General Question

ibstubro's avatar

Why isn't there more widespread use of packaging unit (cans and bottles) deposits?

Asked by ibstubro (18765points) April 19th, 2015

It seems so win-win to me.
Near complete recycle rate meaning cheaper materials for new packaging, reduced disposal rates, etc.
Picking up bottles was an easy way to make a little cash, too, when I was a kid.

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25 Answers

dxs's avatar

Convenience, I’d assume. For some, It’s just not worth it to drive all the way to the recycling center for just a few dollars.

elbanditoroso's avatar

When I was a kid, we did it to. The retailers hated it. Why?

1) they needed to basically have a full time person dealing with bottles and cans. In the old days, Coke bottles had to be but in Coke containers, Pepsi in Pepsi, and so on. It was a lot of work, and the grocery wasn’t getting paid for it.

2) there’s no mechanism currently for back-hauling to the manufacturer. How would the empty Coke bottles get back to the bottling plant? If a delivery guy ha to unload new product, and then load empties, he isn’t making as many deliveries as he used to.

3) The bottling plants aren’t set up to do quality control, cleaning, and sterilizing the incoming bottles from groceries.

4) there would have to be an auditable accounting system that would track returns and reimbursements. Suppose I bought the bottle (and paid the deposit) in Cleveland and returned the bottle in Dayton. Why should the grocer in Dayton end up paying my back out of his cash register, when I paid the deposit 180 miles away?

Bottom line is that there is neither the economic incentive to do this (for anyone in the chain) nor the social imperative to do so.

ibstubro's avatar

I have seen this in use in Iowa, and @dxs and @elbanditoroso seem to be unfamiliar with the current system. Something I’d not anticipated.

You don’t have to take the containers to recycling, @dxs. You can take 12 cans (for example) to the store and trade them (regardless of brand) against the deposit on a 12-pack. I’ve also seen machines at the grocery in Iowa that you feed the cans into and it gives you a 5¢ credit for each can. That’s been years ago, so I’m sure it’s better now.

I think the days of re-fill are long gone, @elbanditoroso. The deposit itself could be handled much like sales tax collection, with a zero-loss to the merchant. The recyclers pick the containers up in bins and pay for it.

jaytkay's avatar

People can dream up objections, but the fact is that recycling isn’t difficult and it’s been working for many years in many places.

I lived in Michigan decades ago when a deposit law was passed. It works fine. Every store that sells beverages will accept the returnables. Sizable grocery stores have machines that sort out your returns and spit out a coupon redeemable for cash.

There are no cans and bottles littering the roadside.

wildpotato's avatar

Because people don’t vote for it. Deposits for non-alcoholic and non-carbonated drinks (extending the current deposit program to all bottled/canned beverages, basically) was on the ballot in my state this past November, and even though the state is pretty liberal it got voted down. Conservative lawmakers and pundits – backed by drinks companies – frame their opposition as a tax on consumers, as bad for small businesses, etc – you know, all the usual lies they use to scare their base into voting against their own interests. Here’s an article I found helpful.

JLeslie's avatar

The only state I’ve lived in where people really paid attention was Michigan. The deposit was 10¢ and I was there while in college. 10¢ on a 6 pack of soda bought you a 7th soda essentially if you returned the cans. It was hard to ignore. I also didn’t have much concern about ants in Michigan if I didn’t rinse the can well. Florida is a different story. At least with the deposit you can return cans and bottles any time. With regular recycle pick up at your house it’s usually once a week or once every two weeks depending in the location.

jca's avatar

I hear that the deposit on bottles has been 5 cents for a very long time. What I understand is that the bottled beverage industry does not want it to go up and lobbies strongly for the same. I don’t think 5 cents is a high enough amount for people to inconvenience themselves. It takes a lot of bottles and a lot of work, time, gas, etc. to get anything back on bottles. I know I give mine to a neighbor and he collects them and takes them back, or I put them in recycling for the sanitation men to pick up. To me, 25 cents a week or whatever is just not worth the time and effort.

jca's avatar

I want to add that if they raised the deposit to 25 cents, it would be more of an incentive for people to recycle.

elbanditoroso's avatar

I think that the meaning of the question has gotten utterly hijacked.

Of course there is recycling – I do it every week with my trash. But that wasn’t the question.

The question has to do with paying a nickel (or dime or whatever) for a container, and getting it back when the container is returned. Current recycling programs simply don’t deal with the monetary (refund) aspect of the process, for the reasons I outlined.

@ibstubro – I am not aware of any programs that work the way you describe. At least not where I live.

jaytkay's avatar


All your objections were addressed decades ago.

The Michigan program mentioned twice above works as @ibstubro described and it has been working since the 1970s.

ibstubro's avatar

As does Iowa’s, obviously, @jaytkay. I think it’s time there was a national incentive program.

Buttonstc's avatar

I currently live in Michigan and the deposit is ten cents per bottle (whether two liter or smaller) and it basically works with a few hiccups.

For instance, national soda brands can be redeemed at any grocer. But if you buy a store’s generic brand, you must return it to that retailer. The machine spits it back otherwise. Annoying.

Also, you’d better not take the labels off or obscure them in any way (as I did with six packs of the smaller bottles when I re-used them) because you won’t get your money back if the machine can’t read the barcode.

