10 Reasons Why I Hate Bottle Redemption Fees (and You Should Too)

Currently, ten states have some form of bottle bill on their books that require deposits on certain aluminum and glass beverage containers that can be returned later for a refund. In addition to my home state of California, the other states that have bottle redemption laws on the books are: Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Vermont.

I’ve already explained why I hate bottle redemption fees. Here are ten of the biggest reasons:

  1. When it comes right down to it, they do little to help the environment. That’s because bottles are a very small portion of the so-called waste stream.
  2. Depending on where you live, deposits are not fully reimbursed. In California, for example, distribution center reimbursements are determined via weight — and that total is usually far less than the actual deposits.
  3. The bottle redemption fee model is inefficient. It’s more expensive than other recycling solutions, like the now-ubiquitous and highly-successful curbside pick-up programs.
  4. Bottle redemption fees are inconvenient to redeem. In order to get my money back, I’m forced to store my empties until I’ve accumulated enough to hopefully make the drive to a recycling center worthwhile, which is why:
  5. I never get a single penny of the fees refunded to me. That’s because, when it comes right down to it, the hassle I must endure to redeem the deposits isn’t worth it. Ironically, it’s also environmentally counterproductive because:
  6. Those who do end up reclaiming their deposits are creating new environmental burdens. Driving to those redemption centers increases fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. That’s especially infuriating when you consider:
  7. Curbside recycling programs have been shown to be more effective. Delaware finally repealed its law in 2009 after recognizing that three neighboring states had higher recycling rates despite the lack of bottle redemption fees.
  8. Bottle redemption fees are thinly disguised efforts to keep state coffers filled. In fact, they act as a regressive tax on consumers.
  9. Bottle redemption fees are thinly disguised efforts to keep state coffers filled (Part II). If not, why did California lawmakers decide to make the fees subject to sales tax? Add it all up and the only logical conclusion is:
  10. Bottle redemption fees have clearly outlived their usefulness. Which is why it’s time for them to go out with the rest of the trash.

Hey, I’m not sayin’. I’m just sayin’.

Photo Credit: Wablair

Comments

  1. 1

    margaret says

    I believe it works well in michigan. We pay 10 cents a bottle when we buy a bottle of pop and get back 10 cents each when we bring them back. We generally take them to a grocery store where we would be going anyway so no waste of gas. I wish they did the same for water bottles. I do recycle those. My area has 3 recycling centers-I usually plan my errands so that I am not going out of my way to recycle. But we also did just start curb side recycling for a fee, which from my understanding has not been embraced by even the minimum numbers of households they expected.

  2. 3

    says

    In Michigan the fee is $.10, but in many it’s $.05. Many of these fees were created in the 1980s and haven’t been raised for inflation. Does $.05 carrot spur anyone to recycle more?

    • 4

      Len Penzo says

      Joe, the irony is I recycle regardless of the fee!

      By the way, I just did a quick check of the bottle redemption fees I’ve paid this year just at Costco — this excludes our regular grocery shopping: through August only I have surrendered $26.75 in “deposits” on $170.05 in beverage purchases. Tack on another 7.75 percent in sales tax on the fee (yes folks, a tax on a tax — isn’t there a Constitutional protection against that?) and the total rises to $28.82.

      • 5

        Zach Doughty says

        your completely mistaken my friend. i live in maine and have been in the bottle redemption industry for years. Single stream leaves broken glass mixed with cardboard mixed with metal the redemption industry creates a whole bunch of industries that involve products made here in america. plastic bottles turn into clothes, toys, bumpers on your cars, more bottle. aluminum cans turn back into aluminum cans, and glass is 100% recyclable. The only person who actually pays is the beverage companies themselves with the handling fee paid to the redemption centers which has kept a roof on my head for a decade, ya its a dirty job but someones gotta do it. And the trucks dont go out of their way to drive there they pick up when they go by on the normal route

        • 6

          Zach Doughty says

          and some of those non bottle bill states end up paying 15 or more cents a container in tax to pay for the waste 5 cents to the consumer 5 cents to the store and 5 cents to the company

        • 7

          Len Penzo says

          Zach: If clothes, toys and other products can be made cheaper with recycled products, a government tax isn’t necessary. The lower cost of doing business would spur private industries from sprouting up to meet demand from companies making those products. Government is not the answer.

          And in your 15 cent calculation, if your assertion is true, the good news is none of the money ends up going to the government, where it would only be wasted and used to prop up its bloated bureaucracy.

  3. 8

    says

    This article makes me really glad that I live in Texas. I just throw bottles into the recycle with the rest of the cans and paper and I do my part for the environment willingly.

  4. 10

    Guy says

    They should leave the tax and remove the redemption and just use recycle. Use the money for waste cleanup on the shores and such. Solved every problem you mentioned!

