In 1976, the state of Michigan approved the “bottle bill,” attaching a 10-cent deposit to returned bottles and cans. The act was introduced to prevent littering and encourage recycling, but in recent years rates of bottle returns have gone down.
“We kind of dump this job on the retail market. And over time, a lot of people aren’t taking them back, they’re just dumping them in their single-stream recycling bin … or they just throw them in the trash.” —Chad Livengood, Crain’s Detroit Business
Many are now wondering whether it’s worth it to reform the law, or just repeal it entirely.
Listen: The problem with bottle returns in Michigan.
Chad Livengood is senior editor of Crain’s Detroit Business. He recently wrote a piece titled “Michigan’s bottle bill is a mess. Time for reform or repeal.” He says that the bottle bill as it is now gives Michiganders a false sense of accomplishment.
“Over time, we are recycling less and less of recyclable materials in Michigan,” says Livengood. “For the last 11 years we’ve been at a steady decline.” Livengood says the pandemic has further exposed the problems within the bottle return system. “Before COVID it was about 89% (bottles returned) … That number has greatly dropped into the 75% now.”
Livengood says the problem with bottle returns is that the service is only available at grocery stores. “Grocery stores hate this work. It’s very laborious, it takes up a lot of space in their storage area, and they have to deal with all the possible problems with it. So they really want out of this business.”
He says without changes to the bottle bill, bottle returns and recycling will continue to decline. ”We kind of dump this job on the retail market. And over time, a lot of people aren’t taking them back, they’re just dumping them in their single-stream recycling bin … or they just throw them in the trash.”
Web story written by Nora Rhein