Bottle Bill Myths and Facts
Although support for deposit laws is widespread, there are some groups, especially members of the beverage production and retail industries, that consistently try to prevent bottle bills from being passed or expanded, as well as attempt to repeal existing deposit laws. A sampling of these groups is available here.
In addition to spending huge sums of money to defeat deposit legislation, these opponents have also tried to sway public opinion in their favor. Their arguments concentrate on the increased costs to bottlers, distributors and retailers, which they claim result in higher prices to consumers. They also contend that bottle bills reduce sales and eliminate jobs in the container manufacturing industry. More recently, they have argued that municipal recycling programs are a more comprehensive means of reducing solid waste and that bottle bills rob curbside recycling programs of the valuable aluminum beverage cans, thereby reducing program revenues.
These arguments are not true! The following is a list of common arguments made by bottle bill opponents, followed by facts that support the case for bottle bills.
Myth: Deposit systems target only a small part of the waste stream (less than 3% of municipal solid waste (MSW) by weight).
While soda containers constitute less than 1% of the waste stream, all carbonated beverages bring the total to 4% of the waste stream, and all beverage containers (excluding milk, also excluding pouches, gabletop and aseptic) are 5.6% of the waste stream1. More important, the upstream environmental effects of container wasting are disproportionately high. For example, beverage containers account for 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from landfilling a ton of MSW and replacing the wasted products with new products made from virgin materials.2
Myth: Deposit systems address a small portion of litter: 7 to 25 percent.
- Beverage containers comprise 40-60% of litter. The Solid Waste Coordinators of Kentucky found that 58% of litter collected consisted of beverage containers, pull tabs, and closures.3
- Deposit laws significantly reduce container litter AND other types of litter. Following the implementation of bottle bills in various states, container litter has been reduced by 69 to 84 percent (including in New York)4 , while total litter has been reduced by 34-64 percent.5
Myth: Deposits aren’t needed where there is curbside recycling.
Curbside recycling and deposit systems are not mutually exclusive. Together they can be part of a comprehensive approach to recycling. Not only are combined curbside and deposit systems more effective than curbside recycling programs alone, the materials collected through deposit programs are of a much higher quality than materials collected through curbside recycling programs.
Myth: Deposit return is inconvenient (consumers prefer home curbside bins).
Myth: Deposits rob curbside programs of valuable aluminum can revenue.
- As it is, curbside programs are failing to adequately capture aluminum cans. Despite a tripling in curbside access in the last decade (2,711 programs in 1990, 9,709 in 2000), the U.S. aluminum can recycling rate went from 65% in 1992 to 49% in 2001.9
- Curbside programs do not target cans consumed away from home.
- Aluminum cans are gradually being supplanted by plastic bottles. 10
- Deposits reduce collection costs by removing cumbersome, low-value glass and plastic bottles from the stream. Plastic bottles are cumbersome to collect at curbside (low weight-to-volume ratio)11; mixed-color glass is heavy and has a low scrap value, and is often impossible to market.12
- It is unfair to expect one container type to “carry” the others.
- It is illogical to expect curbside recycling to generate revenue when this expectation has never been made of landfilling or incineration
Myth: Deposits are more expensive than other recycling programs.
- While their initial costs may be more, deposits are much more effective than other recycling and waste reduction programs, resulting in more bang for the buck. The BEAR report found that a combination of recycling methods in 10 deposits states recycles 490 containers per capita per year, at a cost of 1.53¢/unit, vs. 191 containers per capita per year at 1.25¢/unit in 40 non-deposit states (which rely on curbsides and drop-offs to do the whole job). In other words, at an additional cost of only 1.5¢ per six-pack, beverage container recovery rates in deposit states are more than 2.5 times higher than in states without bottle bills.13 (View a table)
- Under deposit systems, the cost of recycling is borne by producers and consumers, not by government and taxpayers.
Myth: Deposit returns are expensive for distributors.
- There is a cost to dealing with beverage container waste, whether through recycling or disposal; it will either be borne by government or by brand-owners, distributors, and beverage consumers.
- Distributors have taken back-hauling out of the distribution system; they have the ability to design it back in.
- Distributors have the option of passing the cost of handling on to consumers.
Myth: “Deposits are a tax” and increase the price of beverages.
Bottle bill opponents call bottle bills "a tax". Virginia State Senator Madison Marye has about the best answer yet. He once said, "Well sir, I sure wish all my taxes were refundable, like container deposits."
