This Michigan lawmaker is pushing a bill that will save his business $9,000

Update: An effort to repeal Michigan’s 10-cent bottle deposit law failed
Dec. 21: That's a wrap! What bills passed, died in Michigan lame duck for the ages
Related: See what Michigan lame-duck bills we're tracking

LANSING — A Michigan lawmaker and convenience store owner who is pushing legislation to repeal the state’s 10-cent deposit law on bottles and cans acknowledges the bill would benefit his industry.

Rep. Joe Bellino, R-Monroe, introduced a bill Tuesday to repeal the 40-year-old law, which was intended to keep beverage containers from going into landfills or rolling along highways and streets.

Rep. Joe Bellino, R-Monroe, acknowledges his proposed repeal of Michigan’s bottle deposit law would positively impact his convenience store business. But, he says, “I’m not going to get rich on it.”

House Bills 6532, 6533, 6534, 6535 and 6536, sponsored by Bellino and four other Republicans, would collectively end the deposit program on Dec. 31, 2022.

Bellino acknowledged he has a vested interest. His store, Broadway Market in Monroe, sells beer, wine and liquor and must hire a part-time employee to sort bottles and cans because of the law.

“I’m not going to get rich on it if it changes,” Bellino told Bridge Magazine on Friday, adding that he pays the employee minimum wage for about 1,000 hours a year, or roughly $9,000.

Instead, Bellino said his motivation is to scrap a law that he says “is one of the main reasons we (Michigan) suck at recycling,” adding that he would push for its repeal regardless of his business interests.

Michigan, unlike some other states, has no law barring lawmakers from proposing or voting on bills that would financially benefit their businesses or families. While 32 states have statutes regulating conflicts of interest — some requiring disclosure; some barring members from casting votes — Michigan relies on House and Senate rules enforced by the lawmakers themselves.

Michigan lawmakers have acted on multiple self-serving bills in recent years, as Bridge investigations have revealed — from one legislator who headed a real estate management company who tried to make it harder for landlords to be sued, to a senator who voted to give his daughter, a judge, a raise.

Bellino said he doesn’t see a major conflict in his legislation, though he promised to recuse himself from voting if the bill reaches the House floor. He added that he plans to sell Broadway Market and is in talks with a potential buyer.

“I should be out of it, hopefully within six months,” he said.

The bill is a long shot, requiring a three-fourths majority vote to reach Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk. It faces opposition from environmental groups and other deposit law proponents.

“It’s not surprising that Rep. Bellino would be one to introduce this bill and be out talking about it given his background,” said Sean Hammond, deputy policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council, referencing Bellino’s market.

“This is the time of year for bills like this to get introduced,” Hammond added, referring to the frantic final weeks of Lansing’s lame-duck period before a fresh legislative session starts.

Michigan became the first big industrialized state to require a deposit on cans and bottles, and the state’s redemption rate on eligible containers consistently hovers well above 90 percent. Environmental groups view the deposit law as a success and oppose a repeal.

But containers with deposits make up a small fraction of the recyclable waste people toss, and Michigan’s overall recycling rate of roughly 15 percent makes is last among Great Lakes states. And Bellino says the deposit law is at least partly to blame because it diverts cash from community recycling programs, which rely on sales of recycled materials.

“The bottle bill pulls the two most valuable materials – aluminum and PET plastic – away from community-based recycling systems,” Bellino said in a news release this week.

The deposit program has generated $20 million to $30 million annually in unredeemed deposits, but it doesn’t flow to recycling programs: 75 percent goes to environmental cleanup programs, and the rest compensates retailers for their hassle.

Bellino also says he suspects fraud in the program: The prospect — etched into pop culture by a 1996 episode of “Seinfeld” — that people are buying beverages out of state and claiming deposits in Michigan.

(Such fraud does occur in real life, though it’s unclear how often, state officials say. A Flint man last year pleaded guilty to returning $10,000 worth of cans purchased in Indiana, according to Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office. )

Bellino’s arguments echo those of fellow retailers, businesses that have opposed the deposit law since its inception.

“The deposit law takes valuable aluminum and PET plastics out of the cart and into grocery stores,” Amy Drumm, a lobbyist for the Michigan Retailers Association, wrote in an Bridge Magazine opinion column in May. “If households put those recyclables into a curbside cart, that would add about 25 percent more value to the recycling stream.”