And you’d better hope that someone is on duty for when those machines get filled up. Otherwise you’ve got to wait 30 mins. or more or come back another day. I usually go late at night cuz I hate waiting in line for one of those machines to be available during regular shopping hours.

And I very rarely buy smaller bottles or cans so hauling all those 2 liter bottles back gets pretty cumbersome.

But my biggest query is why it’s only soda cans and bottles that the machines will take. They will not accept any size bottles from water. THAT MAKES NO SENSE. So I end up recycling all my water bottles myself by re-using them for my milk and coffee.

But then they still have to go in the regular trash instead of one of the machines. Why?

Anyhow, to answer your question, here’s my guess as to why the system in Michigan isn’t more widespread.

We basically live in a disposable society. It’s a pervasive mindset (unfortunately) and in spite of all the educational efforts on recycling, people are reluctant to change the status quo. It’s a shame.

I don’t know why Michigan’s method couldn’t be adopted by other states (and even refined) for any other reason than the basic apathy of the throw-away society we have become.

For the most part it’s working fine here in Michigan. And if they would include bottled water containers it would be better yet.

jaytkay's avatar

But my biggest query is why it’s only soda cans and bottles that the machines will take. They will not accept any size bottles from water.

Because you’re not leaving a deposit when you buy the water. The law specifies carbonated water containers require a deposit.

Here’s an article from 2013 about expanding the law to non-carbonated water. I don’t see any more recent mentions in Google so I am guessing it did not happen.

Sen. Rebekah Warren announces legislation to expand Michigan’s bottle deposit law

Buttonstc's avatar


“Because you’re not leaving a deposit”

Well, duh, I’m aware of that but that’s not what I meant by the question. Why not just charge the 10 cent deposit on ALL bottles regardless of what they contain? Then they’d all be recycled.

But thanks for that article in the link. That’s a perfect illustration of why the whole thing is illogical to begin with. Bottles are bottles are bottles regardless of what they contain so they SHOULD just be part of the program.

It makes no sense to me why those limitations were written in to begin with. And now with people far less inclined to expand it, they’re stuck.

I also read a lot of the comments left by readers and it’s a perfect illustration of my viewpoint that our current throway society is increasingly apathetic about recycling.

As much as I complained about the flaws inherent in the current system, overall I do think it’s a worthwhile effort and I continue to drag in my bags full of bottles to the machines (and take the bags home to reuse them again)

So tweak the current system a little and it’s great.

ibstubro's avatar

Thanks for the discussion and first-hand experience, @Buttonstc & @jaytkay.

I’m surprised that Illinois hasn’t passed that law, given its proximity to MI and IA and the fact that what’s good for Chicago is priority. It was sure reduce Chicago’s refuse a lot.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

It’s all right there in the landfill when we want to go get it and recycle it. Folks don’t seem to see it that way though. It’s when the bottles (Especially plastic) don’t get to the landfill or are recycled that problems happen. I remember returning bottles as a kid but here in Tennessee there is no such thing so it’s in the landfill or on the road. If there was money in it the whole damn state would be spotless because every redneck and methhead would be scouring the countryside for them.

ibstubro's avatar

There seem to be a fair amount of people who get a fair amount of exercise picking up aluminum cans around here, @ARE_you_kidding_me. Another win. And cans only add up to about a penny each, at the recyclers right now.

jaytkay's avatar

@Buttonstc Bottles are bottles are bottles regardless of what they contain so they SHOULD just be part of the program.

I can’t figure it out either. Maybe the idea was to place a deposit on frivolous drinks like beer, soda, and fancy imported water. They didn’t put a deposit on juice.

In the 70s nobody routinely drank bottled water. Bottled water meant Perrier

flutherother's avatar

It used to work like that in the UK. We could return our lemonade bottles with their rubber stopper and get 3 old pence from the shop. The empties were put back in their crates and uplifted by the delivery man on his next visit. We also used reusable string bags instead of polythene bags. They were great and reduced greatly the amount of litter in the environment.

ibstubro's avatar

No, @flutherother, we’re only talking about re-use in the sense that the bottles and cans are recycled, not re-filled. We have a number of states that require soda pop sellers to charge 5–10¢ per can or battle and that deposit is returned when the container is brought back empty. We used to have the same system you describe when the containers were glass. The current system is much easier in that once the deposit is returned, all the containers are sent to mass recycling, regardless of brand, size, or shape.

We still have groceries in the states that use handled paper bags.

flutherother's avatar

Sorry, I misunderstood. I hadn’t heard of that scheme. Anything that cuts down on waste and litter has to be good.

jaytkay's avatar

@flutherother and @ibstubro

Refilling glass bottles still happens. The volume is very small but it still happens.

Our local milk delivery service has a $1.50 deposit on glass ½ gallon bottles.

Also, draft beer growlers have become popular in recent years. You can pay for the bottle at the tap, or get a discount if you bring one back for a refill.

ibstubro's avatar

Delivery service, @jaytkay? The deposit could be $10 except it would encourage theft, not reuse.
Growlers are a tiny niche market, here at least.
Neither make a dent in the waste cycle where Americans use 2,500,000 plastic bottles every hour.

jaytkay's avatar

“The volume is very small but it still happens.”

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