Now before you write in to tell me how ashamed I should be, and what a terrible steward of the earth I am, you should know that despite my aversion to my state’s bottle redemption law, I still dutifully recycle.
That’s right; I separate my trash every week just like a lot of you do. Yep, I’m a recycling fool.
See, my city trash collector requires all households to ensure that our cardboard, junk mail, plastic bags, foam cups and plates, and plastic milk cartons are always carefully separated from the regular trash. As such, each week I gently place those recyclables into the gray bin — with a great deal of pomp and circumstance I might add, just in case anybody is watching.
Meanwhile, the old rags, chicken bones, dog poo and other assorted non-recyclable non-hazardous trash ends up getting unceremoniously dumped into the other bin which, ironically, happens to be colored green. I know.
Have Bottle Redemption Laws Outlived Their Usefulness?
A big reason these bottle redemption laws were originally passed was to encourage recycling. Back in 1971, when Oregon passed the first container-deposit law in the United States, litter was a major problem and recycling was nowhere near as widespread — or accepted — as it is today.
However, recycling is now almost second nature for many Americans; a Harris poll found that more than 90 percent of American households recycle. In fact, curbside recycling now services fully half of the American population.
So have the bottle redemption laws outlived their usefulness? Many people, including yours truly, think they have.
Keep in mind that recycling has become so widespread that Delaware voted in 2009 to repeal its 25-year old bottle law after it was discovered that cheaper, more efficient, curbside collection in many communities there rendered the existing legislation ineffective. Never mind that the recycling rates in the three states surrounding Delaware were found to be higher too — even though they have no bottle redemption laws.
Bottle Redemption Fees Add Up
Currently, ten states still 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: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Vermont.
In California, for example, consumers pay a redemption fee of ten cents on most every beverage container that is 24 ounces or larger, and five cents on the smaller ones — and that redemption fee itself is, curiously, subject to taxation as well. Of course, that means every time the state of California increases the bottle and can redemption value, it also increases its sales tax revenues. California also keeps the unclaimed deposits, which makes one wonder if the primary purpose of the law is to keep the earth green, or the state treasury.
Nevertheless, California’s redemption fee adds about 64 cents to every 12-pack of soda pop or beer sold. That adds 16 percent to the price of a 12-pack of soda pop, assuming it sells for $4.
Now for those who have the space and are willing to store their empty — and sometimes smelly — cans and bottles until they have enough saved up to make a trip to the redemption center worth while, that is probably no big deal.
However, in my case, rather than let them pile up, I find it much more practical to simply dispose of our recyclable bottles and cans each week by throwing them in the green, er, gray trash bin and let the city’s curbside collection service handle the recycling. I suspect the majority of people in my community do the exact same thing.
Of course, those households end up forfeiting the redemption fees on every case of bottled water and 12-pack of soda pop and beer they purchase.
In my case, each year our household ends up, well, “throwing away” more than $150 in redemption fees that we never get back — even though we recycle every can and bottle we use via our city’s curbside collection service. You don’t have to be on a tight budget to realize that’ll buy quite a few extra groceries every year.
Talk about being wasteful.
Photo Credit: Brad Montgomery