Bellino is the past chairman of the board for the Associated Food and Petroleum Dealers — now called the Michigan Independent Retail Association — which represents retailers and has advocated for an overhaul of the bottle deposit law.

Retailers and beverage companies have fought against bottle deposit laws nationwide, saying they decrease sales and unnecessarily burden grocery stores that are required to accept returned containers and issue refunds. Bellino, who was first elected to the House in 2016 and won a second term this month, is among those deposit-weary business owners.

In an interview last year for a lobbying firm’s blog, Bellino was asked why he chose to become a Republican.

“In 1976 I voted for Jimmy Carter and the Bottle Bill, neither one worked out and I have been sorting bottles at my store for nineteen years now,” he responded in part.  

Without the deposit law, Bellino told Bridge, “I wouldn’t have to have all that area in the back of my store — and a cage in the back — and a building next door where I take my bottles every night because they’re dirty.”

Hammond, of the Michigan Environmental Council, calls the deposit law “a great pollution prevention tool,” and disputes the retailers’ economic arguments. Various market fluctuations have meant low prices across the board for recycled materials, he said, and Michigan’s recycling woes stem from a wide range of factors that have nothing to do with the bottle bill.

That includes Michigan’s rock-bottom prices for landfills, which makes throwing away items far easier than recycling.

Gov. Rick Snyder this year has pushed a proposal to hike the state’s nation-low “tipping fees” for dumping in landfills to raise millions of dollars for toxic waste cleanups and community recycling programs.

Environmental groups have backed that proposal, which has struggled to gain momentum among some Republicans in the Legislature.

Bellino said he sees his bottle bill as a compliment to Snyder’s proposal, and a possible bargaining chip in the Legislature’s lame duck session.

“Just putting a bottle bill out there by itself — I know it would go nowhere. But if it combines with the tipping fee [hike], which would make people happy — all the good environmental things, it might pass.”

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Fri, 11/30/2018 - 4:33pm

Detractors of the bottle deposit law as it stands are whining about money.... And have completely overlooked the actual reason for enacting it, which was to reduce littering and the overwhelming volume of plastics piling up in our landfills..... Which this law has been extraordinarily successful in achieving.

Sat, 12/01/2018 - 9:34am

Although I find returning empties at times a nuisance, I agree that the current law has been a success, and I support retaining it.

Recycling Made ...
Thu, 12/06/2018 - 2:30pm

Natalie, I guarantee that you will find more deposit containers than non-deposit containers if you volunteer for a highway cleanup. Beverage container litter makes up 7.6% of litter whether you measure a deposit state or non-deposit state.

Karen Dunnam
Fri, 11/30/2018 - 4:57pm

Yesterday I looked up this rep's background (finding out about the party store) and funding sources, shared those perfunctory details with my activist groups. You've gone much further in uncovering the facts behind this nonsense.
Our bottle bill is extremely popular, and it receives widespread acclaim from other states as well. As a cyclist, I appreciate having many fewer flat tires than before its passage.

Jim Dewey
Sat, 12/01/2018 - 8:51am

It should also be noted that Bellino has accepted over $9,000 from the Michigan Beer and Wine Association PAC since 2016.

Sat, 12/01/2018 - 4:23pm

I wonder if you make this effort to report on those legislators you support, or do you support Bellino and want ensure full public disclosure?

I am glad to see there are those [PACs] conforming to the law and making their support public risking all the innuendos that legitimately campaigns must endure.

I would rather hear a discussion about the content instead of crabbing about public campaign donations as if they are somehow unethical or corrupting to selected individuals while not a concern with others [all because of a point of view].

Leslie Dietrich
Sat, 12/01/2018 - 9:25am

The law should be updated from 40 years ago. A new law should increase the carbonated beverage deposit to 20 cents, AND include non carbonated beverages encompassing water bottles of all sizes.

Rik Moilanen
Sat, 12/01/2018 - 9:28am

Our highways are cleaner because of it

Recycling Made ...
Thu, 12/06/2018 - 2:32pm

Please adopt a section of highway and report back to us.

Dash Riprock
Sat, 12/01/2018 - 9:37am

It's way past time to get rid of the nasty business of bottle returns. I'm tired of having to store them in my house, I'm tired of loading them up and handling them when they're returned. They are a major pain for everyone, if they were refillable that would be one thing, but these bottles and cans are trash and I say recycle them with the trash.

