"THE BLUE BOX ON YOUR FRONT PORCH WASN'T DREAMED UP by government officials. Or inspired by grassroots environmentalists. The soft drink industry and its packaging suppliers brought in the Blue Box to serve a common corporate agenda..."
These are the opening words of an heretical article by a Canadian who knows his stuff (Guy Crittenden, editor of Solid Waste and Recycling magazine). It was published in Next City magazine in 1997. The title was The Blue Box Conspiracy. You can read it reprinted by Probe International Research Foundation.
That same year another insightful Ontario journalist, David Menzies, told the same story. He titled it Waste Blues. It was published in the Financial Post. You can read it online here.
The two stories tell how corporations vested in the proliferation of throw-away packaging successfully dismantled the remnants of a refillable bottle system. And how environmentalists didn't see it coming.
The bromide that the corporate interests were selling -- with environmentalists on board -- is that **convenience** is the motivator in recycling. It's a truism that if you don't make it easy, people won't recycle. And what could be easier than putting everything in a box and setting it on the curb?
But three decades of experience, all documented in trade magazines like Crittenden's, is that it is not working. Curbside recycling is harvesting bales of filthy contaminated garbage that is going to China.
In the 1990s, the corporate lobbyists came out here from Ontario and tried to dismantle our deposit system on beverage containers. In 1997 our ministry sent them packing -- and expanded the deposit system to include all beverages except milk. Alberta has since added milk to their system. We could have followed -- and carried on further, putting deposits on yogurt containers and detergent bottles and many other containers, creating good jobs and good recycling outcomes right here in Canada.
But in 2010, the corporate lobbyists came back and found a new team at the ministry that had short memories. MMBC was invited to submit a plan.
What MMBC is offering -- surprise, surprise! -- is traditional, convenient, multi-material curbside recycling. It will make everybody including environmentalists feel good, until they learn what they're missing.
If you don't learn from history, you're doomed to repeat it.