Éco Entreprises Québec’s 15th anniversary

 The history of the recycling bin in Quebec

Did you know that recycling dates as far back as 3 000, B.C.? Indeed, during that period, people discovered that used metal objects could be melted down and made into new ones.

As you might guess, laws and regulations governing recycling came much later in Quebec (trivia tidbit: that happened in 1978). Let’s have a look back at the history behind our Quebec recycling bin.

The very beginning

It was 1970, and people were just starting to talk about materials recovery. It wasn’t widespread yet, so recovery was implemented on a voluntary basis. Normand Maurice, known as “the father of recycling in Quebec”, was the public figure associated with that system. It was also around that time that Récupération Bois-Francs was born in Victoriaville. The organization received support through PARFAIR, a program administered by the recovery and recycling branch of the then Ministry of the Environment. The program also contributed to the creation of several sorting centres and, by the same token, the first curbside recycling initiatives, which led to the very first Regulation respecting Solid Waste, established in 1978.

Fun fact: The small triangular logo we associate with recycling, inspired by the Möbius strip, officially became the symbol for recycling in Quebec in 1970.

The 1980s and 1990s: Transition into the municipal world

In the 80s and 90s, municipalities began implementing several types of waste collection programs: recyclable, domestic, hazardous, etc.

Here are some highlights:

1984: Implementation of the first container consignment program. Note that the deposit on beer bottles was introduced over 200 years ago by the brewing industry in Quebec! 

1987: Yolande Massé, municipal councillor for Lasalle, implemented the first municipal curbside recycling program in Quebec.

1989: We welcomed the first Integrated Solid Waste Management Policy, the adoption of the 3R-RD hierarchy, and the very first selective collection in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough, in Montreal, on April 10. Collecte sélective Québec, the ancestor of Éco Entreprises Québec (ÉEQ), was launched the same year.

1990: The birth of RECYC-QUÉBEC, the public corporation that brings together the various stakeholders in the management of residual materials.

1996: A general hearing was held by the BAPE on waste management in Quebec.

The 2000s: A decade of firsts

Sorting centres were modernized, among other things, with the advent of automated sorting lines for containers and fibers. Collection trucks went from manual to automated pick-up accommodating 360-litre wheeled bins.

In 2005, Éco Entreprises Québec was officially launched with the signing of its first accreditation agreement. The following year, the organization signed the first agreement regarding net costs of municipal curbside recycling services, replacing Collecte Sélective Québec.

2007 was an exceptional year for residual materials management in Quebec, with the very first agreement on Contributions (2005 and 2006), which aimed to empower companies marketing containers and packaging regarding the end of life cycle of their materials. We also created the Away-from-home Recovery Table and published the first characterization study of residual materials. Awareness continued to grow more and more, and ÉEQ participated in the development of a first campaign to make Quebecers aware of the positive impacts of curbside recycling.

2008 to 2010: It’s all about positioning

ÉEQ positioned itself as an optimizer of curbside recycling by setting up and/or participating in several large-scale initiatives:

  • Best Practices for Municipalities Guide
  • Joined the International Life Cycle Chair (ILC Chair) managed by CIRAIG
  • Joined the Life Cycle Initiative
  • Participated in the development of the voluntary Code of good practices regarding the use of shopping bags in order to reduce the quantity of shopping bags distributed and disposed of in Quebec.
  • Partner of the Écodurables Production and Design competition
  • Organized a technical seminar on good curbside recycling practices intended specifically for municipal representatives.
  • Symposium on responsible production and consumption: Producing and consuming differently
  • Responsible packaging recognition program
  • Creation of technical data sheets on problematic materials
  • Implementation of ÉCO-D, a new reporting system
  • Creation of the first recycled content credit in North America


From 2010 to today: ÉEQ, a booming organization

In 2011, the first Voluntary Code for the Optimization of Containers, Packaging and Printed Matter (C, P & PM) was published. A major campaign titled Récupérer, c’est recréer (Recovering is recreating), was also deployed and we saw a record recovery effort with 94% of wine and spirit bottles being recovered. ÉEQ also signed its second accreditation agreement and presented the first activity-based costing (ABC) model for curbside recycling in Quebec. At the time, ÉEQ was the only Canadian organization responsible for funding curbside recycling that offered a credit recognizing the integration of recycled content in printed matter manufacturing. In 2013, Quebec recovered more than 700,000 tonnes of recyclable materials and, in so doing, cut 275,000 tonnes worth of CO2 emissions. OptimEco, Canada’s first packaging optimization portal, was launched. It has been completely overhauled this year. Check it out here.

Note that ÉEQ’s Compensation Plan is one of the most stringent in North America, as 100% of net costs of municipal curbside recycling are compensated by businesses. The organization also partnered with PAC NEXT, an initiative of the Packaging Association of Canada.

In 2014, ÉEQ won the Novae corporate citizen award in the innovation category for its OptimEco website. It also created the Ambassadeurs de la collecte sélective program, in partnership with the Regroupement des maisons des jeunes du Québec, to raise awareness among citizens about away-from-home recycling and encourage municipalities to invest in recycling equipment. The organization reviewed its business model and established the multi-stakeholder committee of representatives and partners of the Compensation Plan.

2015 was the first year of the Quebec forum on the optimization of curbside recycling, titled Solutions That Matter. Ms. Maryse Vermette, our CEO, co-chaired the advisory committee on residual materials of the Ministry of the Environment and, that same year, the Services to Municipalities branch was created at ÉEQ.

In 2016, we recognized that curbside recycling is an telling example of circular economy and sustainable development, and we reached the 1-billion-dollar mark in payments to municipalities towards compensating curbside recycling since 2005. The quantity of materials recovered increased again during that year, with the equivalent of 40 times the volume of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, and avoiding the production of 1,800,000 tonnes of GHGs. Twenty four material recovery facilities or MRFs are active in Quebec, and away-from-home recycling is on the rise.

The year 2017 was marked by the worsening recycling crisis. ÉEQ’s Board of directors adopted a new organizational model, and ÉEQ published the bilingual document titled Do we need another package?, in collaboration with the graphic design department of UQAM.

In 2018, curbside recycling was serving 99% of Quebec households, the equivalent of 3.5 million doors. That year:

  • The first Best Practices Workshop was given for Quebec’s 10 largest cities
  • ÉEQ offices were redesigned and renovated with eco-materials from Quebec curbside recycling
  • ÉEQ became a partner of the first study on the circular economy in Quebec, which was carried out by experts from the Institut EDDEC and the Research Group on Globalisation and Management of Technology (GMT) at Polytechnique Montréal, for a transition to a greener economy.
  • With its French counterpart Citeo, ÉEQ co-organized the Plastic Solutions Forum.

In 2019, ÉEQ continued to communicate with contributing companies and actors of the curbside recycling system:

  • Developed a new section on the website to facilitate reporting
  • Had 8,000 direct communications with companies
  • Welcomed over 425 participants in various webinars
  • Carried out over 25 municipal guidance projects
  • Held 18 meetings and events
  • Guided over 50 companies through their packaging ecodesign initiatives.

We also unveiled the much-anticipated Innovative Glass Works Plan, as well as the Ecodesign and Circular Economy Plan (ECEP), a North American first.

And now, as 2020 finally draws to a close, we are ending the year with several accomplishments and news the recovery and recycling industry has eagerly awaited for over 10 years, namely, the announcement made in February by the Government of Quebec on the modernization of curbside recycling, followed by the tabling of the bill, in September.

This marks the start of a new era for our industry, and ÉEQ is pleased to continue this major transformation of curbside recycling in Quebec with its partners!