In an effort to combat litter and encourage recycling many states have enacted returnable container laws, more commonly referred to as bottle bills. Oregon was the first state to put such a trailblazing law into place in 1972 and since that time 10 other states have passed similar legislation, and still other states are working to pass comparable bills. Each state has their own guidelines, but it boils down to consumers pay a deposit when they purchase glass, plastic, or aluminum beverage bottles or cans that are covered by the program for the state in which the purchase is made. After the beverage is consumed the bottles and cans can be returned to a grocery store and exchanged for the initial deposit. Stores that sell bottled or canned beverages covered by the law need to accept and pay out the deposit and standalone redemption centers have sprung up in some areas to accept returns and pay out the deposit. Each states dictates what sizes and type of bottles are and are not included in their programs, for instance Vermont includes liquor bottles as part of their bill and Maine has one of the most diverse bills as it pretty much includes anything that is 4 liters or less with the exception of dairy and unprocessed cider. In recent years New York and Connecticut expanded their bills to also include water bottles.
The Success of the Bottle Bill
The goal of these bottle bills is to reduce trash and encourage recycling. Keeping non-biodegradable bottles and cans out of landfills saves space for items that will safely break down over time, and allows bottles and cans to be recycled into useful products. By attaching a monetary value to empty cans and bottles it discourages people from littering. Unfortunately some people still litter, but there are also people who are all too willing to pick up that litter and turn it in for the deposit, thus showing the power of the program. Not only does this law discourage litter, it also
encourages people to pick up litter, at least specific types of litter. There have been a lot of studies conducted on these programs and it is believed that roadside litter is reduced between 30% and 64% in states with bottle deposit bills. New York State claims litter has been reduced by 75% and that 70-80% of all bottles and cans with a deposit sold are returned. Michigan claims to have a 100% return rate, although Michigan also offers a 10-cent deposit which is one of the highest. A hidden benefit of the bill is unclaimed deposits. Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, and Massachusetts use unclaimed deposits to fund environmental programs in their respective states. Hawaii uses unclaimed monies to help cover the cost of the program.
Since this program encourages and increases recycling there is more opportunity to create new products from recycled materials, products such as reusable water bottles and reusable shopping bags. Bags made from recycled plastic bottles are sturdy and water-proof, which are both really handy traits for grocery bags. RPET bags are designed to last for several years and they too can be recycled when they become worn, so you can keep the cycle going. The primary perk of reusable grocery bags is that they reduce the demand and the use of disposable plastic bags, which much like the bottles and cans covered by the bottle bills are not biodegradable and are often tossed on streets and sidewalks as litter. The bottle bill is not directly responsible for the increase of reusable shopping bags, but it is a lucky break that allows people to be better stewards of the environment. The success of the bottle bill should not just be measured in the decrease of litter and reduction of plastics in landfills, but also in the alternate uses found for materials salvaged because of it.
Reusable Water Bottles Up the Environmental Ante
There is no doubt that the various versions on this program are a positive change. Any program that reduces litter and encourages recycling is helping the environment. Where this program misses the mark is that it still encourages the use of plastic and glass bottles and aluminum cans. The existing material can be recycled into new bottles and cans, but there is still a demand for these products, so they are still being created. Reducing the need for beverage bottles and cans is a better, more environmentally friendly solution. Do your part by using reusable water bottles, especially if you live in a state that does not have their own take on a bottle bill. Filling a reusable water bottle at home reduces the demand and in time the production of bottled water. The bottle bill is at the discretion of each state and many of the bills do not include water bottles, so there is little incentive to recycle them. Without the incentive they can end up in landfills or as litter. In the same way reusable shopping bags help reduce litter and prevent non-biodegradable plastics from being hauled off to the landfill, using a reusable water bottle helps reduce the demand and lets you put an end to litter and the irresponsible dumping of non-biodegradable materials in landfills. Disposable plastic bags and water bottles do not safely break down so the more of these items we can keep out of garbage dumps and our community the better. Reusable products, like water bottles and bags let you control or limit the demand. Buying larger bottles of juice or soda and filling your reusable bottle to take on the go can also prove to be more cost effective, so you can help your bottom line as you help the environment.
Reusable water bottles have come a long way. They come in a variety of materials, feature different lid types, and can be flashy or subdued accessories, depending on what you pick out. They can be emblazoned with statements or just be handy vessels to keep you hydrated on a bike ride or hike. The bottle bill is an excellent program that definitely increases recycling; however, a reusable water bottle is a great way to reduce the need and consumption of one-time use bottles and cans.
For more information on the Bottle Bill check out - http://www.bottlebill.org