Michigan’s Bottle Return Law

Back in 1976, Michigan voters voted on a proposal to add a deposit to bottles and cans sold in the state. The bottle return law was passed with 76% of voters checking the “Yes” box on their ballots.   Within 2 years, the state saw a 48% reduction in bottle/can related trash on the roadways.  The law decreed that every soda and beer can or bottle would have a deposit on it. At the time of purchase in a store, the buyer was charged the deposit on top of the regular price. After drinking the contents, you could return it to the store and receive the deposit back. Presently, the deposit is 10 cents per bottle or can. A handful of other states, European countries, Australia and Canada also have “Bottle Bills.”

California, not surprisingly, has a very aggressive bottle bill covering all beverage containers no matter the contents. Bottles under 24oz are redeemed at 5 cents each while those over 24oz are worth 10 cents each. The state’s goal is achieve 80% redemption rates for bottles. In 2007, they made it to 67%, a 7 percent increase over 2006. In addition, the state legislature is currently considering a bill that would expand the bottle law to cover non-beverage plastic bottles, i.e. shampoo, lotion and food filled bottles.

Four State Senators introduced a collection of bills (SB 1391, 1393 and 1394) on June 17, moving to amend the existing bottle law.  The measures are focused on enhancing penalties for fraudulent returns.   However, the Michigan United Conservation Club is pushing for the House and Senate to amend these bills to include an expansion of what is covered by the deposit law.  According to their press release, Michigan residents threw away 1.1 billion water bottles in 2005.

Executive director of MUCC, Dennis Muchmore noted “Although our citizens now return 97 percent of the 5 and a half- billion bottles and cans for which they pay a deposit, they recycle only 20 percent of the bottled water containers because no deposit is required.”

Let me just say that 97%  return rate is amazing. Although its mind-boggling to think that Michiganians buy 5.5 billion bottles of soda, beer and wine coolers a year!

Back in 2000, the Department of Environmental Quality prepared a report on the impact of the Bottle Bill and suggested some alternatives including an expansion of the bill to cover other bottles.  You can read the whole report here (its a PDF).  What I find interesting is that even though the state estimates 10 million bottles are fraudulently returned, there is still an excess in the fund that holds the paid-out deposits.  And that accepted fraudulent returns kept nearly 7000 tons of bottle/can waste from landfills.

The Michigan Legislature goes on recess at the end of the month.  I encourage you to contact your Senator or Representative right away to voice your support to amending these bills to expand the bottle bill to include water bottles.   The three bills are tied together so its an all for nothing deal.

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