Tofino has some bad news to break in the New Year.
Tofino Bottle Depot owner and operator Ann Kim has announced the depot’s operations will be terminated on March 13.
“Due to space and parking limitations, we can no longer safely operate at the present location,” read a statement Kim released in December.
“Unfortunately, we are unable to afford to relocate to a larger facility at this point in time, as lease rates in Tofino are much higher than what our current business volume allows for.”
Kim also owns the Ucluelet Bottle Depot and announced its hours will expand in an effort to accommodate those traveling from Tofino to use it.
“It is our hope that our valued Tofitian customers will continue to seek out return-for-deposit opportunities at the Ucluelet location,” her statement read.
“It is also our hope to re-open Tofino Bottle Depot in the future at a more suitable location. However, we cannot say at this point in time, where or how soon that may be. We will of course, keep the community posted of any developments.”
The Tofino Bottle Depot operates under the umbrella of Encorp Pacific, a non-profit, federally backed corporation that focuses on beverage container management.
Encorp Pacific president Scott Fraser told the Westerly News that depots face tough times in small towns like Tofino.
“It’s an unfortunate part of our business…Based on our experience, for towns the size of Ucluelet or Tofino, it’s very difficult economically to support a depot,” he said.
“It’s not so much that there isn’t a market. It’s that you’re dealing in nickels in terms of collecting containers…Depending on the economics of it, typically depots become financially viable in towns of 4,000-6,000 people.”
He suggested the West Coast’s bottle returns are likely low during the winter months and low volume, combined with Tofino’s rising real estate costs, pushed the Tofino depot’s bottom line to the brink.
He said the local Co-op grocery store and B.C. Liquor Store should be able to fill the void left by the depot’s departure.
“The liquor store and the grocery store must, under the regulation, actually take containers,” he said. “So, they will take them back and that’s the obvious alternative.”
He spoke highly of Kim and her bottle depot team and said the West Coast remains well taken care of.
“They’ve been in the depot business a long time. We’re confident that they can serve the market and that the retail side should be able to pick up some of the slack,” he said. “There will be some adapting, but they’re good operators from our point of view.”
Tofino mayor Josie Osborne was dismayed by the news.
“I am very concerned about losing the Tofino Bottle Depot, because I view it as an essential recycling service that Tofino businesses and residents rely on,” Osborne told the Westerly.
“Tofino has a very strong recycling ethic, and while larger businesses will be able to absorb the costs of transporting their returnable containers to Ucluelet, I am concerned about the impact to smaller businesses, families and individuals.”
She said the Ucluelet commute would be a challenge for locals without vehicle access and questioned whether adding bottle-return traffic to other businesses would be an effective solution.
“The loss of the Bottle Depot could also have an enormous impact on the existing SonBird recycling depot as well as the local liquor store and any other retail store that accepts returnables. Increased volume at their locations will see a need for increased storage space that they may not have either,” she said.
“Based on what I know right now, I feel that the best option for Tofino is a centralized recycling and bottle depot, but it may take some time to determine if that is feasible, and it involves conversations with multiple partners. I look forward to hearing feedback from businesses and residents; perhaps it is most important at this point to focus on keeping the Bottle Depot somewhere in Tofino.”
She believes there may be a role for local government to play in bringing the depot back but noted Tofino council and staff had begun their Christmas holidays when the news broke so they have not been able to discuss the depot’s departure yet.
“In the meantime, Tofino Council and Tofino and ACRD staffs are aware, and I would say equally concerned. I have a lot more questions, at this point, than answers,” she said.
“My frustration with waste and recycling systems in British Columbia has been a constant theme of my four years as an elected official. I have never understood why we as a society accept that we subsidize the long-term storage of solid waste, yet we demand that recycling ‘pay for itself.’”
She added recycling on the West Coast “will never be truly cost-effective” due to transportation costs and commodity prices and added the price of real estate in Tofino adds further complications.
“I know that many West Coasters are committed to recycling despite the challenges, and I applaud efforts of local companies that operate recycling businesses, as well as the work of non-profit organizations like Surfrider, the Ucluelet Aquarium, and the Raincoast Education Society that are working so hard to educate us and help reduce the amount of garbage and recycling we create,” she said.
“The announcement of the closure of the Tofino Bottle Depot has definitely served to reinforce my support of these businesses and organizations and to work to change the broken system we have.”
She applauded Kim’s efforts to keep the Tofino Bottle Depot going.
“I do understand that constraints that the Tofino Bottle Depot business owner faces—mainly adequate, cost-effective space —and I don’t blame her at all for coming to this difficult decision,” she said.
“The owner appears to have searched high and low for a cost-effective, long-term space that simply doesn’t exist in Tofino right now, and she has explained to me how the Ucluelet Depot is large enough to handle Tofino’s stream of returnables as well. I’m very grateful to her for taking the time to explain to me the mechanics of the bottle return business.”