Bottling Up the Throwaway Ethic

December 28, 1993

Already under pressure to create a mandatory recycling program for household trash, the Carroll County commissioners have been asked to support a national bottle-deposit bill to reduce the glut of soft-drink containers in the waste stream.

Supporters of the bill argue that such laws, which require a nickel or a dime deposit on beverage containers, have been immensely successful in the nine states that have enacted the legislation, including neighboring Delaware.

Recycling rates for glass, metal and plastic containers in those states range from 72 percent to 95 percent, according to the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, a citizen lobby seeking the local endorsement of the congressional bill. That's a highly encouraging response.

Nationwide, most of the 100 billion bottles and cans for beverages are discarded after a single use, littering the landscape or imposing further burdens on landfills and waste incinerators.

Deposits would provide a financial incentive to return containers, which have little value. Recycling centers may accept beverage containers, but the shaky market for these used materials is glutted and economically unsound at present.

Imposing a 10-cent refundable deposit on soft drinks would generate $1.7 billion a year in revenue, $36 million in Maryland alone, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. That would effectively subsidize the weak market in recyclables. A national program would assure that all redeemed containers have had a deposit paid.

A major concern, as Carroll officials point out, is that merchants and distributors would be forced to add staff and storage facilities to collect the returned containers and pay out refunds. And retailers will not welcome the substantial added cost of soft drinks, because every price increase threatens to depress sales.

But the Carroll commissioners say they will take a hard look at the proposal. They realize that a national recycling measure takes pressure off local authorities to craft their own regulations. The benefits would be apparent locally, lowering landfill and trash collection needs without raising taxes or hiking garbage service bills, while promoting reductions nationally in energy and raw materials required to produce throwaway containers.

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