It's Time for Deposits on Everything

©. Marija_Crow /

The mess of garbage in Toronto's restored Grange Park shows the need for producer responsibility.

Grange Park is an oasis in the heart of Toronto, surrounded by Frank Gehry’s Art Gallery of Ontario and Will Alsop’s famous tabletop in the sky. It just re-opened last week after a long renovation and everything is bright and spanking new. Even the trash bins are different than the usual ones in Toronto parks.

And within a week of the park opening, the trash bins are overflowing, a disgusting mess. Some blame the designers for making them too small and placing too few of them; others blame the City for not picking up the trash often enough. Still, others blame the users of the park for being slobs.

But it is time to put the blame where it really belongs. Look closely at Shawn Micallef’s photo linked above, as well as the myriad of overflowing garbage bins at parks and you see that the mess is almost entirely disposable food and drink containers, primarily plastic bottles. In the name of customer convenience, the vendors of all this stuff have outsourced the responsibility of dealing with waste to the taxpayer who now has to pick it all up. Shawn tweets that "We often design for some idealized Toronto, not the one Toronto wants to vote for or pay for." But we shouldn't be paying for this; we are just being hosed and bamboozled by the people who sold the stuff.

Woolworths counter

Kresges Counter/via

Fifty years ago we didn’t have this problem; there was no such thing as bottled water and people bought their soft drinks in returnable bottles or at soda fountains. If you wanted a bite you went to the counter at Palmers or Kresges. There probably wasn’t a fast food joint downtown and the only takeout was Chinese and pizza.

But the bottlers of beer and soda hated returnables. Thanks to the new interstate highways crossing America, it was much cheaper to centralize production and eliminate local bottlers. But there were no public trash bins (because there was no public trash) and people were just throwing the disposables everywhere. So the bottlers invented the concept of litter, and with it, the Keep America Beautiful campaign to teach us how to pick it up. Soon the towns and cities were drowning in waste and started demanding deposits on packaging, so the industry invented recycling. According to a recent article in the Guardian,

Those companies did not like deposit systems because they believed government-imposed price hikes could hit sales. Coke, Pepsi and others organised to counter deposit laws. Their campaign was successful, largely because of a promise they brought to debates: kerbside recycling. In federal and state government hearings, they argued that municipal recycling systems, if funded and supported by government agencies, would eliminate the need for deposits. By the mid-80s, this argument had won the day.

Which brings us back to Grange Park today. It is new and popular, accommodating a lot of people who generate a lot of trash. But you won’t see any beer or wine bottles in that mess. That’s because Ontario, Canada, has a strong and effective deposit and return system for beer and wine bottles. If anyone actually left one here, the bottle ladies would sweep it up and get the deposit.

The mess here isn’t the city’s fault for not spending enough money to pick up the garbage. It’s not the public’s fault for being slobs. In fact, it is Tim Horton’s and Starbucks and McDonald's and the bottlers’ faults for avoiding producer responsibility, for dumping that responsibility on the taxpayer. They should pick up their own waste.

That’s why it’s time for deposits on everything, from the paper cup to the water bottle. Our brand new park shouldn’t be covered in their garbage.