What Exactly is a Bottle Bill and How Does it Work?
A Bottle Bill, also known as a ‘beverage container deposit and redemption system’ or ‘container deposit law’, is a recycling incentive program that is created through legislation and works through a circular system. A store pays a few extra cents to a distributor for bottles and cans. You then pay a few extra cents at check out for those bottles and cans. Once you recycle the bottles and cans at a designated location - usually the store you purchased the bottles and cans at, or a redemption center - you get that money back. The distributor then returns the extra money the store paid back to the store or redemption center - depending on where the bottles and cans are recycled.
So what happens if the container is not recycled? It varies state by state. Some states allow the store to keep the extra cents you paid, some put the money towards environmental protections, and others use the extra money to cover the small cost of keeping a bottle bill running, meaning they have the ability to fund themselves!
Why Do Bottle Bills Matter?
Have you ever been at the beach, a park, or maybe even just walking in your neighborhood and seen a stray bottle or can? That bottle or can is not alone. In fact, “Reloop, a nonprofit group that supports bottle bills, estimated in the “What we waste” report that over 74 billion PET [plastic] bottles, 50 billion aluminum cans and 15 billion glass bottles were landfilled, burned or littered in the U.S. in 2019. The numbers come out to about 426 containers per person per year.”
That’s billions of bottles and cans that are polluting our communities and environment. And that is just taking into account what happens to bottles and cans when we are done with them.
The process of making new bottles and cans is just as environmentally impactful. Making new glass, plastic, and aluminum bottles and cans uses large amounts of fossil fuels and releases greenhouse gasses in their production and transportation processes. Meaning they’re negatively affecting the environment before they even get to us. Not only does making new containers release greenhouse gases, but the impact on the environment in material extraction is immense.
That is why recycling is so important!
Benefits of Bottle Bills
So how do bottle bills counteract the negative effects of unrecycled bottles and cans? The answer is they give people an incentive to recycle, and that incentive works. “On average, states with bottle bills have a beverage container recycling rate of 60%, compared to 24% for states without bottle bills, according to the Container Recycling Institute.”
Not only do bottle bills increase rates of recycling, but they also have an array of other benefits.
- They reduce the overall cost of waste disposal and recycling collection because people are bringing their recycling to a redemption location and, in most cases, sorting the bottle and cans themselves into a ‘reverse vending machine’ - an easy to use machine that gives you money in return for placing your bottles and cans into it.
- Bottle bills also have the effect of lowering the environmental impact of bottles and cans by mitigating how many bottles and cans are littered or end up in landfills, as well as how many new bottles and cans need to be made.
- IIn addition, bottle bills have been shown the create new jobs and businesses as a result of the increase in recycling - necessitating the need for more recycling locations and employees to handle the increased demand.
Updated bottle bills to include a larger variety of containers have even greater benefits! Reloop’s report, “Reimagining the Bottle Bill,” which focused on the Northeast, “predicted modernized bills would also create 2,751 jobs throughout the region, increase the regional recycling rate of beverage containers from 69% to 92% and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 550,000 metric tons each year.” That’s huge!
Resources to learn more about bottle bills;
EREMA Discovery Day - Advanced PET Recycling - Deconstructing a Pallet of PET Plastic Bottles.
Heffernan, Marissa. “Study: Modernized Bottle Bills Boost Redemption, Save Money.” Plastics Recycling Update, Plastics Recycling Update, 23 Mar. 2022, https://resource--recycling-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/resource-recycling.com/plastics/2022/03/23/study-modernized-bottle-bills-boost-redemption-save-money/amp/.
Paben, Jared. “Researchers Tout Benefits of a US Bottle Bill - Resource Recycling.” Resource Recycling News, Resource Recycling, 6 May 2021, https://resource-recycling.com/recycling/2021/05/04/researchers-tout-benefits-of-a-us-bottle-bill/.
Heffernan, Marissa. “Conference Panelists Outline State of Plastics Recycling Policy.” Plastics Recycling Update, Plastics Recycling Update, 8 Mar. 2022, https://resource-recycling.com/plastics/2022/03/07/conference-panelists-outline-state-of-plastics-recycling-policy/amp/.
Heffernan, Marissa. “Bottle Bills Erode MRF Revenues but Create Municipal Savings.” Plastics Recycling Update, Plastics Recycling Update, 8 Mar. 2022, https://resource-recycling.com/plastics/2022/03/07/bottle-bills-erode-mrf-revenues-but-create-municipal-savings/amp/.
Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “Bottle Bill.” Vermont Public Interest Research Group, https://www.vpirg.org/recycling/.
CT_TECH. “Bottle Bills Explained.” Cycle Technology, 24 July 2020, https://cycletechnology.com/2020/07/24/bottle-bills-explained/.
Healthy Human. “Plastic Water Bottle Pollution: Where Do All the Bottles End up?” Healthy Human, https://healthyhumanlife.com/blogs/news/plastic-water-bottle-pollution-plastic-bottles-end#:~:text=Each%20day%2C%20people%20in%20the,only%2012%20percent%20are%20recycled.
Rosane, Olivia. “Study: Glass Bottles Harm the Environment More than Plastic Bottles.” EcoWatch, 9 Dec. 2021, https://www.ecowatch.com/glass-bottles-harm-environment-2648968467.html.
Onstad, Eric. “Plastic Bottles vs. Aluminum Cans: Who'll Win the Global Water Fight?” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 17 Oct. 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-environment-plastic-aluminium-insight-idUSKBN1WW0J5.
Container Recycling Institute. Bottle Bill Resource Guide, https://www.bottlebill.org/.
Reloop. “Reimagining the Bottle Bill.” Reloop, 18 Mar. 2022, https://bottlebillreimagined.org/.
Container Recycling Institute. “Benefits of Bottle Bills.” Bottle Bill Resource Guide, 31 Aug. 2008, https://www.bottlebill.org/index.php/about-bottle-bills/benefits-of-bottle-bills.