Add deposit to water bottles or raise landfill rates: debate is on

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan residents soon may have to pay a 10-cent deposit on plastic water bottles.

In a renewed effort to increase Michigan’s recycling rate, Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, sponsored a bill to expand the 1976 beverage containers law to include water and all beverages in metal, glass or plastic containers, except for milk products.

“We need to recycle more materials, keep things out of our landfills,” Hoadley said. “We need to recycle more so we save energy, and we need to invest in this type of recycling because it creates jobs as well.

“So it’s a win-win-win,” he said.

Efforts to expand the deposit law over the past decades have failed in the face of  opposition from grocers and retailers. Even some environmental advocates argue that other measures would provide a bigger boost to recycling in the state.

Michigan’s 15 percent recycling rate is the nation’s third-lowest, Hoadley said.

“We have an abysmal recycling rate,” he said. “But when you look at the bottle deposit bill, somewhere between 95 and 98 percent of bottles that have a deposit on them end up being returned for recycling, which is incredible.”

The bill was introduced around the same time Gov. Rick Snyder announced his new statewide initiatives for reducing waste and increasing recycling. This includes an increase to the fee to dispose waste in landfills from 36 cents/ton to $4.75/ton. This would generate $79 million annually, some earmarked for grants to local governments and nonprofits for recycling infrastructure, market development initiatives, education and outreach.

However, Snyder didn’t propose expanding the scope of the beverage deposit law.

“This is the first serious conversation we’ve had on recycling in years,” Hoadley said. “The governor’s recycling task force is finally issuing recommendations, the governor is bringing a mouthpiece to it and the governor has proposed some other solutions.”

Legislators want to show that they have solutions to propose as well, he said.

When it comes to recycling, some groups would rather see the focus placed on the governor’s initiatives rather than on an expansion of the bottle bill.

“While the bottle bill is an important part of the tools that we use to increase recycling, we’re trying to go much further beyond that,” said Kerrin O’Brien, executive director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition.

The association represents recycling and composting interests.

“A bottle deposit law expansion bill comes up periodically, and it would capture an additional 2 percent or so of the waste, but what we’re trying to do with the governor’s initiative is get to a 30 or 45 percent recycling rate,” O’Brien said.

Other experts say it’s not an either/or situation, but rather an opportunity to combine potential solutions to create the best plan.

“While we support an expansion of the bottle deposit law, it must also be accompanied by other efforts and significant funding to assist communities into developing effective recycling options,” said Amy Trotter, deputy director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

MUCC led the successful petition drive to enact the original law.

This is not the first time an expansion of the bottle bill has been brought forward, but past proposals have generated opposition.

“Grocers have a very slim profit margin, which makes it difficult to absorb costs,” said Meegan Holland, vice president of communications and marketing for the Michigan Retailers Association.

“They would likely need new machines to take expanded bottle returns and figure out how to store additional bottles,” Holland said “It would require hiring additional personnel to sort and maintain machines that accept returnables, plus keep a sanitary environment.”

At the end of the day, Hoadley said, most people want to do the right thing for the environment.

“A clean earth does not know party lines,” he said. “Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, we can be supporting these initiatives that are working to create an individual incentive to do the right thing, create jobs and protect our environment.”

Co-sponsors of the bil are Reps. Tom Cochran, D-Mason; Bill Sowerby, D-Clinton Township; Brian Elder, D-Bay City; Erika Geiss, D-Taylor; Kristy Pagan, D-Canton; Robert Wittenberg, D-Huntington Woods, Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township; Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, D-Detroit; Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor; and Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit.

The bill is in the House Natural Resources Committee.