June 22, 2008
Dime deposit on water, juice unlikely in Michigan
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan's 10-cent deposit on pop cans and beer bottles works so well that its creators want to add water and juice containers to the recycling program passed by voters in 1976.
But the newly revived effort faces potentially insurmountable odds in the Legislature, especially in the face of intense lobbying from grocers.
Because it took a ballot initiative to enact the bottle law, the measure can only be amended if three-fourths of lawmakers agree.
"It's tough to get 75 percent of the Legislature to agree on Mother's Day," said Dennis Muchmore, executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.
The group, which spearheaded the ballot bill 32 years ago, also could try to duplicate the grass-roots campaign and gather hundreds of thousands of signatures to put an expanded bottle bill before voters.
Muchmore prefers the legislative route for now. His group, a 45,000-member organization of hunters and anglers, wants to add the dime deposit on non-carbonated containers.
People return 97 percent of the 5.5 billion cans and bottles for which they pay a deposit. They recycle only 20 percent of increasingly popular plastic water bottles, which didn't even exist 32 years ago. Nearly 1 billion non-carbonated drink containers are thrown away each year in Michigan.
"That's a lot of containers floating around the state. It's a terrible waste," Muchmore said. "The bottle bill helps serve the purpose of stepping in where recycling has not been successful."
Grocery stores and convenience stores, however, say it would be costly to separate and handle additional water and juice bottles. Eventually, the costs could be passed on to customers or eaten by stores battling in the extremely competitive grocery industry.
Michigan is the only state in the Great Lakes region with a bottle law, but it still has the lowest overall recycling rate. The rate also is below the national average.
"Retailers see it differently from anyone else because they are the ones that have to deal with garbage coming back into the stores," said Linda Gobler, president of the Michigan Grocers Association. Condoms, cockroaches and needles have even been found in some bottles, she said.
Many in the public like the dime deposit law, but critics say it's more expensive and less efficient than curbside and drop-off recycling programs. They say it also costs customers a nickel more for each packaged beverage because it costs money to process returned bottles.
Adding more containers would cost customers another couple cents per container, according to the Michigan Soft Drink Association.
If a bottle isn't returned, the 10-cent deposit is split — one-fourth goes to stores and the rest to the state for environmental cleanup.
Opponents say changing the bottle law would have little effect on the state's recycling rate because drink containers are a small fraction of solid waste. Some people already recycle non-carbonated containers through local recycling programs, they add.
"Why are we not focused on comprehensive recycling? What makes a water bottle any different from a dish detergent bottle?" Gobler asked.
Various efforts to boost recycling statewide have stalled inside the Capitol.
Democrats proposed raising fees on landfill dumping to set up local curbside recycling, but Republicans see that as a tax increase. Legislators also have not embraced a business-backed bill that would add a penny fee on all retail sales above $2 to create a recycling fund, even though it initially was supported by Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, a Republican.
Bishop's position has shifted in the wake of tax increases approved last year to balance the state budget, spokesman Matt Marsden said. Recycling also has taken a back seat as lawmakers work to pass a new budget along with energy, health insurance and water legislation.
Conservationists and environmentalists may get a rare opportunity to push for an expanded bottle law as early as this week if legislators take up bills targeting fraudulent bottle returns. Bills to expand the bottle law have been introduced every legislative session since at least 1997 but have gone nowhere.
Muchmore said he thinks other proposals could better improve recycling but sees no indication that policy makers are ready to endorse them. Within a few years, sales of non-carbonated drinks could exceed pop sales.
Sen. Michael Switalski, a sponsor of the legislation since he first won election in 1999, said people are much more likely to recycle and pick up litter if they can get 10 cents back. Participation rates are lower in voluntary curbside programs, he says.
"Who's going to bother to go pick up a plastic bottle on the freeway if they can't get any money for it? Are they going to put it in a curbside bin out of the goodness of their heart?" asked Switalski, D-Roseville. "After all these years, 10 cents is still a high motivator."
David Eggert can be reached at deggert(at)ap.org
The bottle deposit bills are Senate Bill 29 and House Bill 6000.
On the Net:
Michigan Legislature: http://www.legislature.mi.gov
Michigan United Conservation Clubs: http://www.mucc.org
Michigan Grocers Association: http://www.michigangrocers.org