  5. 12

    says

    I didn’t have a problem back when it was an encouragement to return them to recycling centres, as I am in favour of recycling anything that doesn’t take more overall to create new than use used materials.
    I never redeemed them, as I only ever used one bottle here or there.
    But now my city has introduced curbside recycling. City-wide. They encourage people to put all their recyclables in the blue bins, and that is obviously the efficient and logical thing to do. But the ‘redemption fee’ is still there. They actually *added* a 25 cent ‘deposit’ on milk AS they were rolling out the blue bins. Now I am thoroughly unimpressed and feel like I’m getting scammed.
    Now that I have a husband who sometimes drinks beer, juice, or milk, we do collect some, but still not enough to be worth the trek to a recycling centre.
    So I store them in a box, and when I have a few, I put them in the alley in a clear bag, and inevitably, someone picks them up within a day. I figure I might as well pass them off to people for whom the time isn’t an issue, and the few bucks can make a difference rather than just feeling more scammed by the city.

    • 13

      Len Penzo says

      I would do the same thing, Rachel — especially if it means the money stays in the hands of the bottle recyclers and out of the hands of the government which continues to push these crazy laws on us.

      • 14

        says

        I don’t know what people do with the money afterwards, but I figure they could use it more than I could, and better to be able to just pick up my bag than to paw through the bins for them.
        Do homeless people do any other sort of money-making activity in places without bottle fees?
        Are ‘bottle drives’ foreign concepts?
        It’s interesting.

  6. 18

    says

    I remember when I was a kid I loved going with my dad to the grocery store to redeem bottles. You’d put them into the machine one at a time, then you could hear the machine pulverizing them. Once you were done, you got a receipt that you could use to get a discount on your grocery bill. I haven’t seen such machines in California. My fiance keeps huge bags of bottles in our garage to bring to the redemption center.

  7. 20

    says

    In college my fraternity had a curbside recycling system (USC). We’d throw bottles and cans on the front lawn and they’d magically disappear in the morning!

  8. 21

    says

    What will you do when the state of California implodes with it’s financial stupidity? You are welcome to move to Georgia, though you’d have to change companies.

  9. 22

    Jenny says

    I live in Canada where we do have bottle redemption fees. One way that it does encourage more bottle returns, is through homeless (or otherwise destitute) people collecting them from garbage dumpsters to redeem. I can see one of these dumpsters from my balcony, and I often will see someone pulling 10-20 cans and bottles out at a time. And they often have full garbage bags of them. These are bottles that would have been trashed otherwise, and are being recovered because of the deposit fee.

  10. 23

    says

    Since you’re in California as well, I should tell you that there are many bottle redemption places that you can turn in your bottles, and they count them individually (not by weight). Then you can get the full amount back!

  11. 24

    Louisa says

    In NY we have curbside recycling AND a bottle/can deposit on carbonated beverages, beer, and water. We have the return machines in grocery stores, so it is really no problem to get your deposit back. I use no extra gas; just bring them back when I’m shopping. Many youth organizations will ask for donations of bottles/cans as fundraisers. I also believe, based on the persons I have seen returning carts of bottles and cans, that some homeless people support themselves by reedeeming discarded bottles/cans. Our roadsides are cleaner since the law went into effect. I’m all for it.

  12. 25

    Againstthegrain says

    In NYS where my extended family lives, retuning bev containers for the deposit is a no brainer, as grocery stores have convenient return centers. However, even there, some people can’t be bothered to return them, but that’s been a boon for my two teenage nieces, who have been collecting and returning neighbors’ containers since they were preschoolers. They’ve each saved thou$and$ towards college.

    But as you point out, in CA, the redemption process is far more inconvenient. Because we consume very little beer, soda, sports drinks, or bottled water, our own household yields so few deposit bev containers that we’d have to collect a year’s worth before it would be worthwhile making a trip to the recycling center.

    I tried to get my son interested in collecting the neighbors’ bev containers so he could earn a little cash that wasn’t from me. After our latest attempt to redeem deposits I gave up – it just wasn’t worth the effort or time. The closest redemption center is only a mile away behind a supermarket, but it’s only open during limited hours (closed 1.5 hours for lunch, too) and closed 3 days a week, so the line is always very long and made up most of high volume bev container returners (restaurants/bars, heavy drinkers, & people who pick up containers from public places and curbside bins for income). We waited in a line of people with bags and bags of containers for over two hours with our single bin just to use the automatic machine & redeem a few large bottles from local microbreweries, hard cider, or imported sparkling mineral water that the auto machine won’t recognize. It just isn’t worth two hours in the hot sun for a paltry $3.45. There’s always a line when it’s open so it doesn’t matter when we go. So I finally conceded that our waste & recycling company will get the deposits from our curbside pickup bin (though I’ve noticed that there’s a guy who rides his bike around early the morning checking bins and he takes anything that is sitting on top – more power to him).

