Bottle Bills: An Analysis Across State Lines

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Bottle Bills: An Analysis Across State Lines

Every state wants to be the best, but in actuality, we know that Florida really takes the cake (of course, I am biased). Beaches, springs, lakes, theme parks – we have it all. What we don’t have, though, are strong laws regarding how we dispose of our waste. 

Ten states and Guam have what are called bottle bills, which protect our planet and our communities from trash by requiring a minimal deposit paid on recyclable bottles, cans, or containers.  Also known as beverage container deposit laws, bottle bills provide a deposit-refund framework to reduce litter by incentivizing the capture of bottles, cans, and other containers for recycling. 

Here’s how it works: A retailer receives a shipment of bottled or canned products and pays a deposit to the distributor for each item. Deposits for each item range from two to 15 cents. When the retailer sells the products, the consumer pays a deposit fee to the retailer. If the consumer returns the container to the retailer, their deposit is refunded. If they do not return the container, the unredeemed deposit may go to the retailer, distributor, or state programs, depending on the particular state law in play. Once the container is returned, the retailer returns the container to the distributor and redeems their deposit plus a handling fee which covers the cost of handling the items. The percentage of containers received back to the retailer throughout this process is called the redemption rate.  If the container is never returned from the retailer to the distributor, the retailer loses the handling fee, as their deposit was passed on to the consumer. Thus, the policy incentivizes the consumer to return their container and the retailer to send it back to the distributor. 

Flowchart showing how deposit and redemption work

Bottle bills vary from state to state.
Below are six states that have bottle bills and how they operate their programs:

California

Another sunny paradise, California, enacted its bottle bill in 1986. Their laws cover any container composed of aluminum, glass, plastic, or bi-metal, excluding refillables. Deposit amounts are 5 cents for bottles less than 24 oz, and 10 cents for those greater than 24oz. Uniquely, handling fees are paid by the state at a monthly calculated fee of less than 0.1 cents a container. Unredeemed deposits go back to the state’s waste program to be used for administration costs. California had an overall 2017 redemption rate of 75%. 

Iowa

Iowa entered the bottle bill game in 1978. They have no limits on the size of the container but cover only sealed bottles, cans, jars, or cartons composed of glass, metal, or plastic. Their deposit amount is 5 cents. Handling fees are 1 cent and unredeemed deposits are retained by distributors and bottlers. Iowa’s overall 2017 redemption rate: 71%.

Maine

Another coastal tourism state, Maine, differentiates their deposit amount by content type. For wine and liquor containers, the deposit is 15 cents. All other containers have a 5 cent deposit. Container types are limited to sealed items four liters or smaller, composed of glass, metal or plastic. As of January 2020, handling fees will be 4.5 cents, a 0.5 cent increase. Unredeemed deposits are the property of the State. Maine started its program in 1976 and in 2017 they reported an 84% redemption rate.

Michigan

Beginning in 1976, this state has a 10 cent deposit for all containers under one gallon composed of metal, glass, or plastic. Also added to their accepted containers: paper products. Michigan has no handling fee and allocates unredeemed deposits as 75% to the state for environmental programs and 25% to retailers. In 2017, this state had a redemption rate of 91%!

New York

Starting in 1976 with several other states mentioned, New York is the only state to include steel in their containers covered by the law. Their deposit amount is 5 cents and they divvy up their unredeemed deposits as 80% retained by the state general fund and 20% retained by the distributor. New York has a handling fee of 3.5%. They reported a 65% redemption rate in 2017.

Oregon

As the first state to enact a bottle bill in 1971, Oregon has a 10 cent deposit for any sealed bottle, can, or jar composed of glass, metal, or plastic, and 2 cents for any standard refillable. All beverages are covered except wine, distilled liquor, milk, milk substitutes, and infant formula. Oregon has no handling fee, and unredeemed deposits are retained by distributors and bottlers.  In 2017, Oregon had an overall redemption rate of 73%, a 10% increase from the previous year. 

Just in looking at existing programs, it appears that that higher deposit amounts and no or low handling fees may result in a higher redemption rate. The deposit programs incentivize the consumer to actively recycle and the retailer to return containers to the distributor. 

We have a choice to make and a chance to do it right. Do we want Florida to continue to attract tourists, jobs, and businesses? We have to move away from our disposable, single-use mindset and towards a circular economy for plastic bottles, drink cans and glass bottles. Do we want to preserve our beautiful, iconic landscapes? We have to control our trash. 

Last session, Sen. Kevin Rader (D-Boca Raton) and Rep. Richard Stark (D-Weston) sponsored legislation that would bring a Beverage Container Deposit program to Florida. This primary focus of this bill would establish a refund value for specified beverage containers. Unfortunately, House and Senate leadership blocked both SB 672 and HB 853 and both bills died in Committee without a single hearing. 

Bottle bills have been around for decades in some states, and it may just be that this old idea is worth a new look in the coming years as Florida aims to become a more sustainable, zero-waste community. Florida’s great, and can be even better if we adopt proactive policies to cut down on our waste.  

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