Michigan recycling, recycling in Michigan
Associated Press

Michigan’s Generous Bottle Refund Law Poses Problems

October 28, 2008 08:30 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
Michigan is facing two separate recycling issues: eliminating illegal returns, and a decision over whether or not to expand the current bottle deposit law.

Bottle Deposit Dilemma

It’s an episode of Seinfeld come to life in Michigan, where out-of-state consumers have been cashing in on the state’s 10-cent bottle deposit law. Although 10 other states “encourage recycling by adding a refundable deposit to beer, soft drink and other beverage containers,” Michigan is the only state offering a 10-cent refund per bottle, leaving it particularly vulnerable to fraudulence. Illegal returns have cost Michigan $10 million per year, money that could have gone to environmental causes, according to the Associated Press.

Furthermore, Michigan has drawn considerable attention as it deals with recycling of non-carbonated drink containers, particularly plastic water bottles, reports the AP. Currently, Michigan does not offer a refund for such items, and most are not recycled.

To eliminate non-Michigan bottle returns, lawmakers have proposed marking bottles and cans sold instate with “a special dot, symbol or other code,” and installing machines able to recognize the symbols, according to the AP. There has also been talk of putting a daily cap on bottle returns permitted per person, and of requiring personal information through a “debit-card-like account” to make returns, which has been successful in Maine.

But why won’t Michigan just lower the refundable deposit to 5 cents to deter out-of-state consumers?

According to an editorial in The Oregonian, which advocates for raising Oregon’s refundable deposit to 10 cents, Michigan “has the nation’s highest redemption rate for soda and beer containers at 90 percent,” which makes legislators hesitant to lower the refund.

Regarding recycling of non-carbonated beverage containers, some in Michigan are calling for expansion of the state bottle bill to offer refunds for such items; while others say promotion of a statewide curb-side recycling program is the better option.

Background: To expand or not to expand

Opponents of expanding the bottle bill have proposed a “penny plan,” which would add a 1-cent tax “to most purchases of $2 or more,” according to Michigan Live. The accumulated pennies, which could total $40 million per year, would fund “curbside recycling and drop-off recycling stations statewide.” Curbside service is only available to 37 percent of Michigan residents, compared with 50 percent nationally.

Others, including Flint Journal columnist Dennis Muchmore, say now is the time to expand the Michigan bottle bill to include refunds for non-carbonated items, such as bottled water and sports drinks. Muchmore believes an expanded bottle bill would result in less pollution, “reduce energy use and create new jobs.”

Reference: History of Michigan bottle bill


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