Container Deposit Legislation

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Container deposit legislation

Container deposit legislation requires payment of a deposit on the sale of most or all beverage containers and may require that a certain%age of beverage containers be allocated for refillables. The legislation shifts the costs of collecting and processing beverage containers from local governments and taxpayers to manufacturers, retailers and consumers.

While laws vary from state to state, even city to city, container deposit legislation generally provides a monetary incentive for returning beverage cans and bottles for recycling . Distributors and bottlers are required to collect a deposit from the retailer on each can and bottle sold. The retailer collects the deposit from consumers, reimbursing the consumer when the container is returned to the store. The retailer then collects the deposit from the distributor or bottler, completing the cycle. Consumers who choose not to return their cans and bottles lose their deposit, which usually becomes the property of the distributors and bottlers, though in some states, unredeemed deposits are collected by the state.

Oregon implemented the first deposit law or "bottle bill" in 1972. In the 1970s and 1980s, industry opponents fought container deposit laws on the grounds that they would result in a loss of jobs, an increase in prices, and a reduction in sales. Now opponents denounce the legislation as being detrimental to curbside recycling programs. But over the past two decades, container deposit legislation has proven effective not only in controlling litter and conserving natural resources but in reducing the waste stream as well.

Recovery rates for beverage containers covered under the deposit system depend on the amount of deposit and the size of the container. The overall recovery rate for beverage containers ranges from 75 to 93%. The reduction in container litter after implementation of the deposit law ranges from 42 to 86%, and reduction in total volume ranges from 30 to 60%. Although beverage containers make up just over 5% by weight of all municipal solid waste generated in the United States, they account for nearly 10% of all waste recovered, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While the cans and bottles that are recycled into new containers or new products ease the burden on the environment , recycling is a second-best solution.

As recently as 1960, 95% of all soft drinks and 53% of all packaged beer was sold in refillable glass bottles. Those bottles required a deposit and were returned for reuse 20 or more times. But the centralization of the beverage industry, the increased mobility of consumers, and the desire for convenience resulted in the virtual disappearance of the reusable beverage container. Today, refillables make up less than 6% by volume of packaged soft drinks and 5% by volume of packaged beer, and these percentages shrink every year, according to the National Soft Drink Association and the Beer Institute.

Reuse is a more environmentally responsible waste management option, and is superior to recycling in the waste reduction hierarchy established by the EPA. While the container industry has been unwilling to promote refillable bottles, new interest in container deposit legislation may move industries and governments to adopt reuse as part of their waste management practices.

Industry-funded studies have found that a refillable glass bottle used as few as eight times consumes less energy than any other container, including recycled containers. A study conducted for the National Association for Plastic Container Recovery found that the 16-oz (1 pt) refillable bottle produces the least amount of waterborne waste and fewest atmospheric emissions of all container types.

To date, 10 states and one city have enacted beverage container deposit systems, designed to collect and process beverage bottles and cans. A deposit of 510 cents per can or bottle is an economic incentive to return the container. The states that have some form of container deposit legislation and accompanying deposit system include Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Maine, Iowa, Vermont, Michigan, Massachusetts, Delaware, and California. Legislation is pending in 25 state legislatures, and on Earth Day 1993, a national bottle bill was introduced in the U.S. Congress by sponsors from the House of Representatives.

Despite the fact that opinion polls show the public supports bottle bills by a nearly three-to-one margin, for two decades the beverage and packaging industries have successfully blocked the passage of bottle bills in nearly 40 states and even the most successful container deposit programs have come under attack and are threatened with repeal.

Connecticut has one of the highest percentages of refillable beer bottles in the nation, according to statistics from the Beer Institute. Despite the success of the state's five-cents-per-container deposit legislation, Governor Lowell Weicker Jr. has pushed for repeal of the legislation, to be replaced by a five-cents-per-container tax to benefit the state parks system. Opponents to Weicker's plan insist that the repeal of the deposit law would result in greater numbers of bottles and cans left strewn across the state.

Others predict the repeal of the bottle bill would impact the state in other ways: about 1,000 jobs would be lost; small redemption centers would go out of business; and recycling rates for glass, aluminum and plastic would drop. In addition, it has been estimated that repeal would cost municipal curbside recycling programs in Connecticut between $5.4 and $12.5 million annually.

The United States has a long way to go to catch up to progressive countries such as Sweden, which does not allow aluminum cans to be manufactured or sold without industry assurances of a 75% recycling rate. Concerned that voluntary recycling would not meet these standards, the beverage, packaging and retail industries in Sweden have devised a deposit-refund system to collect used aluminum cans. Consumers in Sweden return their aluminum cans at a rate that has not been achieved in any other country. The 75% recycling rate was achieved in 1987, and industry experts expect the rate to exceed 86% in 1993. Most North American deposit systems rely on the distributor or bottler, but the deposit in Sweden originates with the can manufacturer or drink importer delivering cans within the country. Also, retail participation is voluntary: retailers collect the deposit but are not required to redeem the containers, though most do.

In 1991, 122 billion containers, weighing about 7.2 million tons, were produced in the United Statesa 100% increase in packaging waste since 1960. Containers and packaging are the single largest component of the waste stream and they offer the greatest potential for reduction, reuse, and recycling, according to the EPA. Where individuals, industries, and governments will not voluntarily comply with recycling programs, container deposit legislation has decreased the amount of recyclables entering the waste stream.

[Linda Rehkopf ]



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