Can And Bottle Deposit Laws

Millions of cans and bottles do not end up being recycled or deposited into garbage cans. What can we do about can and bottle deposit laws?

As of August of 2017 when I’m writing this article, 10 U.S. states plus Guam now have bottle and can redemption laws (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont), while 40 states, Washington, D.C. and our the rest of our Caribbean and Pacific island colonies and territories do not have such laws in place.

Redeemable 5¢ and 10¢ deposits began in the U.S. in 1971, Oregon was the first state to enact a law which required deposits on aluminum beverage cans and plastic and glass beverage bottles.

When the first states began to enact can and bottle redemption laws back in the 1970’s, only a handful of cities, towns, villages, and counties in the U.S. were operating household recycling programs.

As of 2017, many cities throughout the U.S. have been operating recycling programs for residences and businesses for many years now, so there are fewer cans and bottles which end up being littered than there were when the first bottle deposit laws were proposed and approved.

However, anyone who has done even a small amount of traveling throughout the U.S. will likely notice relatively quickly that we do still have many millions of cans and bottles which do not end up being recycled or deposited into garbage cans.

The effects of the approval and the subsequent enacting of refundable beverage container deposit laws on litter has been studied, the specific amount that these programs contribute to reducing litter varies among the states which have deposit laws in place, though in each state which has enacted these programs, there have been significant reductions in litter following the approvals of these laws.

In some cities, homeless people collect empty cans and bottles for the redemption value and this becomes one of their only sources of money.  The issue becomes controversial because the managers of some supermarkets feel that the presence of homeless people lining up at the bottle and can redemption machines may frighten away or intimidate their customers.

Summary Of Programs Which Have Been Repealed And Proposals Which Were Not Approved

Delaware had a 5¢ redeemable deposit program for soda and beer cans and bottles from 1982 through 2010, voters in Delaware opted to end their bottle can and deposit program in 2009.  The State of Washington almost had a similar law, the proposal appeared on their ballots in the 1970’s and it was approved, though the state legislature opted to repeal the law before it was ever enacted.

In 2009 and 2010, the state legislature in Tennessee discussed a 5¢ soda, soft drink and beer can and bottle deposit scheme, but the bill did not pass.  A similar proposed bill appeared on the state ballots in Texas in 2011, and the bill did not receive enough votes in the 2011 elections to pass.

I mentioned Guam in the opening paragraph in this article. Voters in Guam approved a beverage container redemption law at the end of December of 2010, though the program has not yet been enacted, and it is still being discussed within Guam’s territorial legislature.

Columbia, Missouri has been the only city in the U.S. so far in which voters opted to enact a container redemption law at the local level, the bottle redemption program in Columbia Missouri was approved in 1977, though it wasn’t enacted until 1982, and voters in Columbia voted to repeal the program in 2002.

Comparable Programs Have Been Successful In Other Countries In Recent Years

Numerous other countries including Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have had very successful comparable programs in which you pay a small deposit when you purchase an aluminum can or a glass or plastic bottle of soda, beer or water and then you get your deposits refunded back to you when you redeem your empty cans and bottles at supermarkets, beverage stores.

Six of the states and territories in Australia have the bottle and can redemption programs which are either currently active or will become active in 2018, and all of the provinces and territories of Canada except for Nanavut have the bottle and can deposit redemption programs.

What Can We Do About Can And Bottle Deposit Laws?

In the U.S., can and bottle deposit laws are mostly in the hands of the individual state governments.  Talk to the politicians in your state assemblies, and talk to candidates who will be running for seats in your state’s elections.  Let them know that reducing litter is an issue that is important to you, let them know that this issue has been closely analyzed and there is a lot of evidence to illustrate that can and bottle redemption laws are an easy means of contributing to cleaner roadsides, sidewalks, and parks.

If you feel that proposals for beverage container deposit programs won’t get enough support at the state level, then discuss this with some of the candidates and the current politicians in your county or city governments.  Perhaps in future years, people who live in some cities may opt to propose and approve programs comparable to the redemption program that was active in Columbia, Missouri from 1982 through 2002.

Vermont’s bottle redemption program also includes a 15¢ deposit on liquor bottles, Vermont is the only state in the U.S. in which the beverage container redemption program also includes liquor bottles.

Belgium is the only country that I know of which in which people pay also pay a refundable container deposit whey they purchase fruit juices and milk, and Hungary is the only country that I know of in which their bottle deposit program also includes liquor and wine bottles in addition to soda, water, and beer.  These could also be worth thinking about and discussing with assembly persons within state legislatures as well as with the candidates who will be running for seats in your state legislatures in future years.

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed...

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