Bottle Drives as Fundraiser: a Unique Edmonton Experience For Me

Box truck with label on the side that says "Get the Yuck Out, Skip the Depot"

By: Giselle General

When I first arrived in Canada, I had my first experience in having an actual process to sort out garbage. Different types of garbage are sorted according to type such as refundable like bottles and milk cartons and cans, landfill materials, recyclables like plastic sandboxes, and things you can refund for money such as wine bottles, beer containers, and soda containers. So before moving to Edmonton, I have integrated the habit of sorting my garbage. And I also have a vague idea or realization, that returning these refundable drink containers will give you money. Then, I first noticed in grocery receipts, that you get charged money for buying liquids to drink in particular containers. So if you make the effort of returning these bottles, it’s not like you earn extra money, but more like you get your own money back.

Lawn Sign that says "Help us Build a New Rio School Park. Rio Park Bottle Drive, Today 9 AM - 1 PM"

When I moved to Edmonton I have observed a similar process. The way organic material is handled is a little bit different, but the sorting process is still there. Making sure you have the appropriate bags to sort your garbage such as the transparent bags for leaves in the fall, the black garbage bags for landfill stuff, the blue almost transparent plastic bags for recyclables, is integrated in once grocery shopping routine.

However, the actual process of people or organizations collecting refundable drink containers is something I haven’t seen before. As it turns out, this can result to a lot of money! And it looks like it is a relatively popular method of fundraiser.

I personally have seen many bottle drives before, and participated in some of them as a donor of containers. This particular weekend however, I finally helped my neighbourhood community league by supervising the bottle collection drive portion of our September event, for Community League Day. It’s a pretty easygoing task, all I have to do is to physically be on standby beside the truck where people would pull over bring their containers of bottles and place it inside the truck. At the end of the day this truck, this company, will take away these bottles, process them, and give money.

Selfie of Author, wearing a knotted hat and wearing a name tag "Giselle, Board of Directors".

Using bottle drives for fundraisers have been so popular that I received multiple requests as a homeowner different times a year. During spring and fall, like a predictable annual routine, I would get a flyer on my mailbox requesting for bottles to help the neighbourhood local children’s Scouts. A particular nonprofit organization has this as a regular part of their fundraising which is called Empties To Winn. The way this works is, they provide uniquely labelled large plastic bags where people can put in their drink containers for refund, every quarter the organization sends someone to pick up your bag with bottles and cans, and at the end of the year, you get a tax receipt.

There’s so much money to be made from collecting bottles and handing them over for a refund. Folks experiencing homelessness typically use this as a method to earn a little bit of money. I see people in parks and Transit stations looking a little bit worse for wear, reaching into the garbage bins to see if there are drink containers in them. We even have a small incident in our neighbourhood last year, for some residents were a little bit upset because they realized on garbage day their bags of recyclables is ripped into pieces causing guard pieces of garbage to be flowing and flying all throughout the sidewalks and streets. It was discovered that this is a result of a homeless person on garbage day going to each of the piles of garbage bags, ripping open the bags to see if there are any bottles. My neighbours made it clear that it’s not like they don’t want a homeless person going around the neighbourhood. The only problem is the littering it causes. Thankfully one of the residents had the chance to see this gentleman rummaging through the bags and kindly asked him to tie up the bags again after he sifted through them. Problem solved.

Inside of a truck, with a dozen blue garbage bags with refundable bottles and drink containers.

It’s fascinating to observe the people handing over bottles during the bottle drive. There’s the one gentleman in his red pickup truck where the back compartment is full to the brim of bags. He said he was planning to bring them to the Bottle Depot, and then COVID-19 happened, and then this opportunity came about to dump them all here. There’s the lady who had her containers in a water drum, so we had to work together to pour them all onto a plastic bag to put into the truck. There was the father of the kids who’ll be benefiting from the bottle drive. He told me that his son goes to the elementary school of the neighbourhood, and he appreciates that this bottle drive will raise funds toward’s be renovated playground for the elementary school.

For some people, they are diligent enough to collect the bottles bring it to the nearest Bottle Depot and enjoy the earnings of their diligent organizing. But for many, getting a few dollars every few months is not worthwhile, but the feeling of being able to contribute meaningfully for a charitable cause it’s definitely worth a lot more. For as long as there this system that helps collect organized and provide money for these recyclable drink containers, I think we are going to have bottle drives for the next little while and it is awesome.

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