Nick A
Tue, 12/04/2018 - 10:01pm

You are more than welcome to recycle your bottles and cans, so long as you forfeit your deposit.

Mister Magoo
Sat, 12/01/2018 - 9:44am

I throw my bottles and cans in the garbage anyway, I decided long ago that messing around with sticky, nasty, bottles and cans weren't worth saving a few pennies and you best believe there are many more like me. Get rid of the deposit and recycle at the curb.

Sat, 12/01/2018 - 10:52am

Or even better. Pay the deposit AND recycle them if you are willing to pay for the laziness factor. Saving bottles doesn't have to be messy..only if you make it so.

Mister Magoo
Sat, 12/01/2018 - 11:55am

Why don't you do it for me? You and those like you, never stop to think about the germs that are spread to people that have to handle other people's used bottles and cans, on top of that returning these to the store is an excellent way to spread roaches and flies to the store and occasionally back to people's homes. Tell me please, when was the last time you handled a strangers unwashed bottles that have been sitting who knows where? Get rid of the stupid deposit and put bottles and cans in a recycle bin at the curb.

Jim tomlinson
Sun, 12/02/2018 - 1:18am

What a out the greater good?

Easy answer
Mon, 12/03/2018 - 6:34am

There are several service organizations that will gladly take your returnables.
So there.. you can be a slob with all your stickiness possibly write it off in your taxes and the state can save the ecology.
Win Win

Todd Sawasky
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 8:04am

Are you going to be the volunteer to pick them up off the side of the road? They implemented the deposit because people are pigs. I lived out of state for ten years and where I lived was like wading through a trash dump . Cans and bottles everywhere.
We are responsible for our planet and would prefer to live in one not buried in cans and bottles

Recycling Made ...
Thu, 12/06/2018 - 2:41pm

Todd, there are numerous section of our state highways that are waiting for someone to adopt them. Please do so and count containers as you pick them up. You will absolutely find more deposit containers than non-deposit. The sum of deposit and non-deposit beverage containers you pick up will be around 7% of the overall litter you pick up. This 7% will be about the same percentage you would find in IN, OH, IL, WI despite them having no deposit.

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 1:17am

@recyclingmade I find way more plastic bags, straws, fast food bags, cups, wrappers, cigarette butts, and plastic junk when I do roadside and/or beach cleanup. Plastic, cans, and glass bottles bottles with deposits are minimal in my experience.

Robespierre's F...
Tue, 12/11/2018 - 7:24pm

Hi Joe. Come post under your real name.

Sat, 12/01/2018 - 11:07am

Where do stores collecting glass, plastic, and aluminum either recycle or dispose of returns? I would be willing to bet that all of that material is recycled, and probably recycled locally...if not by the store, then by their local distributors that may pick up returns.

Doug L
Sun, 12/02/2018 - 9:17am

I'm not opposed to changing the law if it really increases recycling. But don't assume that recycling is universally available. I live in Shiawassee county, between Lansing and Flint. Only limited recycling is available in my area. There's no municipal trash pickup or curbside recycling. I have to take all my recycling to a local landfill or trash pickup business. Some recycling I have to pay to drop off. I don't have any way to recycle colored glass or Styrofoam, and can only recycle #1 and #2 plastic. Before eliminating the bottle deposit, we need much better, universally available recycling.

Sun, 12/02/2018 - 9:24am

Bad move.for the following brief reasons

This is asinine, the original intent of the bill was to clean up the streets and was successful as compared to other states like AZ for one example to which you are greeted by bottles and cans at every entrance ramp.

Further being an industry professional the plastics markets are in the crapper and moving these materials back to cities may result in higher taxes as they may be trashed rather than legitimately recycled through good chain management and a proven system in which I also worked in for 12+ years.

 In my opinion this is a move in the wrong direction and not very well thought out.

Susan Fales
Sun, 12/02/2018 - 10:06am

a year ago we were forced to pay more for recycling which we did not have. This decision was made and forced on us. At a meeting I asked why we had to give up our personal recycling so a company could make more money. I was told by a rep from Republic that they wouldn't be making more money. now you want to force us to give up the little we do make. We are seniors as many of the people here are why screw us again. Michigan is cleaner than ever. It won't be if this law is recinded

Sun, 12/02/2018 - 8:35pm

Bottle returns are filthy and unsanitary yet. Old soda and beer attract pests and people fill their old bottles with food, cigarettes, and all manner of other substances. Bottle returns have no place in food and convenience stores that should be sanitary places.

