Michigan Law requires a 10 cent deposit on certain bottled and canned products. Passed in 1979, the bottle bill at the time was enough incentive for consumers to recycle bottles and cans rather than littering them on roadways and into rivers.
The bill continues to encourage recycling, but because the bill has not been updated in 33 years, it is losing its effectiveness. Three decades of inflation have reduced the attraction of the 10 cent return and new drink products are not included in the return policy. As a result, easily recyclable bottles and cans are littering our land and filling our landfills.
The Grand River Clean Up successfully removed a good chunk of the litter in areas that it covered, but the event reminded participants and WMEAC’s staff about Michigan’s pollution problem.
Littering is as old as humanity itself and will continue without proper motivation. Education and the goodwill can take us far, but without the proper incentives, a minority of bad actors will leave West Michigan trashed.
The 1978 Bottle Bill was an important step Michigan took to protect the environment. Today, we need legislation to revise the Bottle Bill in order to be more effective. New portable drink containers such as bottled waters and juices need to be included in the program. Further, the 10 cent return should be modified to an amount that better reflects today’s value of a dollar.
Finally, the responsibility of this program should not fall solely on the backs of retailers. West Michigan Environmental Action Council would partner directly with industry stakeholders to improve the bottle return program, and would seek to disperse the burden of the bottle return process even as the program expands.
The Bottle Bill was an excellent idea 33 years ago, and it is still an excellent idea. The amount of recyclable bottles and cans found during WMEAC’s Grand River Clean Up were a startling reminder of this.
Michigan needs to revise an outdated bill to make it more effective for the consumer, the retailer, and the environment.