A bottle bill, but no PC bill

“Bottle Bills” have been on the books in Massachusetts and Iowa for years. Everyone in America who’s purchased a drink in a plastic or glass container in recent decades is familiar with the 5- or 10- cent deposit paid on each bottle or can. This small fee is returned to the consumer to help insure the container is brought back to collection centers for recycling.

These programs cut down on litter and reduce solid waste in the states’ landfills. The Container Recycling Institute, which advocates for the expansion of container recycling in the U.S., reports a beverage container recovery rate of 85 percent in 2012.

“There are over 40 container deposit systems in place around the world and, for the past four decades, these systems have consistently achieved superior recycling rates,” Susan Collins, President of the Container Recycling Institute, said in a published report on the organization’s web site.

“CRI has found that these other systems have excellent litter reduction and outstanding environmental performance compared to all other forms of recycling. CRI has also seen that the high quality and high quantities of recyclables support manufacturing jobs in the aluminum, plastic, and glass industries. Those same recycling benefits could be realized here in the U.S. and help create higher employment rates, which CRI would like to see grow in Vermont.”
Consumers aren’t really getting free money when they take carefully hoarded cans and bottles to collection points – it’s money they’ve already spent without thinking about it, added at the time of purchase.

What’s interesting about Iowa and Massachusetts is they are the only two states in the U.S. that have bottle bills – but no Extended Producer Responsibility laws for electronics.

Would a similar get-paid-to-recycle bait and switch work in states that have bottle bills, but no electronics recycling laws? In many states with electronics recycling laws, consumers pay a fee at the time of purchase of new electronics to subsidize recycling of obsolete equipment. In non-Extended Producer Responsibility states, consumers often have to pay a fee to recycle TVs and computers.

But what about a refundable deposit on electronics? Something that the consumers pay up front, and then get back when they bring recyclable materials to collection points?

This system may not work well for large items with extensive use lives – things like TV sets, computer monitors that last for years – but for smaller items like mobile phones, which many people keep for two years or less – or tablet PCs and laptops.

While a deposit-return system may not be practical for electronics, Californians pay an Advanced Recycling Fee at the time of purchase for many different types of electronic products. The state has one of the strongest electronics recycling infrastructures in the nation – and it might be due, in part, to residents wanting to get the recycling service they’re paying for at the time of purchase. Such fees serve a double purpose – they make consumers aware of the costs of recycling their old products, and they help to support and develop an industry where capricious commodity pricing and dwindling end markets for CRT glass make profitable electronics recycling challenging for recyclers.