I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s and remember seeing glass bottles of Coca-Cola with a redemption rate of 5 cents per bottle, but I wasn’t lucky enough to live in a "bottle bill" state, those that require a deposit on beverage containers to boost recycling rates. As a child, I looked at the redemption rate as a revenue-generating venture, not a way to promote recycling and raise revenues. In the 1970s, a nickel was a large enough refund to encourage recycling and discourage purchasing sodas, beer and other "sinful" drinks. Today, a nickel doesn’t even cover the time it takes to take the bottles to a redemption center.
Daniel Engber discussed the benefits of increasing bottle deposit rates in an article he wrote for Slate, A Nickel Isn’t Worth a Cent.
“The laws’ indifference to the cost of living is absurd. In the time since deposits were invented, their value has declined by 83 percent: Today’s nickel wasn’t worth a penny in 1971. (The average yearly wage back then was $6,500; today it’s $43,000.) If state governments had thought to peg their bottle bills to inflation, we’d now be paying almost 30 cents on the cost of every single can, or an extra $1.80 for a six-pack. But it’s not too late to make up for this oversight. Restoring the oomph to bottle regulation would do more than satisfy our common sense. It could improve the public health.”
A six-pack of brand-named soda at my local grocery store runs about $2.99, so $1.80 in deposits would make my carryout price 60 percent higher. I can guarantee you that if I wasn’t already inclined to recycle, a 60 percent premium on my beverage would insure that the empty cans made it to the redemption center. If a redemption center wasn’t nearby, then I’d seriously reconsider my beverage options, and that's where improved public health comes into play.
Sweet drinks are not only unhealthy, they are also tied to the growing obesity epidemic in the nation. A higher deposit rate could curb consumption in a way that is more acceptable to the public than New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to tax and ban sugary drinks. Engber points out that bottle bills are already on the books in many states, and changing the way that system works may be easier than implementing an entirely new system.
What do you think — should bottle deposit rates be increased?
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