Castor and Coronation are, at least temporarily, losing their bottle depots, after the owner has been found to be introducing beverage containers from outside Alberta into the system by an independent board.
The Beverage Container Management Board (BCMB) released their hearing decision Nov. 9 following an investigation into the owner, Gracian “Vas” Thambimuthu, who was investigated for allegedly introducing beverage containers from outside Alberta into the province’s beverage bottle recycling system.
The results of the investigation and the subsequent hearing by the independent panel resulted in both depots having their permits pulled.
Posted publicly on the BCMB website, the hearing decision states the investigation was triggered in the fall of 2019 when the BCMB was alerted to a 300 to 440 per cent increase in bottle returns from the two depots between June and December of that year.
Due to the significant increases, BCMB investigators triggered an audit of both the Castor and Coronation bottle depots, and had the loads of bottle returns quarantined for inspection.
The inspection of the materials conducted by BCMB staff showed that the “quarantined material exhibited the same characteristics as the material found by the BCMB during investigations into other out-of-province shipments,” as per the hearing decision.
Thambimuthu, in the hearing, denied the allegations that the materials were from out of province, but insisted instead they came from a scrap dealer in Edmonton that the previous Castor Bottle Depot owner introduced him to.
“I maybe made a mistake. I didn’t really pay attention to the details,” said Thambimuthu.
The determination made by BCMB investigators comes down to the fact that the material inspected showed signs of compacting, some in a way not commonly done in Alberta, indicating that the materials may have already started the recycling process elsewhere.
While compaction of containers does not automatically make the BCMB assume they are from out of province, only 11 depots in Alberta have agreements with BCMB to provide on-site compaction, and other paper materials found mixed in with the beverage containers in these loads led inspectors to these conclusions.
Thambimuthu had begun the process of selling the depot to other interested parties, but at the time the investigation was initiated, nothing official had been received by the BCMB.
Since the investigation and hearing process had started before receiving official word, despite the interested parties, it is impossible for him to sell the business until the process had concluded.
With the hearing report released and the permits being cancelled, the last day of operation for the Castor Bottle Depot will be Nov. 29, 2021.
“We’re going to watch Castor very, very closely,” said Blaire Charlton-Gaalaas, BCMB president.
“We’re currently running a pilot project to determine where depots should be put, which should be done by the end of 2022.”
Charlton-Gaalaas also says that the BCMB will be keeping in close contact with both the administration and the council’s of the two communities.
Due to the two communities having what the BCMB determined to be “really really small populations,” and each producing less than a million containers a year, it is unknown at this time whether they will decide whether or not to re-permit a depot in one or both of the communities, or how soon that may happen.
According to Charlton-Gaalaas, due to the limited number of suitable buildings for a depot in the smaller communities, if a determination is made to replace the depots, the BCMB will run a request for application, which will be likely take a couple of months.
“It will get going pretty quickly once permitted,” said Charlton-Gaalaas.
According to Thambimuthu, BCMB underestimates the volumes produced by Castor and Coronation, with the communities producing around three million containers per year between the two communities, and with the depots closing residents of the communities will be forced to take the containers to Stettler, Alliance, Consort, or Hanna.
“Maybe I made a mistake, but that’s no reason to shut the depot completely,” said Thambimuthu.
“That’s something I don’t understand.”
Each depot currently has a petition for residents to sign, requesting the depots be kept open, which will be presented to BCMB at a later date.