From Trash to Treasure: Why America Needs a National Bottle Bill
March 23, 2023 | 12 min read
You’ve heard it by many names: deposit return system (DRS), bottle bill, recycling refund, or container deposit law. It all comes down to the same idea: a system in which consumers pay a deposit when purchasing certain products, such as bottles or cans, and receive a refund when they return the empty container for recycling at stores, return centers, and reverse vending machine locations.
As the circular economy is based on the principle of keeping materials in motion at their highest value, a national recycling refund would encourage consumers to reduce, reuse, and recycle beverage containers therefore reducing the amount of waste ending up in landfills and littering the environment.
A national recycling refund would:
1. Increase recycling rates: A national recycling refund can significantly increase recycling rates for beverage containers, by providing a financial incentive for consumers to return them for recycling rather than throwing them away. Increasing refilling and recycling reduces waste and conserves resources thereby helping address the climate crisis.
The revenue from unredeemed deposits would allow the U.S. and states to invest billions of dollars into improving our recycling systems and introduce recycling systems to rural areas and recycling deserts. 75% of Americans support a bottle bill deposit program where they live but only 24% of Americans live in a state with a bottle deposit program. (Source: Keep America Beautiful)
The recycling rate for conventional plastic beverage bottles in the 10 states that have bottle bills is 63%, compared to 17% in non-regulated states.
(Source: Eunomia “State of the States” Report (2021))
2. Create jobs: The implementation and operation of a national recycling refund can create jobs in areas such as recycling collection, processing, and transportation. A national container deposit-return program would support nearly 100,000 U.S. jobs and create 11 to 38 times more jobs than a curbside recycling system for beverage containers. (Source: Container Recycling Institute)
3. Greatly reduce litter: A national recycling refund will reduce litter and pollution, particularly in waterways and other natural environments where discarded items can have a harmful impact on wildlife. As these plastic drink containers become discarded, they break down into microplastics. Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that measure less than 5 millimeters in size and are found throughout the environment, including in the air, water, and soil. Microplastics can harm nature by polluting ecosystems, disrupting food chains, releasing toxic chemicals, and altering endocrine systems. Its even been proven to cause disease in birds stomachs being called “plasticosis”. (Source: The Guardian)
In a 2020 national litter study, there was twice as much deposit‐material litter per capita in non‐bottle bill states than in bottle bill states. By this ratio, the U.S. could cut our litter in half if we had a national bottle bill. (Source: Keep America Beautiful)
4. Engage the public and save taxpayers money: A national recycling refund engages the public in reducing waste and adopting sustainable practices. By incentivizing consumers to participate in recycling and providing a tangible reward for doing so, a deposit return system can build public support for environmental initiatives.
By cutting litter in half, we can also cut the costs of litter clean-up in half. The U.S. spends $11.5 billion each year on litter abatement – about $9 billion of that expense is shouldered by U.S. businesses, while American taxpayers must pay $1.3 billion. (Source: Keep America Beautiful)
5. Innovate: The implementation of a national recycling refund can spur innovation in areas such as recycling technology, product design, and waste reduction strategies.
There are only 10 states that currently have a recycling refund, and 40 states that do not. When we compare states with a recycling refund system with states that do not have one, the 10 that do have half the amount of roadway litter and 30% less waterway litter, according to the Keep America Beautiful 2020 National Litter Study.
Eight of the ten states with the highest recycling rates have bottle bills.
Source: Eunomia “State of the States” Report (2021).
By promoting recycling refund legislation in each of the 40 states currently without, the discussion is driven at the national level to harmonize the rules and make it easier for companies to comply. A national bottle bill is good for communities, businesses, and the planet. It is important that recycling refunds focus on equity standards and ensure that less densely populated areas have access to recycling. It’s a win-win-win.
There are many organizations working together to advocate for the implementation of a national recycling refund, and no matter what it is called, the goal is the same: reduce litter and waste and promote reuse and recycling practices.
The National Stewardship Action Council hosted a “Recycling Refund” webinar on February 23, 2023 that featured 15 speakers from organizations advocating for a national deposit return system. You can watch the webinar here and below are links to each of the organizations featured in the webinar.
Recycling Refunds need bi-partisan and business support and will create jobs, beautify the country, reduce local government costs to remove litter, and provide businesses with the needed recycled materials supply for metals, glass, and plastic. Currently, companies cannot obtain enough recycled materials to meet their own recycled content targets even though there is plenty of material disposed. Recycling Refunds are easy for legislators to like because the public loves them!
The purpose of recycling refunds is to encourage consumers to recycle and reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills or the environment. These programs are operating in many countries around the world with high levels of success. This is proven policy.
The Stewardship Action Foundation and the National Stewardship Action Council are convening stakeholders to build the “advocacy army” to cut America’s litter in half. Recycling refunds are a solution that everyone can support. America needs a national bottle bill to achieve an equitable, circular economy by keeping materials circulating at their highest value.
You can become an advocate by visiting www.americasbottlebill.com! Signup to receive informational toolkits, as well as social media graphics to share with your network. Help us build this army and pass a national deposit return system!