What is a Bottle Bill

What is a Bottle Bill?

When you buy a beverage at a store, you pay the store a deposit on each bottle or can. When you return your empty can/bottle to the store or special redemption center, you get the deposit back. A “Bottle Bill” is slang for “a beverage container deposit and redemption system”. Calling it a “Bottle Bill” has a nicer ring to it, but our friends at the Can Manufacturer’s Institute feel ignored.

This is not new – for decades distributors and stores collected bottles back so they could be washed and refilled. This “refillable” system is still in use in many countries, and is making a comeback in America, especially in the craft brewery market.

Why does Virginia need a Bottle Bill?

It reduces beverage container litter, reduces overall litter, triples the overall amount of beverage containers recycled when combined with curbside recycling, reduces the trash in our landfills and reduces air pollution from our incinerators which lowers Greenhouse Gas Emissions and creates jobs.

Beverage Containers Make up 70% of Roadside Litter in Virginia.

  • A Clark County Litter study over 7 years found beverage containers made up 69% of the litter they picked up. See study here.

  • A 3-year tally of litter picked up in Middleburg, VA found beverage containers also accounted for 70% of roadside litter.

Containers are 4 of the top 8 items (out of 20) found in our Virginia streams.

  1. Cigarette Filters
  2. Beverage Bottles (Plastic)
  3. Bags
  4. Cups, Plates, Forks, Knives, Spoons
  5. Food Wrappers/Containers
  6. Beverage Cans
  7. Caps & Lids
  8. Beverage Bottles (Glass)
  9. Straws, Stirrers
  10. Building Materials11.
  11. Balloons
  12. Rope
  13. Clothing, Shoes
  14. Fishing Line
  15. Oil/Lube Bottles
  16. Tires
  17. Toys
  18. Fishing Buoys, Pots & Traps
  19. Cigarette Lighters
  20. Six-Pack Holders

Data compiled over 20 years from the International Coastal Cleanup in Virginia by Clean Virginia Waterways of Longwood University. Source.

In 2014, Clean Virginia pulled data from other states that participate in the International Coastal Cleanup and compared the top ten items from states WITH bottle bills to the Top Ten items from states WITHOUT bottle bills. Here is my summary:

This charts show that in Virginia, plastic bottles made up 11.01% of coastal litter. In states with a Bottle Bill, the average percentage was only 4.43% – almost 3 times fewer plastic bottles floating around our streams and beaches.”

It reduces overall roadside litter by 35-47%. If you carry the container back home or to a recycling bin, you are more likely to carry the empty chip bag with you and depose of that in the trash. Source.

Northern Virginia’s curbside recycling rates are extremely low at 21%, reflecting the lack of incentive to recycle. But in the 10 states with bottle bills, total beverage container recycling averaged 71%, and Vermont and Alberta Canada recycled over 90%. Source I. Source II.

The Northern Virginia Region Solid Waste organization report of 2018 (page19) shows glass as 0% of all recycled material. It all went to the landfill or incinerators. Now there is the “Purple Can Club”, a NOVA regional government funded collection of all glass bottles and jars. While immensely popular, it is an expensive government subsidy (corporate welfare to Waste Connections and Republic Services) to the trash haulers and MRFs since they no longer have to haul and pay for heavy glass disposal. A Bottle Bill would let the counties spend that money on other needed services. Bottle recyclers don’t like the trend, because it sacrifices quantity for quality. And the glass is currently used for construction, not being recycled into new bottles. It does not close the loop. Source.

It is ALWAYS more efficient to “mine” materials out of the waste stream than to find virgin material in the ground and create new containers. This reduces the energy required to find and produce containers and also reduces the greenhouse gases emitted in the manufacturing process. Source

How does a Bottle Bill help?

It reduces beverage container litter by supplying an incentive to return the container instead of throwing it out. Deposits on beverage containers were used for many decades by the beverage industry to ensure the return of their refillable bottles. Deposits work because they supply a financial incentive to recycle and a deterrent to litter. In states with bottles bills, beverage container litter has been reduced by an average of 80%. Source

In the five states that border the Great Lakes, containers make up 10% of all litter, except in Michigan, where containers make up less than 5%. Michigan is the only state on the Great Lakes with a bottle bill. Source.

Bottle bills are unique from litter taxes or publicly funded recycling programs in that the money that the buyer pays is returned to them when they recycle the container. Because of the financial benefit, consumers who would ordinarily trash or litter their empty beverage containers may be inspired to take them to a facility for recycling, knowing that they have already paid for the service and that is the only way to get back their money. Other consumers who do not find the deposit a great enough incentive might still discard their bottles and cans. But still others will take advantage of the law to scavenge the used containers and return them. Either way, litter and waste are reduced. Source

A Bottle Bill creates jobs.

Massachusetts expected increasing jobs by 1,500 when they revised their bottle law in 2012, and in the 2018 report by Industrial Economics Inc, they counted 1,260 Full Time Equivalent jobs and a ripple effect of 1,700 jobs worth $24 Million in wages and benefits. (Plus millions in state taxes, with a total value added to the State of between $43 to $72 Million) . Source I.  Source II.

CRI’s 2011 “Returning to Work” report found that bottle bills created more jobs than curbside recycling or trash disposal of containers: 11-38 times more jobs. This is because the deposit creates a much larger volume of containers that all must be counted, sorted, transported and remanufactured.

It should be noted that the use of “refillable bottles” creates even more jobs than deposit laws do. Source.

