February 27, 2007
Bottle issue: Drop deposits
The Legislature this year will try to expand the Bottle Bill. By itself, this is a noble idea, but not if it piles more costs and inconvenience on the average consumer.
Enacted in 1971, the Bottle Bill requires a deposit on beer and soft-drink containers. For most containers it’s a nickel. You get the nickel back if you take the can or bottle back to the store.
Taking it back to the store has become a huge nuisance, though. In the early years, you took your empties with you to the store, and the checker would see how many you had and then deduct their value from your bill when you paid.
This proved too much of a hassle for the stores, and a big mess in the back room. So now most supermarkets make you get rid of your empties at the automated bottle return outside. But that has proved a big hassle to most consumers, so much so that many no longer go to the trouble. Nobody wants to stand out there, wading in puddles of beer and other sticky stuff while waiting for customers with hundreds of cans each to feed them into the machine.
Now our legislators want to expand this setup. They want to increase the deposit so that it means something again for the average consumer. And they want to expand the deposit requirement to other other kinds of bottles — for water, for instance, and tea.
For many consumers, this means that they would have to spend more money on deposits, money they would not get back. They would not get it back because people just don’t have the time to stand in line at those bottle returns for even longer than they would have to do now.
If we want more containers returned for recycling rather than just dumped, the state should set up a system for doing so, a system that gets the recycling chore away from the stores. If that proves too complicated or costly, the whole idea of deposits may have outlived its usefulness.
Instead, how about treating plastic and aluminum containers the way we treat other commodities? For example, people recycle newspapers without any deposit. As long as there’s a market for the material of which they are made, could the same be done with plastic containers and aluminum cans, regardless of what they formerly contained? (hh)