April 1, 2016
Correction: The story incorrectly stated that the study prepared by the Container Recycling Institute was sponsored by the Glass Packaging Institute. The GPI is not a member of the CRI and provided no funding for the report.
Buoyed by victory two years ago in Massachusetts in defeating the expansion of the state’s bottle bill, the state’s beverage association is championing a new law, recently brought out of committee, to dismantle the deposit system altogether.
The state currently places a 5-cent deposit on all carbonated soft drink, beer, malt beverage and sparkling water containers sold there. A proposal to expand the deposit to other containers failed by nearly a three-to-one margin in 2014. Just recently, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy voted to bring House Bill 646 out for discussion, a bill that would repeal the 5-cent deposit and instead charge beverage producers and distributors a 1-cent fee, per container used, for three years.
Nicole Giambusso, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Beverage Association, says the new 1-cent payment would generate about $135 million total. About 80 percent of the funds would go to help municipalities upgrade their recycling systems, such as retrofitting trucks, providing large recycling carts and increasing public space recycling efforts. The other 20 percent would be used for recycling education programs for the consumer. The plan is, she says, to get enough people to switch to curbside container recycling to end the container fee program altogether after the three years.
“Collecting a deposit is an idea that hasn’t changed much since the 1980s, but we recycle a lot different today,” Giambusso says. “There’s much more municipality participation in single-stream recycling, and people are using it for containers – which means they’re being unfairly charged twice.”
Ten states use deposits for the collection of bottles, ranging from 5 cents per container in Maine, New York and Iowa, to 10 cents per container in Michigan and California. All 10 states typically report high numbers of redemption and significantly lower bottle litter numbers since before their deposit laws. However, beverage industries don’t like the extra work or higher price they must charge for each container in these states, and material recovery facilities would prefer to gather the containers as part of their weight-calculated fee.
The opponents of bottle bills have a valid point – recycling is different than it was years ago. Sorting technology has improved, and throwing items into a home recycling bin is far more common. Even attitudes have changed, with “green” systems” adopted, and touted, by most major companies.
Glass recyclers disagree with the beverage industry, saying that studies have shown that states without deposit laws are less than 50 percent effective at keeping containers out of the streets, and eventually landfills. Lynn Bragg, president of the Glass Packaging Institute, says bottle bills work. A 2013 study prepared by the Container Recycling Institute claims that deposit states have bottle returns in the 70 percent to 85 percent range. States that instead rely on single stream for recycling end up with unusable glass and contaminated waste streams, according to the study.
“We’re very supportive of container deposits, because that’s where our industry receives the cleanest glass, from the deposit-collecting states,” Bragg says. “What’s the point of recycling glass if it is broken at the MRF and contaminated, and instead just sent to a landfill?”
Kelly Smith, director of government affairs and sustainability for the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, says her firm is opposed to bottle deposit laws. She says deposit laws are an expensive, inefficient approach to bottle recycling that don’t address the entire waste stream issue.
“Single-stream recycling, where consumers put everything in a bin at the end of the driveway, that’s easier for consumers to manage their bottles,” She says. “They don’t have to separate out everything, or haul dirty bottles to the store. Anything that makes it easier the consumer, for the local municipality, that’s where efforts should be focused.”