A Bottle Bill encourages Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

Bottlers used to keep their bottles out of the trash and off the sides of our streets when they had refillable bottles. They purposely pushed a “nonreturnable” bottle and left the cost of disposal and litter cleanup to people and governments. Deposits place the cost of managing post-consumer beverage containers where it really belongs–on those who manufacture, sell, and buy them. Whether they are landfilled, littered, or recycled, there is a cost to managing ‘used’ beverage containers. Containers that are landfilled, littered, or recycled through municipal recycling programs are a cost to government and taxpayers. The deposit system shifts those costs to producers and consumers of the containers. This is known as extended producer responsibility (EPR). Source.

A Bottle Bill creates more opportunities to recycle.

All stores will have “reverse vending machines” to take back your containers. Most states also have “Deposit Redemption Centers” where you can return larger quantities of containers.   

The best states have a convenient “bag drop” return. You sign up online for an account, receive a unique identity card, put that card inside your bag of containers, and drop that bag off at a redemption center, much like a library book return system. It is a quick drop off – you do not stand in line and wait for your money. The employees process your redemption and credit your account. This is fast, easy and convenient.

It’s far better than the “Purple Can Drop Off

Glass recyclers need high volumes of glass to justify a facility. Drop-off programs are not a long-term sustainable solution because the convenience of curbside is removed, and we sacrifice quantity for quality glass. Further, NoVA’s Purple Can program generates high quality glass that is crushed and used in DOT/construction applications first and then comes to bottle manufacturer recycling secondarily. We support the highest and best use of glass – which is glass going back into glass container manufacturing, closing the loop.

A Bottle Bill complements curbside recycling.

A bottle bill does not replace curbside recycling. Beverage containers are usually consumed quickly, often outside the home, away from curbside recycling. Glass food containers on the other hand, are slowly emptied, and mostly in the home, where curbside recycling is more convenient. (Like, for example, salad dressings and olive oil.) But, without the deposit incentive, curbside recycling rates are low, and in Virginia have stagnated for years. Single stream recycling has carried us as far as it can. Combining multiple recycling materials in a single bin makes it notoriously difficult to resort them back into clean piles of similar kind materials. Deposit returns are much cleaner. Curbside recycling is paid for as a flat fee by trash customers and governments, regardless of how much you recycle. Deposits are a fairer system of charging the consumer and producer by volume – and you get your money back. Source.

Independent research from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which prepares reports for the U.S. Congress, states that both a deposit return program and curbside recycling are necessary to achieve high recycling rates and that having both programs result in less costs for curbside recycling. Specifically, “Both systems can serve as elements of comprehensive recycling programs. Neither constitutes a comprehensive program by itself. Neither excludes the use of the other.” “Deposit systems skim potential sources of revenue from curbside programs, but they also reduce the operating costs of curbside programs. Local governments would appear to achieve greater diversion of solid waste from disposal at a lower cost per ton if both a bottle bill and a curbside collection program were in place.” Source.

A Bottle Bill creates high quality recyclable material.

Single stream recycling is hideously dirty. Contamination rates from a curbside bin can be almost 40%.  Source.

Glass sorted in single stream collection has no value and has to be landfilled at the MRF expense. Source.

Because the deposit glass is usually hand sorted and cleaned at home prior to redemption and resorted at deposit centers, the deposit glass has a high resale value and is sought after by glass manufacturers here in Virginia. Currently the 2 Owings-Illinois glass manufacturing plants in Virginia must buy recycled glass from other deposit states. Souces I. Souce II.

PET Bottles are only recycled into more bottles when they come from bottle bill states. Due to high levels of contamination, they usually get made into carpet. Source

A Bottle Bill reduces landfill waste and air pollution from incinerators.

The more recycled, the less we haul to a landfill or burn in an incinerator. Single stream recycling is so inefficient that even when the MRF sorts the recyclables, the manufacturers have to resort, reclean and discard of a third of the “clean recyclables” they receive. Only plastic bottles from Bottle Bill states get made back into bottles, the single stream recycled are far to contaminated and get made into less desirable things. Bottle Bills help close the loop.

A Bottle Bill promotes recycling in general.

Up to a third of beverages are consumed out of the house, away from the home recycling bin. The opportunity to recycle plummets and depends on you carrying the empty container and finding a specialized recycle bin.

A Bottle Bill creates incentives for manufacturers to responsibly design their products for easy recycling.

With a bottle bill, up to 90% of containers are being returned. Manufactures have an incentive to make sure their bottles are actually recyclable. Part of the recycling problem is the design of many of the containers makes it hard to recycle. Many plastic PET bottles have a different type of plastic shrink wrap label, a metal collar or different type of plastic collar that stays on the bottle when the cap is removed. These make it hard for machines to deliver a pure recycled plastic. The Association of Plastic Recyclers works with container manufactures and brands to decrease the contaminants in their bottles, because the use of recycled content in new bottles depends on a clean source of recycled material. Evian has designed a “label-less bottle” to help make their bottles more recyclable. Source I. Source II.

A Bottle Bill immediately punishes people for littering.

The fine for littering is rarely applied to litter bugs. A drive along any Virginia highway or walk along the beach tells you this is very ineffective deterrent. The immediate loss of a deposit punishes every litter bug that throws out a container.

A Bottle Bill creates an incentive to pick up litter.

The deposit refund also rewards every person that picks up the litter. Hundreds if not thousands of people start to pick up litter as a result. Overall litter is reduced, not just beverage containers.

A Bottle Bill raises millions of dollars for charities

Some states let charities sign up, and people’s refunds are donated directly to the charity of their choice. Charities can also sponsor drives. Millions of dollars have been raised this way. Source.

A Bottle Bill reduces the energy needed to create new bottles and cans by 30% and reduces greenhouse gasses. 

Bottle Bills are shown to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Source

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Virginia Bottle Bill Organization is a 501(c)(3) entity.