New bill would add 10-cent deposit to water and juice bottles in Michigan | Michigan Radio
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New bill would add 10-cent deposit to water and juice bottles in Michigan

Feb 9, 2018

Michigan’s 10-cent bottle deposit law has been on the books since 1976. It covers can and bottles for carbonated beverages – soda, pop, beer, seltzer and so on.

The deposit is 10 cents and it got national attention in 1996 after an episode of "Seinfeld" in which Newman and Kramer concoct a scheme to haul 5-cent bottles from New York to Michigan and return them for a profit.

(Spoiler alert: It doesn't work out. Also, in real life, it's illegal.)

House Bill 5486 would expand Michigan's law to include water and juice bottles. Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalmazoo) sponsored the bill. He spoke with Michigan Radio's "Morning Edition" host Doug Tribou. 

Details of House Bill 5486

What would the bill change?

Hoadley's bill would add water and all carbonated and non-carbonated, non-alcoholic beverages except milk to the list of containers with a 10-cent deposit. 

What happens now when a deposit is paid, but the no one ever returns the container to collect the money? 

Roughly 95 to 98 percent of bottles and cans are returned. For the ones that aren't, Hoadley says some of the money goes back to the state for environmental grants. The rest goes to the retailers responsible for collecting bottles and cans.  

Where does the proposal stand?

The bill has been introduced to the Michigan House of Representatives and referred to the Committee on Natural Resources.  

Are stores that have to collect cans and bottles in favor of expanding the law? 

We asked the Michigan Retailers Association for their opinion. Here are the comments they sent us:

"The bottle bill hasn’t been a successful recycling initiative, possibly because it was originally created to prevent litter, not increase recycling. Michigan’s average recycling rate is 15 percent, compared to 35 percent of other Great Lakes states, according to the Governor’s recent announcement on recycling initiatives. It doesn’t make sense to expand a plan that was never intended to increase recycling and has been shown to actually decrease the overall statewide recycling rate.

In states without a bottle bill, aluminum and PET plastics make up 23 percent of the value that can be found in curbside recycling bins. By having a bottle bill we divert the most valuable materials from the recycling stream (aluminum and plastic) that could be used to help fund comprehensive recycling efforts. Expanding the bottle bill only diverts more of those materials.

Instead of expanding the bottle bill, the state should focus its efforts on persuading more people to recycle. We need a comprehensive statewide recycling program, rather than placing the burden on grocers.

Grocers have a very slim profit margin, which makes it difficult to absorb costs. They would likely need new machines to take expanded bottle returns (starting price: $14,000), and figure out how to store additional bottles. It would require hiring additional personnel to sort, maintain machines that accept returnables plus keep a sanitary environment.

The bottle storage room in any store is typically the most unsanitary. Places that are supposed to be safe and sanitary are warehousing bottles containing cigarette butts and other even more unpleasant contaminants. Do you really want more of that in your neighborhood grocery store?"

As a part of our MI Curious project, listener Sheila McCormack wanted to know:  "Why are there still no return deposits on water bottles in Michigan and what can we do to change this?" 

"The reason is unfortunately because of partisan gridlock and legislative delay," Hoadley told Michigan Radio. "Folks like myself and others have been introducing bills that would expand the bottle deposit law for a number of sessions now. There has been no movement, but what we do know is that the bottle deposit law works. So, we don't need to reinvent the wheel. Let's just expand a program that's working to capture the bottles that people are using."

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