Mandatory deposit laws have played an important role in addressing litter and promoting recycling of beverage containers. However, many of these laws in the United States were enacted decades ago and have not kept up with an ever-changing packaging and distribution landscape, and in some cases have plateaued or even backtracked in terms of materials returned and redeemed. Today, many deposit laws arbitrarily exclude certain beverage containers, set fees that do not reflect the true costs of handling packaging materials, often lack sufficient controls to mitigate potential abuse, and can create unnecessary additional administrative costs. In addition, the money from unclaimed deposits in some states is not used to strengthen the state’s recycling and collection infrastructure, but is rather used to fund unrelated state expenditures. As a result of these shortcomings, too many materials that should be recycled still end up in the waste stream, rather than managed as a valuable resource. Much of this waste, or resource as we call it, is in demand among manufacturers – our company included – as raw material for everything from packaging to textiles.
As we strive toward a trash-free future, we should explore comprehensive policies that further enhance our municipal collection and recycling infrastructures as well as re-evaluate and reform our existing mandatory deposit programs to ensure they are having the maximum impact. We believe in laws and regulations that enhance the effective, efficient, fair, convenient and consistent return and redemption of beverage containers, with the end goal of more beverage containers being recycled. Therefore, we believe the following reforms should be considered with certain bottle deposit laws for improved and increased performance:
Enhance Effectiveness: A strong bottle deposit program covers a broad range of beverage products to increase the volume of valuable material within the recycling stream and promotes bottle-to-bottle reuse over “downcycling” where the recycled content is used to produce lower quality plastics or lower value products.
Enhance Efficiency: Any bottle deposit program incurs costs that are eventually born by consumers. A strong program uses an efficient model to minimize those costs, by doing the following: (1) centralizing administrative and operational functions through the use of a steward model responsible for deposit collection administration, deposit fund administration, setting deposit system fee rates, and reporting to the regulatory authority; (2) utilizing technology and automation in the redemption process to minimize labor costs; (3) allocating recycling costs by materials in accordance with their actual cost to recycle and their relative post-recycled value; and (4) using unredeemed deposits solely to fund the system and related recycling infrastructure and initiatives.
Enhance Transparency and Accountability: Strong bottle deposit programs are designed to maximize compliance and minimize inappropriate behavior. Strategies to improve transparency and accountability include the use of a central steward to: (1) impose standards on redemption agents; (2) analyze deposit collection and payment data to detect anomalies; (3) perform audits on deposit initiators and redemption agents; and (4) initiate deposits upon retail sale, rather than wholesale transfers, to eliminate intentional or unintentional transfer of full goods from non-deposit states.
Improve Consumer Experience: Strong bottle deposit programs make it convenient for consumers to recycle and return beverage containers. Strategies to improve the consumer experience include: (1) improving bottle return at retail redemption with improved reverse vending machine technologies; (2) promoting technology innovations that promote bulk redemption, including bag drop systems; and (3) exploring redemption using existing municipal collection systems and collection in public venues.
Improve Regional Uniformity: Currently, 10 states in the U.S. have bottle redemption programs, many of which are located in the Northeast. These programs, however, are all different and often lack a consistent approach. Transitioning from the current patchwork of deposit programs toward a more uniform approach is critical to achieving the goals of increased scale, efficiency, and effectiveness necessary to realize a circular economy for beverage containers.