Bottled Anger

An updated "Bottle Bill" is in discussion by Iowa's lawmakers. For those just tuning in, Iowa is one of the 8 states that takes a deposit on certain beverage containers at the time of purchase and then returns that money when the container is returned, at least that's how it works in Iowa. It's quite possible other states do it a bit different.
Today, you deposit 5 cents and you get back 5 cents. The new bill looks to take 1 cent from the 5 you'd normally get back and give that to the redemption center that is handling your return. They say this is because the redemption centers can't make back the costs of being a redemption center and at the same time, being a redemption center is unsanitary, loud, and space consuming. You know what? I believe them.

The can redemption program is fully self-funded. It processes 1.5 billion containers a year, which adds up to 75 million dollars getting handed around. In addition, 15 million comes from beverage distributors. That's 90 million dollars. Nothing to sneeze at.
At the time the Bottle Bill originally went in to effect (1978), it probably was a good idea. Recycling centers were nearly non-existant and people didn't have the concern for the Earth that they do now. Who am I kidding, people still don't care, but I digress. In addition, 15% of beverage containers today, including bottled water and juices, are of
the variety that do not fit in to this program. That's a hefty chunk.
Certainly if people must be motivated by money to not litter, these non-program containers would be all over our roads, but they really aren't. I've participated in Iowa's adopt-a-highway program about 5 times. I've spent Saturdays picking up junk. I honestly can't say that I picked up more juice bottles than I did Pepsi bottles. If we are going to keep this program, let's add in that 15% of beverage containers that isn't covered. But what about the other percentage of containers that aren't beverage containers? Why don't we have programs for those? Ohh wait, we do, it's called curbside recycling.

My point is, I think the whole idea of returning cans to the store is past due. We have curbside recycling now. In fact, 600 communities in Iowa have it now.
Why don't we just ditch this can return nonsense and sink the $90 million in to improving existing recycling programs? According to the Iowa DNR, 500 containers per person per year are returned. That calculates to $25. I know my total is far higher than that, but I think I'd tolerate $25 more in taxes to not ever have to take bottles back to the store. I already recycle. Just let me keep doing that and get rid of this extra process for these "magical" beverage containers.

Proponents of the bottle bill like to point to the number of jobs the program has created and the energy that is saved by creating new bottles from all of the recycled ones. That's fantastic. This will still be true if we
switch to curbside recycling for beverage containers. The stuff still needs
handled, so now the high school kids will work for a state or city recycling center instead of Hy-Vee. The containers still get recycled, so we still save all of the energy.

From recent protests and public posturing by grocery stores and other redemption centers, it's obvious that they don't want to be in the business of turning aluminum in to nickel. Let's take that energy and reapply it to state and city recycling programs.


crturboguy said...

I agree whole heartedly. I'd much rather improve the recycling programs and not have to deal with returning bottles ever again. I hate dealing w/ the mess of taking them back, feeding them into a machine that's inevitably 'full' after a half dozen or so containers. To be able to eliminate all that and just put them in w/ the rest of my recyclables would be great.


-- I said...

In fact, the reason I DON'T personally take bottles back is simply that it's highly inconvienient for me. The local stores don't take everything back, only what they sell (which is BS but a different topic altogether), and I'm sure as hell not going to drive 25 - 35 minutes for the nearest store/center. I simply toss them. My time is worth more than what I would spend chasing nickles. Now, I'd feel a hell of a lot better if I could recycle them, but the curb-side programs are too restrictive at this time to allow that. Something needs fixed.