Industry representatives generally oppose deposit legislation. Environmentalists generally support it. Solid waste officials are almost always caught in the middle. Yet our goal is the same: Recycle more material and divert it from the nation's landfills.
The issue hasn't changed since it was first passed in Oregon in the mid-1970s. Environmentalists want deposit laws to encourage consumers to return bottles and cans to retailers so they can be redeemed and recycled. Industry folks prefer easy-to-use voluntary curbside and dropoff recycling programs.
Only a handful of states have passed deposit legislation, the last being New York in 1984. California passed its famous AB 2020, a modified (and more expensive) version of the bottle bill, in 1986. Since then, more than 2,000 deposit bills have been introduced in various states. None have passed. Few have even received a hearing. There are many reasons for this.
First, deposit laws are expensive. Like it or not, consumers prefer the convenience of nonreturnable packaging. Implementing a deposit system requires a huge investment in new trucks to pick up the bottles and cans, which adds pollution to the air and requires the use of more gasoline.
Second, implementing a deposit system requires food retailers to accept the redeemed bottles and cans. Most food retailers do not have adequate space to handle returned containers. As such, returned, empty and dirty bottles and cans are often stored near fresh food and produce. Rodent control often becomes a problem. No one wants to purchase groceries in such a setting.
Third, implementation of a deposit law system in many cases leads to a decrease in soft drink and beer sales, which results in a loss of sales tax revenue to states.
Fourth, implementation of a deposit law system can result in the loss of soft drink and beer sales to neighboring states that do not have deposit laws, again resulting in the loss of sales tax revenue.
Those are the negatives of deposit legislation. Now let's talk about the positives of beverage container disposal through voluntary recycling programs.
Since the late 1980s, America has gone through a major recycling evolution with the massive development of curbside and dropoff recycling programs. Today, millions of Americans participate in more than 9,000 curbside and 10,000 dropoff recycling programs. Virtually every large and medium-sized city has curbside recycling. Other more rural communities, such as Sullivan County, Tenn., provide outstanding regional dropoff recycling programs.
Why are voluntary curbside and dropoff recycling programs better than deposit collection systems? First, traditional deposit systems collect only aluminum cans, glass containers and PET plastic containers. That amounts to less than 2.5 percent of all solid waste.
Second, curbside and dropoff recycling programs collect a much wider variety of materials: all PET containers with a screw top (food, beverage, and nonfood containers), aluminum cans, all glass containers, all HDPE containers with a screw top, newspaper, steel containers, etc.
Third, curbside programs are easy to participate in. All the consumer has to do is to walk to the end of his or her driveway once a week. In order to participate in a deposit system, the consumer has to drive back to the store and lug a bunch of dirty, empty bottles and cans to a counter and wait in line until he/she can be served.
The National Association for PET Container Resources believes this country needs more support for the promotion of existing curbside and dropoff recycling programs. History tells us that when homeowners are informed about curbside recycling and what can be collected, they will participate.
Deposit laws are a 1970s approach to the issue. Curbside and dropoff recycling is the smart way to recycle more of our municipal solid waste.
Schmidt is president of the National Association for PET Container Resources.
This piece appeared opposite "Deposit Pros & Cons: Bottle bills stand the test of time" by Pat Franklin of CRI.