Bill seeks to end bottle deposit law

Clarissa Kell | Daily Press Elmer’s County Market employee Nick Meyer stands by bottles he sorted at the store. All glass bottles have to be sorted manually to be recycled properly.

ESCANABA — State Rep. Beau LaFave recently introduced a bill to end Michigan’s 40-year-old bottle deposit law because he believes it will help boost community recycling programs and relieve the strain put on local businesses that have return stations.

The Michigan Beverage Container Act, also known as the bottle bill, was enacted in 1976 and implemented in 1978 to reduce roadside litter, clean up the environment, and conserve energy and natural resources. The current bottle deposit law provides a 10 cent deposit for containers and beverages sold and redeemed by bottlers and distributors in Michigan.

“The goal of this legislation is to increase recycling,” LaFave said. Michigan’s residential recycling rate is one of the lowest in the nation — sitting at 15 percent.

“I think the only way to increase recycling is to make it easier for them,” LaFave said. He explained it is easier for people to bring their cans and bottles to their curbside to be picked up every two weeks than it is to go to a store and return cans separately from other recyclables.

Although the bottle deposit law helped reduce litter in the 1980s and ’90s, LaFave said all it does now is hurt recycling. He explained there has been a societal change and littering is much less of a concern now.

“It is more important to make recycling accessible,” he said. “And the bottle deposit law is inhibiting that right now.”

LaFave explained aluminum cans are the most profitable in recyclable materials and the deposit bill takes that money out of community curbside recycling programs so it is difficult for recyclers to sustain these programs in communities throughout the Upper Peninsula.

Don Pyle, who manages the Delta Landfill and Recycling Center, said he is on the fence about the new bill.

“If I was to just look at Delta Wide Recycling, I would probably say that it will be a financial help to us,” Pyle said. “And if the bill passes — okay, we will handle that additional recycling stream.”

He mentioned the reason he is on the fence is because he isn’t sure how the new bill would effect Michigan as a whole in the long run. He explained the Michigan bottle bill has been a huge success story for the state and other states even model off of its example.

According to the Bottle Deposit Information report made by the Michigan Department of Treasury, the redemption rate of bottles and cans in 2017 was 91.2 percent and the average redemption rate since 1990 was 96.3 percent.

Pyle explained he is not sure about LaFave’s bill because there isn’t a guarantee people will continue to recycle at that rate when there is no longer the incentive of the 10 cent deposit.

“For Delta-wide, could I use that extra revenue? Sure,” Pyle said. “But big picture, long term — is it really going to be the right thing? Are we going to continue to recycle our pop bottles and aluminum cans if we get rid of the bottle bill? If we do I’ll take the money. If we drop down to 50 percent and it ends up in the ditches and it ends up in the landfills where it’s not recycled — is what I’m gaining here worth that?”

He said if there was a definite answer to his questions then he would be more comfortable with taking a side on this matter, but until then he isn’t sure on what is best.

LaFave brought up in addition to hindering community recycling programs the current bottle bill law puts an unnecessary burden on local businesses. He said businesses face extra labor costs, as well as problems recouping money when people return cans purchased across the border in Wisconsin — especially in border towns like Menominee and Iron Mountain.

Elmer’s County Market General Manager Rod Stende said he is in favor of LaFave’s new bill.

“I applaud Beau (LaFave) to having the guts to do that,” Stende said.

He explained Elmer’s County Market takes in over four million bottles and cans every year with about one-third not being purchased at the store.

He said Michigan asks a lot from the grocery stores that handle the returns.

“It was about $70,000 for our equipment — and then there is maintenance on it because there is a lot of moving parts,” he said. “Those bills get expensive. And they have to be cleaned because the sensors get all that goop on them. So we spend a fair amount of time on them.”

Stende explained the machines and the maintenance aren’t the only expenditures on the return system in place. He said there is also the extra labor costs because workers have to be back in the room to sort through all of the bottles and unload the can bins when they’re full. Stende said not everyone cleans their cans, so the store also has to spend extra money on pest control.

“Then there is the garbage,” Stende said. “We bring it to the same landfill our customers would.”

He posed the question, why would the state want people to bring their garbage to the place they buy their groceries?

Stende explained he doesn’t see a downside to the new bill and that is why he is in support of it.

If the bill was passed into law the bottle deposit would end on Dec. 31, 2022 and bottles purchased before that date can be returned for deposit but lose the refund on Dec. 31, 2025.

The legislation, House Bill 6532-36, has been referred to the House Michigan Competitiveness Committee for consideration.