Better bottle law
Taking a walk along Lewisboro roads 15 years ago, one would not be able to traverse for too long without stepping aside to avoid a discarded can of beer littering the ground.
Today, the roadsides suffer from a different beverage blight. Instead of bloated beer guzzlers littering our roadsides with cans and bottles, we have trim, fit exercisers tossing aside their water bottles.
Yes, bottles of water — be it plain, flavored or vitamined — have outstripped beer and soda containers as the litter of choice in town. Wherever you go, water bottles pop up along roadsides like transparent weeds.
You can perhaps understand inebriates not thinking before they toss their bottles to the wind, but runners, walkers and bicyclists? Aren’t these sober, intelligent people? Why would they believe that others — you and I — should pick up after them?
It’s not likely we will convert the selfish, thoughtless litterers into caring environmentalists and good neighbors, but we can place a value on the trash they toss.
Various studies have shown that, in states that have adopted deposit laws, roadside beer and soda container litter has substantially decreased over the years, even though populations and traffic have risen. Passed in 1982, New York’s “bottle bill” made many people think twice before they tossed money out the window or into the trash can. It encouraged them to recycle.
Now it’s time to require a deposit on plastic containers of water and juices. Such a move would be especially timely because these plastic bottles we so quickly discard are valuable, so much so that recycling companies cannot get enough of them.
Old bottles made of PET are the chief source of the resin used here and abroad to make fabrics such as fleece for clothing and fiber for carpets and cloths. The resin can also be fashioned into new bottles.
However, only one in four plastic containers is recycled in the United States. That’s not surprising since only 11 states encourage recycling of plastic bottles through deposit laws. Those 11 produce more than 60% of the PET plastic recycled in the United States.
National Public Radio reported recently that recyclers can’t find enough plastic bottles to meet their needs. “The demand is almost bottomless at this point,” Michael Schedler of the National Association for PET Container Resources was quoted as saying. “There’s so much new demand coming on and existing demand can’t be met.”
Because China uses so much recycled PET — and pays more than others to get it — recycling companies are scrambling for sources of this precious, albeit artificial, resource. At the same time, most containers are winding up in landfills, where they take centuries to degrade, and in incinerators, where they contribute to air pollution.
Or, they litter our roadsides.
In expanding the deposit law, the state should also find ways to reduce the burden on the retailers, who now process the returns. For instance, consider imitating California and establishing redemption centers, financing them with unclaimed deposits — no matter what, there will always be those who throw their bottles away. In California, unclaimed deposits total $250 million a year.
Extending the deposit law to include plastic bottles would accomplish at least four worthy goals: Increase recycling of a non-renewable resource, cut trash in our landfills, reduce pollution from our incinerators, and discourage litter on our roadsides.
And while we’re at it, charge a dime instead of a nickel, and increase the incentive to recycle.