Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Perspectives on the Proposed Bottle Bill in Maryland

Bottles litter the streets, clog stormwater drains, and pile up in the Inner Harbor and the Bay at large. Baltimore alone spends roughly $10million a year to clean up litter and implement control measures. Overall, Maryland is estimated to recycle only 22 percent of about 4 billion beverage containers sold annually. This compares poorly to the national recycling rate of 35 percent. Maryland House Delegate Maggie McIntosh has sponsored a bill titled “Recycle for Real” which would attempt to remedy the situation by instituting a 5 cent refundable deposit on drink containers. In other states that have a 5 cent refundable deposit, recycling rates go up to around 75 percent.

Strong opposition to the legislation comes from beverage distributors and merchants, who claim that it would jeopardize sales and employment. Since interstate competition would keep beverage prices from rising, the consumer would not incur the cost of the deposit, rather the cost would be shifted to beverage companies. Other arguments against the proposed bill claim that the bill will take away from recycling programs run by municipalities who offer single-stream curbsidepick-up and drop-off locations.

Proponents of the bottle bill argue that it would “reduce litter, create jobs, and that its costs are manageable” since the unclaimed deposits would be returned to redemption centers in the form of 3 cent handling fees.

If recycling rates were to increase as dramatically as in other states, the environmental benefits seem clear. However, it is unclear how the shift in recycling patterns would affect existing recycling programs. Would recycling streams from curbside pickups and drop-off centers simply be funneled toward bottle deposit returns? Or would the refundable deposit attract a new stream of recycling, perhaps from lower income earners for whom the refund would be worth the effort to recycle? Ironically, the deposit program operates best with a margin of unreturned bottles, since this unclaimed portion generates revenue to fund the program. Perhaps the combination of recycling programs would allow some of the bottle deposits to be refunded to those willing to put forth the effort of reclamation, while those who would rather forgo the refund and the effort could take advantage of the more convenient single-stream curbside pickup programs.

--Daniela Beall

**For a more detailed analysis of the impacts:
University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center. (2011, Dec 15). 2011 Impact analysis of a beverage container deposit program in Maryland. Retrieved from http://www.abell.org/pubsitems/CD-Deposit_Program_Analysis-312.pdf

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