Duck Soup: Not One Damned Nickel

While most communities have started recycling programs, and many individuals expend considerable personal effort to recycle their household trash, plastics recycling is decreasing. This year we will fall below the 1991 rate of re-use. Millions of tons of a very useful resource will go to the dump. Doesn't that seem a little perverse? How can we be failing when folks are working so hard? Organizing a recycling effort takes time -- whether it is as modest as the trash in your kitchen or as complicated as urban curbside collection. But that is not the problem.Convincing folks to participate can be difficult too. Rinsing containers, removing lids, and sorting plastics by number code can look like an unnecessary hassle to folks who don't understand the enormity of our environmental woes. But that is not the problem either.Actually re-using the materials that are collected may require that industries change their methods, rearrange supply schedules, and educate their customers. But, no, that's not the big stumbling block in our path.The high hurdle we face is both legal and financial. One simple answer to the problem is a national bottle bill.Today only ten states have bottle deposit laws, and those ten states recycle more containers than the other forty combined. It doesn't take a software developer to figure out that the deposits might be making a difference. And, surprise! surprise! The roadsides, parking lots and beaches in those ten states are cleaner as well.If there is a glaring glitch in the patchwork of current laws it lies in the differences from state to state. Deposit prices vary, and some laws cover all beverage containers while others exclude aluminum, some states include liquor bottles and others neglect milk jugs.A uniform federal bottle bill will iron out the differences and move the whole country toward a more sustainable future. Representative Tom Allen, of Maine, has introduced The National Beverage Container and Recycling Act in Congress. Using Maine's highly successful program as a model, it would impose a 5-cent deposit on all beer, soft drink, wine, liquor and new age beverages, including teas, sports drinks, juice drinks and bottled water.The opposition to this little snippet of environmental sanity is fierce. The Container Recycling Institute reports that Coke and Pepsi are not only fighting such federal legislation, but are working hard to end deposit programs in the ten states that now have them. The Coca Cola Company has promised to use recycled plastic in the United States, but continues to drag its feet. Both the American Plastics Council and the National Association of Plastic Container Recovery are firmly opposed to deposit laws. Another trade group, the Glass Packaging Institute, has gone so far as to warn wineries that re-filling of wine bottles may be hazardous -- somehow conveniently ignoring the millions of beer bottles safely re-used every year.Meanwhile, other nations are moving quickly toward mandatory recycling. In Germany, 72 percent of all soft drink containers must now be re-usable -- and the Germans have developed plastic bottles which can be washed and refilled twenty to fifty times. Denmark has achieved a 99 percent re-use rate on glass bottles. Australia, Switzerland, Argentina, Brazil, Israel and Spain are all pressing ahead with bottle bills or other compulsory recycling schemes.Coke and Pepsi already use refillable plastic bottles in Europe, Southeast Asia, Mexico and South America. Both companies use containers made with recycled plastic in countries which legally require their use. There is simply no excuse for the wealthiest nation on the planet which uses an embarrassingly disproportionate share of the world's resources to continue to support needless waste. The Container Recycling Institute estimates that if every plastic soda pop bottle sold in the U.S. were re-used just ten times, we could divert 100 million pounds of plastic from landfills each year.As soft drink manufacturers switch from glass or aluminum to plastic, and with breweries poised to do the same, the amount of plastic headed for the dump will soon snowball without a national recycling plan. Isn't it odd that we are willing and ready to fight wars over oil, one of the major feedstocks for the plastics industry, and so resistant to conservation? Do we really prefer body bags to bottle bills?To paraphrase South Carolinian Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, it's "millions for defense, but not one damned nickel for deposit."


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