Beverage Container Laws Expanding in Several States
March 18, 2009 by
Filed under Blog, Bottle Bill, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Environment, Florida, Front Page, Garbage, Government, Green Living, Hawaii, Iowa, Landfill, Laws, Litter, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Natural Resources, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Recycling, Slideshow, Tennessee, West Virginia
When bottled water first appeared on product shelves, I initially thought it was a waste of money. I held off for a long time. Eventually, like many of you, I saw the relatively small investment as a fair exchange for the convenience of portability. It was an attractive lure. I bit. And I bought. And bought. And bought.
Now that I’m deeply steeped in environmental issues, I have come to understand the disaster of bottled water. Aside from questions about the quality of the water and the safety of the plastic bottles themselves — significant issues, for sure — there’s the problem of waste. Millions of plastic water bottles get tossed in our waterways, lie smashed on our roads, litter our green spaces, or end up in our landfills. In the best-case scenario, they get recycled into other products.
But recycling is less frequent than one might think. When most container laws (often referred to as “bottle bills”) were first enacted about a quarter of a century ago, personal-sized bottled water was unheard of. (If there was such a thing, it’s safe to say that the majority of consumers didn’t know about it.) Today, water bottles and other non-carbonated beverage containers make up a huge proportion of the beverage-container waste stream.
In the US, only 11 states have bottle laws at all, and fewer still include water and other non-carbonated beverage containers. With so many states as hold-outs, you might well wonder whether container recycling laws are effective. Do they keep trash off the roads? Do they have any other economic or environmental benefits to the states that have them? Consider this statement from a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation press release (January 21, 2009):
“Since the original Bottle Bill was enacted in 1982 requiring a five-cent deposit on beer and carbonated drinks, roadside litter has been reduced 70 percent. More than 90 billion containers and 6 million tons of glass, aluminum and plastic have been recycled, resulting in saving more than 50 million barrels of oil and eliminating 5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases – a sum equal to getting 600,000 cars off the road for one year.”
But that’s just recycling of beer and carbonated beverage containers. What about adding water, juice, and tea containers as well? Does expanding the law make much of a difference? Do consumers actually make the effort to turn in their empty water bottles, juice bottles, or energy-drink cans?
AHEAD OF THE CURVE
For the past two days, I’ve been researching which states currently have bottle laws and, of those, which include water and other non-carbonated beverages. Four states that I know of have included water bottles in their bottle laws: Hawaii, Oregon, Connecticut, and Maine.
I asked Amelia Hicks, Environmental Health Specialist for Hawaii‘s Department of Health about her state’s deposit beverage container program. She said, “We’re working to capture as many beverage containers as Hawaii’s Bottle Bill will allow for redemption, including new energy drinks and workout beverages. By providing a financial incentive to encourage recycling, the Program effectively diverts millions [of] beverage containers away from the waste stream each year. Hawaii’s Bottle Bill law currently includes containers for beer, mixed spirits, mixed wine, coffee & teas, carbonated soft drinks, and water. In general, we are finding that water bottles make up a large portion of the plastic bottles being recycled at the redemption centers. Our redemption rate for 2008 was 72%, a large portion of which may be water bottles.”
Peter Spendelow, Environmental Specialist at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality said, “Water bottles are covered under Oregon’s Beverage Container Act, but only since January 1, 2009. The amendment was passed as a compromise between those who wanted to add containers for juices, teas, energy drinks, and the like, and those who did not want to add any containers at all.” Another work session is scheduled for Thursday of this week to once again discuss proposed amendments to the container law.
Ilicia Balaban, Issue Associate for Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) told me that the governor recently signed legislation expanding the state’s container law to include bottled water. The law goes into effect April 1 of this year.
According to the Maine Department of Agriculture website, the state’s bottle laws apply to all beverages. “ ‘Beverage’ means beer, ale or other drink produced by fermenting malt, spirits, wine, wine coolers, soda or non-carbonated water and all nonalcoholic carbonated or non-carbonated drinks in liquid form and intended for internal human consumption, except for unflavored rice milk, unflavored soy milk, milk and dairy-derived products…. Maine was one of the first of eleven states in the country to have a Returnable Beverage Container Law. When one looks at the history of success with the Bottle Bill, one cannot help but wonder why it isn’t a standard rather than an exception.”