One-way, throwaway, no-deposit, no-return beverage containers are a corporate subsidy, a hidden tax. Taxpayers absorb the cost of disposing of beverage containers! Taxpayers absorb the costs of unsightly, dangerous beverage container litter! And many taxpayers absorb the costs of recycling beverage containers through curbside recycling programs.
When there is a refundable deposit on beverage containers, the consumers (not taxpayers) pay the deposit. The deposit is refunded if the container is returned. And the beverage distributors and bottlers absorb the cost of collection. They then choose whether or not to pass their costs on to their consumers.
Because 70% or more of the deposit containers are returned, taxpayers pay less for disposal, less for litter pickup, and less for curbside recycling.
(1) Derived from data from US EPA. Municipal Solid Waste in The United States. 2009 Facts and Figures. http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2009rpt.pdf
(2)“ Energy to Waste?" Usman Valiente, Solid Waste and Recycling, April/May 2000.
(3)”Litter in Kentucky: A View from the Field.” Solid Waste Coordinators of Kentucky, May 1999.
(4)Beverage container litter reduction: 69-77% in Maine ( p. 9, “State’s Experience With Beverage Container Deposit Laws Shows Positive Benefits.” U.S. General Accounting Office/Comptroller General of the United States, December 11, 1980); 84% in Michigan (“ Michigan Roadside Litter Composition Survey: Final Report.” Michigan Department of Transportation, Maintenance Division. December 1979); 70-80% in New York (“Final Report of the Temporary State Commission on Returnable Beverage Containers,” March 27, 1985).
(5)Total litter reduction: 30% in Massachusetts (“ Bottle Bills in the 1980’s: A Handbook for Effective Citizen Action,” Environmental Action Foundation, August 1987), 34-64% in Maine (U.S. General Accounting Office/Comptroller General of the United States, December 11, 1980), 47% in Oregon (p. 26, “Oregon’s Bottle Bill: The 1982 Report,” Oregon Department of Environmental Quality).
(6) Derived from data in “The State of Garbage in America,” BioCycle, December 2001.
(7) Tripling of curbside access in last decade from “The State of Garbage in America,” BioCycle, December 2001. Rising tide of [container] waste in last decade: 1.21 million tons of containers and packaging were landfilled or incinerated in 2000, up from 1.17 million tons in 1990. Source: Table 17 “Products Discarded in the Municipal Waste Stream, 1960 to 2000 (with detail on nondurable goods),” Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (5305W) EPA530-R-02-001, June 2002.
(8) Report by DSM Environmental Services, Inc. (Contact CRI for title and date).
(9)Tripling of curbside access in last decade from “The State of Garbage in America,” BioCycle, December 2001. Rising tide of [container] waste in last decade: 1.21 million tons of containers and packaging were landfilled or incinerated in 2000, up from 1.17 million tons in 1990. Source: Table 17 “Products Discarded in the Municipal Waste Stream, 1960 to 2000 (with detail on nondurable goods),” Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (5305W) EPA530-R-02-001, June 2002.
(10)Table 2.1 “Beverage Package Market: Volume, Share and Growth by Package Type 1997 – 1999 (r).” in Beverage Packaging in the U.S., 2000 Edition. Beverage Marketing Corporation, October 2000.
(11) Aluminum cans collected at curbside yield about $32/cubic yard in gross revenues, compared to about $5 and $15 for PET and glass bottles respectively. Derived from the following data: weight-to-volume ratios for whole uncompacted containers (in lbs/cubic yard): glass bottles: 600; PET bottles: 40; aluminum cans: 62.5. Source: “Appendix B: Standard Volume-to-Weight Conversion Factors,” in “Measuring Recycling: A Guide for State and Local Governments.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (5306W) EPA530-R-97-011, September 1997. Prices for materials in October 2002: aluminum cans: $0.51/lb; PET bottles: $0.07/lb; Glass bottles: $0.025/lb. Source: Container Recycling Report, Vol. 13, No. 12, Dec. 2002, Portland, OR.
(12) Jenny Gitlitz. “Glass Recycling Market Trends, Contamination Problems Discussed.” American Recycler Vol. 4 No.10, Oct. 2001.
(13)Table ES-1, “Understanding Beverage Container Recycling: A Value Chain Assessment Prepared for the Multi-Stakeholder Recovery Project. ” Global Green USA, January 16, 2002.