    • 26

      Len Penzo says

      I hear ya! To me, the biggest joke of all (in California, at least) is the fact that redemption centers reimburse us by weight, which NEVER equates to anything close to the per-can or per-bottle deposits we pay at the checkout counter. It is a total scam that allows the state to pocket the difference. The only way around it is to redeem no more than 50 bottles or cans per trip — that is the only time redemption centers, by law, have to reimburse you for each individual item, rather than by weight. Of course, that is a total joke because it’s not even close to being worth the effort or cash to do things that way.

  13. 27

    says

    While the bottle/can waste is a small part of the “so called waste stream” – it is a part. Just like everything else is a “part”. Reducing each “part” reduces total waste.

    Here in Ontario (Canada) we have the beer store that collects the empties. If you are making a trip for a few more pops anyhow one may as well get the $2.40 back from their last case.

    • 28

      Len Penzo says

      The trouble is, it is such a small part that it certainly doesn’t justify government intervention in the form of a dubious tax on consumers. It just doesn’t. Especially when the public is now recycling everything anyway via curbside pick-up.

      • 29

        says

        Great point Len. Here in Canada this is a widely accepted 8% tax here in Canada (a 2-4 costs us say $30 if yer cheap like me) and we pay $0.10 a bottle.

        Perhaps I should just put them all in the blue box and know I am contributing something to someone who needs that money, instead of our provincial government.

        Interesting.

  14. 30

    says

    “1. When it comes right down to it, they do little to help the environment.”
    Wrong. Plastic pollution is a major environmental problem that many business people ignore. Bottles and cans are the most picked up littler because of the bottle bills. Get rid of them and nobody will pick up litter or be deterred from littering.
    “5. I never get a single penny of the fees refunded to me.” That is your problem. I get more than 100% back thanks to those who litter.
    “7.Curbside recycling programs have been shown to be more effective.” Maybe at creating more litter.

    • 31

      Len Penzo says

      1. Bottle redemption fees do nothing to deter people from littering. And if you’re going to insist on putting a bounty on every can and bottle as an incentive for people not to litter (even though 95% of the population has been conditioned not to litter anyway), why do we need the government to get involved? Why not simply go back to private sector bottle deposits — at least that way people used to get ALL of their money back.
      5. Of course it’s my problem. Unfortunately, it’s most people’s problem. And it’s a problem compounded by the fact that these states who implement these crazy fees end up skimming money off the top for the politician’s pet projects and political favoritism. It’s just another scandalous big-government program protecting itself under the guise of environmentalism. I’m not sayin’. I’m just sayin’.
      7. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt, Mark.

  15. 32

    norelief says

    Thanks for the talking points.
    My new state, CT, has “recycling laws” AND they have “bottle deposits” but they have made it SO HARD for me to recycle or return bottles that I am actually trashing things that I used to recycle when I lived in Maryland. I don’t have a place to store bottles, and no convenient way to return them, and the “recycling” only allows for one small box the size of a wastebasket, because “trash can sized recycling bins are too heavy to lift.” Huh? Don’t they lift the trash can sized trash cans? I don’t get it! In Maryland, I had almost no garbage, and most of it was chicken bones and coffee grounds. Now in CT, I have thrown away more in a month than I did in a year! And I am not returning the bottles. I am throwing them out and buying fewer. SMH, stupid. And since there are bottle deposits, schools and restaurants don’t have those recycling bins that were ubiquitous in MD. I have literally had to ask restaurants where I could put my bottles, and they gestured to…you guessed it…the trash. SMH.

  16. 33

    Dana says

    First of all, anyone who is just sayin…. is usually just saying something stupid. It shorthand for ” dont judge me, i speak without thinking.” Second, curbside pickup is not ubiquitous, and even in places that have it, they dont always recycle bottles. Third, just because you are too lazy (thats right, lazy) to return your bottles does not make it a bad program. Fourth, you DONT have to make a special trip to return your bottles, take them with you next time you shop. Duh. Fifth, any waste reduced is a good thing. We need MORE recycling, not less. I will stop now, im getting hand cramps. This argument is not worth carpal tunnel.

    • 34

      Len Penzo says

      Actually, “Just sayin'” is a nice way of warning that the evidence I just presented is incontrovertible, and that any attempt to argue against my cogent fact-based points via false assumptions, specious counterpoints, and dubious claims will only serve to reveal a person who makes decisions based upon emotion — because they think with their heart instead of than their head.

      You know … somebody just like you, Dana. ;-)

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