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Waste Expo: Debating Bottle Bills

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Eleven states have adopted deposit legislation, and the debate over whether the laws help or hinder curbside recycling continues.

May 9, 2008

Eleven states have adopted refundable container deposit legislation, and the merits of such laws are still being debated as some states consider expanding their bottle bills.


Two speakers addressed the topic at a session called Bottle Bills: Pro or Con at Waste Expo, which was recently held in Chicago.


According to Betty McLaughlin of the Container Recycling Institute, who discussed the merits of bottle bills, the goals of such legislation are to control litter and increase recycling rates. McLaughlin said that to be successful, any recycling program must address collection, processing and end use. “People tend to get hung up on collection,” she said. “Collection, processing and end us all must be strong or your recycling program won’t work.”


According to McLaughlin, bottle bills can help in all three areas of the recycling process. The use of refundable deposits increases participation, which helps collection, and provides high-quality materials to processors, which benefits them as well as the end users, she said.


However, the argument can be made that “bottle bills conflict with a better way” of recycling by targeting beverage containers only, according to Judith Thorman from the American Beverage Association. Beverage containers make up a small portion of the waste stream, which suggests to some that the costs of such programs outweigh their potential benefits. “They’re very expensive and not very effective,” she said.


Thorman said that a better approach would be coordinated effort between the packaging industry and curbside recycling programs. The packaging industry should concentrate on making readily recyclable packages, in the beverage industry and others, she said.


Thorman also said that making efforts to collect more material from underserved sectors would also be a more effective way to increase recycling. For instance, she said the workplace represents a sizable underserved opportunity when it comes to beverage containers. “A lot of consumption happens there,” Thorman said. “But there’re not a lot of places to recycle.”


Bottle bills have the right idea, but may not be the most efficient way to achieve the goals their proponents have in mind, Thorman said. “How you recycle matters.”


Waste Expo was held May 5-8, 2008, at the McCormick Center in Chicago. More information is available at www.wasteexpo.com.


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