Bottle Wars

Each year Michigan's legislature revisits the 1978 Michigan Beverage Container Act, or "Bottle Bill," to potentially include containers such as water and juice bottles, wine bottles and even milk jugs.

And each year the beverage drink industry and food retailers fight bitterly against it. Why?

The bill as written is woefully inadequate, confusing, and limits the overall recycling efforts by Michiganians. The idea of making food stores responsible for processing used beverage containers negatively impacts a clean, healthy environment for its customers and prevents more robust recycling efforts from launching state-wide.

First and foremost, consumers generally dislike to sort, store and return their containers to a food destination. There, they must often wait in lines to recoup the 10-cent cost per item. Adding more returnable containers to the mix only makes a bad situation worse.

Michigan can become a leader in overall recycling. Right now, it ranks in the bottom fifth of all states in terms of recycling. Border states like Indiana that do not have bottle bills reportedly recycle 30 percent more.

Right now, Michigan recycles anything with a 10-cent refund on it, with everything else going into landfills. Some of Michigan's more savvy trash haulers have evolved into recyclers, however, filling a need with their service.

So why not have them pick up all glass, plastic and aluminum, along with all the other containers curbside? This change takes the pressure off food retailers and consumers.

Michigan's counties need to mandate that waste haulers must recycle all glass, plastic and aluminum and include it as a necessary part of their contract. Progressive companies such as American Waste and Recycling already employ talented people who are experts in the recycling business and are equipped to handle this type of effort right now.

So what to do about the 10-cent refund? One solution is to phase it out over time as counties implement new recycling strategies with their hauler partners. Once all of the counties have written new contracts and the state has signed off on the plan, then the 10-cent cost can be eliminated.

Michigan is one of only 10 states that have a bottle bill. In fact, Delaware repealed its 1982 law in 2010 for the many of the same reasons Michigan is wrangling with now. A clear curbside strategy combined with Michigan's popular Adopt-A-Highway program and stronger litter prevention laws make sense.

The Michigan Bottle Bill was written as a reactionary effort to eliminate roadway trash problems. It did its job 30-plus years ago, but now it's obsolete, prevents serious recycling efforts, and creates health hazards in food stores. Let's move to a comprehensive statewide recycling mandate, following best practices that have been proven to work in other states.