10 cents is so little money, retailers pay people to take care of bottles, bottle rooms and machines. I think the companies that make the bottle machines are the only ones making money off of this.

I am an avid recycler and I hate the bottle return program. There are other, better ways to get people to recycle.

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 6:41am

What kind of food?

Tim Miller
Mon, 12/03/2018 - 2:53pm

I am 69 years old. Before the bottle bill was passed, we constantly had empty beverage cans and bottles left in our yard in Coldwater. That all stopped when the bill was passed. How can he in good conscience propose a self-serving bill?

Repeal Bottle Bill
Tue, 12/04/2018 - 2:22pm

I have curbside single stream recycling in my county and I pay an assessment on my property tax for that service because the aluminum cans and PET containers go back through a dedicated channel and the contracted processor cannot turn a profit on the material collected at the curb. Why do I need to pay a dime on all carbonated beverage containers purchased in Michigan when I should be able to put them in the single stream curbside container? Instead, we are forced to participate in an archaic captive model that is not recycling. The deposit containers never enter the waste stream and are not measured as a recycled commodity under the law and legal definition of recycling. People think they are recycling when all they are doing in hindering comprehensive curbside recycling.

Perhaps you should consider the dedicated trucks that pick up the empty containers at large stores like Walmart and Meijer. They literally travel millions of miles each year. Not a very lite carbon footprint. In addition, the distributors' trucks dropping off full containers at stores must leave room for empties which means more trucks to run the same routes. What is the GHG and safety impact of more trucks on the road?

Follow the money...Material processors like Schupan & Sons and the folks that sell the reverse vending machines, TOMRA, have cornered the material generated from the bottle bill business in Michigan through exclusive contracts with the Michigan Soft Drink Association and the Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association. They contract with Lansing lobbyist and donate heavily to PACs and legislators to keep this exclusive arrangement in place. Still think you're recycling, or, are you just padding the coffers of a few tightly held arrangements?

If it such a sound system in Michigan, how long has it been since another state has burdened their citizens with this outdated and flawed process for material control of the valued commodities? Google Delaware and Massachusetts Bottle Bills when you have time to catch up. Check out California and their financially failed systemic and inherent container deposit system woes while you're at it.

When should we stop transporting harmful bacteria laced, insect and rodent infested beverage containers back to our food source and just enter them into curbside single stream recycling? Stop the idiocy and repeal the highly flawed Michigan deposit system. Call your state legislators today. I just did.

P.S. If it is such a terrific system, why are water bottles not included in Michigan?

Nick A
Tue, 12/04/2018 - 10:13pm

Water bottles are not included in Michigan because the current legislature allowed a bill to include them in the current orogram die in committee. This was in February, 2018.

Curbside single stream recycling has been proven to be insufficient. The contamination levels of single stream sources so often exceeded the 2% acceptability thredhold that China, formerly the largest purchaser of U. S. recyclables, banned imports this year. Pre-sort solutions like the MI bottle bill, which incentivize recycling and increase material purity are a much better path to a circular economy.

Todd Sawasky
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 7:59am

Moving back to Michigan from a state that doesn’t have a bottle deposit I can honestly say that a repeal is a bad idea. Cans and bottles line the roads and are just thrown anywhere. A lot of people are littering pigs who have no concept of planetary stewardship. Im still trying to figure out why the deposit doesn’t cover all beverage containers including water and wine bottles.

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 3:29pm

This bill is nothing but self serving to the business owners. I go to Indiana on a regular basis and watch people throw bottles and cans away at an alarming rate. Getting rid of the deposit, etc will only make our lack of recycling efforts worse. People will throw those bottles and cans in the trash not the recycling bins. Big mistake if this bill passes

Recycling Made ...
Thu, 12/06/2018 - 2:46pm

Thomas- you're right! And I have watched a waste company in SW Michigan sorting through the Indiana trash they also service to pull out the aluminum and plastic beverage containers because they are valuable! We're taking that right out of the recycling stream in Michigan. Not one dime of the deposit helps overall recycling in Michigan. Instead, let's use the unclaimed deposit money that goes to the state to fund recycling (total was $25 million last year and none went to recycling grants). What made sense 40 years ago as an anti-litter law is now hurting a recycling economy.