The other seven states that have long-standing bottle bill laws do not include water bottles at this time, though legislation is pending in several states:
In Delaware, Bill Miller of the DNREC Solid Waste & Hazardous Waste Management told me, “Our bottle bill is 25 years old, and a lot has changed since it was written. Today, a big percentage of the market is water, juice, and tea bottles. I haven’t seen any draft legislation, but this is something we talk about a lot. I would like to see these items included in our Beverage Container Regulation.”
Greg Cooper, Director of Consumer Programs at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection informed me that, in his latest budget, the governor proposed to expand the 1983 bottle statute to include containers for water, juice, teas, and other non-carbonated beverages. The Legislature must approve it, of course, but the hope is that the expansion will become law in July.
Vermont has no pending legislation regarding non-carbonated beverage containers, according to Cathy Stacy, an administrator with the state’s Solid Waste Division.
Howard Heideman, Administrator, Tax Analysis Division, Office of Revenue and Tax Analysis, Michigan Department of Treasury, told me by email, “Michigan‘s container deposit law applies only [to] carbonated beverages. Legislation has been introduced to include non-carbonated beverages: Senate Bill 54, sponsored by Sen. Michael Switalski. Last year, Rep. Mark Meadows introduced a similar bill, and may reintroduce it this year.”
Bill Blum, Program Planner for Iowa‘s Department of Natural Resources, reports that HF 150 proposes expanding Iowa’s existing container law to include water bottles, glass tea bottles, power drink containers, and other non-carbonated beverages. “The bill is no longer viable because of legislative deadlines. It was assigned to a subcommittee on February 2nd. Anything can happen, but there’s not a lot of activity on it right now,” he said.
That brings me back to New York and that January 21, 2009 press release I mentioned:
“New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis today urged support of the ‘Bigger Better Bottle Bill,’ saying it would reduce litter, keep million[s] of containers out of our landfills, help in the fight against global warming and generate badly needed revenue.
“Grannis noted that a flaw in the current law is that the five-cent deposit applies only to beer and carbonated beverages. In his 2009-10 Executive Budget, Governor Paterson has proposed expanding the law to apply to non-carbonated beverages.
” ‘It makes no sense to continue to differentiate these containers based on their contents — especially with non-carbonated drinks now making up more than one-quarter of the beverage market,’ Grannis said. ‘An expanded bottle bill also will keep New York’s roadsides, waterways and parks cleaner. Right now, too many plastic and glass containers end up as trash in our parks, playgrounds, rivers and lakes. And this problem will continue to grow as people buy more water and sports drinks.’
“Grannis cited a 2005 study by the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency that found that while 80 percent of plastic soda bottles are recycled, just 16 percent of plastic water bottles are recovered.”
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably already a supporter of bottle bills. You know, as I do, that a water bottle is essentially no different than a plastic soda bottle. It still becomes litter when thrown on the ground. It still breaks down into minute particles that add to water pollution and kill tiny sea life. It still required precious resources in its manufacture.
For years, only a few states have had bottle laws on their books, but change is coming. In addition to the revisions proposed regarding which types of containers are covered, several additional states are working to pass new bottle bills: Florida, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
If you’re a resident of a state (or nation) that currently has a bottle law, be sure to thank your legislators. Let them know you support keeping the laws in place — and applaud those who have had the wisdom to revise the law to include water, juice, tea, and energy drinks.
But what if you don’t have a bottle law in place? You can still take action. Start by learning all you can about the bottle laws in other locales. A great site for a state-by-state and country-by-country overview is BottleBill.org. To be sure you have the latest scoop, however, contact your state officials directly. (To those of you in other countries, my apologies that this post is so self-focused. Feel free to write and let us know about your own laws.) Then let your legislators know what you want: a bottle bill that covers all types of beverage containers.
There’s even a growing movement to create a national bottle bill, which would simplify the redemption process and improve litter across the country. Want to find out more? Check Care2‘s petition site. Then take action. Sign the petition. Let your senators and representatives know that you support a nationwide bottle bill. (You do — don’t you?)
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