In its latest iteration, the push for a national bottle bill is being packaged as the Return Every Deposit for Effective Environmental Management (REDEEM) Act (Quinn, 2022). The bill should reach the Senate for consideration later this year, and the latest draft includes a 5-cent deposit value on a wide array of beverage containers that would increase to 10 cents after five years (Quinn, 2022). Supporters of the bill hope the legislation could be passed in 2023 despite a potential change in control of the House and Senate post-November (Quinn, 2022).
Many existing state bottle bills were first passed in the 1970s and 1980s and are only now being updated. A bottle bill with a 5-cent deposit passed in 1980 would be equivalent to a nearly 20-cent deposit today. This begs the question, are 5-cent deposits really enough to incentivize bottle redemption at the rates we need to see for a national redemption program to be successful and sustainable? According to the most recent data, the answer is no.
The Container Recycling Institute (CRI) released a report on July 6 highlighting sluggish redemption rates in existing deposit return states that have not returned to pre-COVID levels(CRI, 2022). While the ten states with existing deposit programs still perform better in recovery rates than the national average recycling rate of 35%, most states have seen a notable downtrend in redemption rates in the past decade (CRI, 2022).
CRI President and Maine Senator Susan Collins notes that container redemption rates must be 85% or higher in order to be considered sustainable, and as of 2021 not a single state is reaching that target (although most recently Oregon posted a 86% redemption rate in 2019) (CRI, 2022).
The report underscores the need for a) higher deposit values and b) wider coverage in accepted container types. Perhaps not coincidentally, Michigan and Oregon are the only two states with a 10-cent deposit for all eligible containers and are the only two states with historic redemption rates close to the 85% threshold for long-term sustainability (CRI, 2022).
Outside of the movement for a national redemption program, a handful of states pursued state legislation to initiate, expand, and update bottle deposit programs. Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Illinois all introduced legislation to create state bottle deposit programs, but each bill died in session (Heffernan, 2022). Vermont and New York both moved to expand containers covered and increase the deposit value, and while supporters reported progress in advancing the programs in their states, both bills ultimately failed (Whittaker, 2022; Heffernan, 2022).
But not all progress in bottle redemption legislation reached a dead end; Iowa updated its handling fees for the first time since 1979 and implemented a review committee to better monitor the program, while Oregon expanded beverage containers to include wine in a can and instituted a fee for non-participative distributors (Heffernan, 2022). The ends of July and August will reveal the outcomes of bottle deposit program expansion bills in Massachusetts and California, respectively (Heffernan, 2022).
Some of the key pushback to expansive legislation in existing bottle deposit states comes from MRFs, who argue their revenue streams are already small and that losing reliable volumes of aluminum, glass, and number 1 and 2 plastics to redemption centers would put them out of business (Cotton, 2022; Heffernan, 2022). This concern is not one to dismiss; if MRFs are lost due to funding constriction then other materials that are not eligible for deposit return could end up in the landfill. The latest draft of the national bottle bill may address this concern; it stipulates that curbside collection entities be paid for the value of containers collected, and ensures unredeemed deposits would help fund program costs and infrastructure for MRF operation (Quinn, 2022).
While advocates for the bill caution that the REDEEM Act is just a framework bill, the legislation would prove to be a large leap ahead in national recycling infrastructure, and the basis for improved synchronicity and efficiency in waste recovery in this country.
*Note: Information on state legislation compiled from news articles is implicitly dynamic and not all information in the article has been independently verified as of the date of publication.
Container Recycling Institute. (2022). Press release on redemption rates for 2021 with chart final.pdf. https://www.container-recycling.org/images/2022/Press%20release%20on%20redemption%20rates%20for%202021%20with%20chart%20final.pdf?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=8f9b6a41-080f-47dc-9a5d-f3c443cb8266
Cotton, E. (2022, May 12). Expansion of Vermont’s bottle bill faces an uncertain fate in the final moments of the session. VTDigger. https://vtdigger.org/2022/05/12/expansion-of-vermonts-bottle-bill-faces-an-uncertain-fate-in-the-final-moments-of-the-session/
Heffernan, M. (2022, July 11). Inside an action-packed year for container deposits—Resource Recycling. Resource Recycling News. https://resource-recycling.com/recycling/2022/07/11/inside-an-action-packed-year-for-container-deposits/
Quinn, M. (2022, July 7). National bottle bill supporters eyeing 2023 for updated draft legislation. Waste Dive. https://www.wastedive.com/news/national-bottle-bill-redeem-plastic-congress-deposit/626737/
Whittaker, J. (2022, February 1). Bottle Bill Expansion Proposed In State Assembly. Post-Journal.Com. https://www.post-journal.com/news/page-one/2022/02/bottle-bill-expansion-proposed-in-state-assembly/
Image: "Brown bottle recycling" by Aine D is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.