History of the Bottle Bill

What is a bottle bill and where did it come from?

Depending on where you live, having a bottle bill means different things. If you live in a state with a bottle bill, you know it as the law that allows you to get money back for that Diet Coke you drank on your way to the store. If you don’t live in a state with a bottle bill, you might not have heard of it at all.

What is it?

A bottle bill, or more formally known as a “container deposit law”, places responsibility on the producer and consumer of a beverage to return containers for reuse and recycling. How it works: When buying a beverage, the consumer pays a 5-15 cent deposit, this deposit is refunded when said beverage container is returned to the producer who made it. Grocers pay the initial deposit when they buy beverages from a manufacturer, this deposit is then passed onto the consumer when they buy a beverage from a grocer, the deposit gets refunded to the consumer when they return the beverage container to a redemption operation. The redemption operator then bills the original manufacturer for the process and the deposit. This holds producers financially responsible for recycling their products and incentivizes bottle return for consumers. 

Where did it come from?

To understand where bottle bills began, we must go back to a postwar era America. On the other side of World War II and the Great Depression, America experienced a boom in industry and innovation unlike any it had ever seen. Growth came in leaps and bounds, but unfortunately so too came negative environmental side effects. Litter and pollution became a real and visible problem across the country and the world. One of the main culprits of the litter happened to be beverage containers and more specifically those who produced them.

Beverages before the 1950s were packaged in glass bottles that were then returned, washed, and refilled. However, the decades that followed brought steel and aluminum cans which quickly became the dominating packaging style in the beer market. Additionally, America’s demand for convenience gave way to the development of single-use, disposable soda bottles. By 1970, disposable bottles and cans made up over 50% of the market of beverage containers and beverage container litter had reached its peak.

The problem had gone global. It was at this point that British Columbia became the first place in North America to enact a bottle bill. Shortly after in 1971, Oregon followed by requiring a 5-cent deposit for beer and soft drinks within their state. Bottle bills began to grow around the country with 10 states implementing them by 1986.

Since their implementation, states have reported a reduction in total litter anywhere from 30-50% and a reduction of beverage container litter, ranging from 70-83%. Oregon has seen sustained success seeing redemption rates around 85% followed closely by Maine, Michigan, Vermont, Iowa, New York and others.

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