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Why Bottle Deposits Work For Some States

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Beverage container deposit laws, also known as “bottle bills,” are designed to reduce litter, functioning as a deposit-refund system for beverage containers. Currently, ten states have these types of laws in place, including:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Vermont

Deposit amounts vary from two cents to 15 cents, depending on the type of beverage and volume of the container.

How Do “Bottle Bills” Work?

Bottle bills were originally introduced in Oregon in 1971 as a way to address the growing litter problem along the state’s beaches and highways. Since then, other states have passed similar laws. Bottle bills require the state to offer a minimum refund on beverage containers as a way to increase recycling efforts by consumers. When a retailer buys beverages from a distributor, a deposit is paid to the distributor for each container. The consumer then pays the deposit to the retailer when purchasing the beverage but will receive a refund of that deposit when the empty container is returned to a redemption center. The distributor will then reimburse the redemption center the deposit amount for each container, plus a handling fee.

Benefits of Bottle Bills

Along with getting a small amount of money for each bottle returned, there are other benefits to these bottle bills. Studies by the Container Recycling Institute have shown that states with bottle bills have much higher material recovery rates, which keeps container litter off the streets and supports the recycling industry. Because glass and plastic can be recycled, replacement production, which also creates more pollution, decreases. The guaranteed monetary incentive of receiving the deposit back also increases the likelihood that consumers will return the bottles, which keeps them from going into the landfill.

Why Don’t More States Have Bottle Deposit Programs?

Bottle Bills tend to be far more popular with consumers than with manufacturers and retailers. This is because consumers receive a 100% refund on their deposit fee, while manufacturers have to pay it. Because of this, bottling industry lobbying groups work hard to fight against these types of laws, saying that curbside recycling is a better way to handle the issue. According to the American Beverage Association, “Comprehensive recycling programs, like curbside collection, provide an easy and effective way for consumers to recycle their household waste, including beverage bottles and cans…Yet, some argue that these convenient and effective voluntary programs don’t go far enough. Data shows these deposit programs are costly, inconvenient and compete with more successful voluntary recycling efforts.” However, in many states, curbside collection efforts for glass have become problematic, as most of it ends up in the landfill rather than the recycling plant. This is because it is not usually cost effective for manufactures to recycle glass. However, recycling data has shown that both systems, when combined, guarantee the highest rate of glass recycling, and by default all recycling efforts. Many experts encourage states to keep their bottle bills in place, and not bend to the bottling industry’s lobby efforts.