Opinion | Update 10-cent bottle bill but not at the cost of public health

Image Credit: Bridge photo by Robin Erb

Michiganders love their bottle bill, that much is clear. Who wouldn’t like a 10-cent return on the cans and bottles of beer and pop they buy, drink and feed into bottle deposit stations?

As noted by drink distributors, people are still braving the pandemic to return their cans and bottles. Instead of becoming litter, those containers are recycled. Huge efforts throughout the supply chain have ensured that bottles are being returned as efficiently as possible during this once-in-a-generation struggle. 

The people of Michigan also deserve to see the dimes they do not claim put to good use. Right now, if you recycle a can at home rather than turn it in for the deposit, your dime helps fund necessary state staff and programs that clean up pollution at abandoned sites throughout the state.

Sean Hammond is the policy director of Michigan Environmental Council, a coalition of 70 organizations protecting the health of Michigan’s environment and people. Sean also serves on Michigan’s Solid Waste and Recycling Advisors workgroup.

Unfortunately, a proposal put forward in Michigan House Bills 5422 to 5425 severely cuts this crucial pot of money — some $28 million in 2019 — and gives it to wealthy businesses, leaving taxpayers again holding the bag for clean-up funding.

Residents’ dimes must not line company pockets at the expense of pollution programs that protect public health. 

We see multiple solutions that ensure investments made into the bottle bill by distributors and retailers are recognized while also protecting public health and the environment. All we have to do is expand the conversation. 

We should address bottle bill infrastructure. Reverse vending machines, which we feed bottles and cans into at large retailers, need to be rolled out further. These make it easy for consumers and employees to sort and count cans. The machines can also help fight any fraud by allowing for more immediate audits and providing exact counts of what is in the bin for every brand. 

We should also consider more direct resources for pollution clean up. Let’s reinstitute polluter pay — the repeal of which caused this money to be used for clean-ups in the first place — or adopt former Governor Snyder’s solid waste surcharge.  

In truth, however, we do not have to look any further than the bottle bill itself to be able to pay for improved infrastructure, to fight fraud and to grow bottle recycling and prevent pollution. 

House Bill 5306, sponsored by Rep. Jon Hoadley and currently in the Regulatory Reform Committee, achieves all of those goals by expanding the deposit law to cover other containers — like water bottles. Expansion would add at least $15 million in unclaimed deposits each year, enough money to invest in bottle bill modernizations, increase recycling rates, and continue to help fund clean-up of contaminated sites.  

Everyone in Michigan wants to see the bottle bill succeed. It has served for years as the most effective pollution prevention program in the Great Lakes region. But it is time to modernize this law. The variety in beverages sold now was inconceivable 40 years ago, but the need to protect our rivers, streams and lakes is the same. 

Let’s truly update this landmark legislation in a way that expands recycling and waste prevention while not putting funding for contaminated site remediation at risk.

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middle of the mit
Fri, 09/25/2020 - 1:32pm

It would be nice to know who owns the auto return machines and what or who pays for what in that scenario. That is what the conservatives bottle bill was "supposed" to address. But there isn't any reason that couldn't be accomplished while expanding the bill.

Because the bottle bill needs to be expanded. You still see pop bottles on the road, but mostly it's juice and water bottles now. There is no reason for them to be on the road except people want their cars cleaner than the roadsides. Give that container some value and it will stop.

Now if we could just do this with fast food wrappers..........People might start taking responsibility for their own trash.

Mon, 10/05/2020 - 10:34am

I work in a retail establishment (21 years) and it's been a dream not having to deal with bottle returns for the last several months. We had so much extra space and also extra time for more pressing matters. Personally I feel the bottle bill should NOT be expanded to include water and juice/sports drink bottles. Stores aren't garbage dumps and don't need all the contamination. If people want to recycle they'd do so out of the goodness of their heart and not because of the dimes attached. I think we are at a point in time where two things should happen. Firstly, the deposit system should end and use all the resources from that to create recycling programs and keep the filth out of the stores. Secondly if that is not an option, how about centrally located redemption centers in each county and keep these out of the retail environment? I've seen a lot of nasty things I'm not gonna mention here. Also there needs to be consideration for the safety of the workers who have to handle these. And stores would save a lot of money in labor, energy costs, reverse vending machine costs and repair costs for not having to deal with this. I am 43. I was just a baby when the bottle bill was passed. I do feel cheated that I didn't get a voice in this law.