Question: when does 10 cents equal more than $100 million? Answer: when the 10 cents in question refers to Michigan’s bottle and can deposit law.
The Lansing State Journal recently ran a story about the Michigan Legislature looking to crack down on smugglers who are cashing in on the state’s 10 cent bottle and can returnable policy commonly known as the “bottle bill.” Studies have pegged such fraud costs Michigan $10 million to $13 million per year. There should be swift and meaningful punishment for crimes of this nature.
This news comes at a time when others in Lansing are looking at a comprehensive modernization of the bottle bill itself. Passed by voters in 1976, the returnable law has resulted in many unforeseen and hidden costs that could be eliminated or reduced while still maintaining the intent of the bottle bill — to reduce litter and encourage recycling.
For example, fraud costs associated with the bottle bill pale in comparison with the costs borne by Michigan retailers (and ultimately by consumers). A study completed in 2000 by Stutz and Gilbert found the cost to retailers to total nearly $95 million per year. That calculates to more than $129 million in today’s dollars. Retailers recoup only a fraction of that cost from the state’s portion of unclaimed deposit funds.
The Stutz and Gilbert study also found the aggregate cost of the bottle bill to be $640 ($843 in today’s dollars) per ton of recyclables collected. That cost is more than 31/2 times greater than the $170 per ton cost of collecting the array of other recyclable materials via community curbside or drop-off recycling.
While Michigan’s 10 cent deposit is the highest in the country, the state continually ranks last among the states with the regard to the overall level of recycling.
It’s time for Michigan’s bottle bill to evolve by moving away from the deposit on cans and bottles and end the dual recycling system that exists in the state — one for certain cans and bottles and another for everything else — and instead implement one comprehensive policy that accomplishes what was intended by the law’s original passage — reduce litter and promote and increase recycling.
Recycling was in its infancy when the bottle bill was passed in 1976. Now, nearly two-thirds of Michigan residents have either curbside recycling or nearby recycling drop off options. That number can be affordably expanded, in part, if cans and bottles — among the most valuable recyclable commodities — were to be added directly into the community-recycling stream. Ending the dual recycling system creates additional incentive for more communities to either engage in collection and reselling of recyclables or by contracting with private haulers to do so.
Michigan’s consumers will pay less, and they won’t have to take the extra (and often messy and unsanitary) step of taking bags of cans or bottles to collection machines inside grocery stores and other retailers.
Michigan’s environment will benefit as recycling options increase for a greater number of the population.
This evolution of the bottle bill makes sense — and saves cents.
That’s my two cents on the matter.