and I loaded up nine big blue bags. The drive to the depot took only about ten minutes, and when I arrived I was pleased to see that they were not very busy.
Bottles, Cans, Depot via pxhere

I took one of the shopping carts that were by the door and put five of my bags in it before going inside the building. At the same time, another woman did a similar thing. She had five big black bags in a cart and another four or more bags by her feet. What struck me about her, aside from the large collection of bags, was that she looked very prim and proper. She was wearing a very smart black coat and carrying a designer handbag, which seemed a little incongruous in the less-than-salubrious environment.

Two people were having their cans and bottles counted while four of us waited our turn, and subsequently, two other people arrived. As I waited, I looked around and realized what an interesting cross-section of society we were. I estimated, based on appearances, that we represented at least five different ethnicities. Some of us had just one bag of empties, and some of us had ten.

One fellow looked at my collection and said “I have only one bag,” which I assumed was a request to go ahead of me. When I said “Sure, go ahead,” he struck up a conversation. He asked me where I worked, and I explained that I was retired and he seemed to take a while to understand that. He then pointed to the political campaign button I have pinned to my jacket and asked what it was. I said it was for voting and he asked: “Do you vote?” “I do,’ I replied, “NDP!” We both smiled, and he turned to put his cans on the counter.

Plastic Bottles
Plastic Bottles from Michael Coghlan via Flickr

One of the benefits of this refunding system is that people who are short of money can collect bottles and cans from streets and alleys to supplement their incomes. This benefits not only them but also the community by reducing the amount of litter. Additionally, schools and sports teams regularly have bottle drives to support their activities with refunds. People can also drop off their empties and donate the money to a charity. At the bottle depot I went to, those amounts go to a children’s charity.

There aren’t many places where you can go and see people of all types, all ages, all ethnicities, all doing the same thing. We were returning milk jugs, beer cans, wine bottles, juice cartons, whisky bottles, Tetra Briks, soda cans, and lots of plastic water bottles. No judgements; just refunds. The refunds for each item vary from ten to twenty-five cents, and I walked out of there with $40.

I know that the market for recycled plastics has more-or-less dried up, and I know that plastics are a big global problem, but we still use them and so I continue to recycle them. The alternative is to put them out with the trash that goes to the landfill, and I really don’t want to do that. I live in hopes that somehow, some way, they will get turned into something useful and not abandoned. Until all the beverage industries come up with a better system, such as Häagen-Dazs is doing with ice cream, this will have to do.


  1. When I used to bring my bottles to the recycling depot I would see a cross-section of people as well. I now donate my bottles to the Medicine River Wildlife Centre as one of their ongoing fundraisers. They have volunteers pick up the bottles from my home and sell them at the depot. All the money goes to the MRWC and I get a tax receipt at the end of the year.

  2. When I was a kid, we collected bottles and brought them back to the store for a few pennies, which were enough for some candy then–at least from a different store, where they sold penny candy. We thought of it as free money. Or a kind of magic.

    What’s Haagen Dazs doing with its packaging? I haven’t heard about this.

    • Penny candy! Those were the days. 🙂

      Haagen Dazs is developing a reusable container for their ice cream. The idea is that you return it to them just as we used to do with milk bottles. They can then clean them and fill them again. I hope the idea catches on.

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