What is a Bottle Bill, and Are They Effective?

Bottle Bills: What are They? Are they Effective?

With the fate of our environment more precarious than ever, society must engage in as many eco-friendly solutions as possible to preserve our planet. Though we’re still a long way from perfect, many local governments have already established various programs, laws, task forces, and more to encourage public participation in resolving ecological issues.

Of these recent developments, bottle bills are one of the most common, with ten states already adopting the new legislation. In this article, we’ll examine why bottle bills are necessary, how they impact local communities, and — more importantly — whether their efforts are effective.

Pollution: A Pressing Issue 

With more than 85% of all plastic packaging burned, buried, or leaking into the environment, nature faces an uphill battle when it comes to surviving the profound impacts of pollution. Though the risks are serious, consumption remains at an all-time high, with one million plastic bottles bought worldwide every minute — a number that’s expected to continue rising.

Bottle Bills: A Necessary Solution

To combat the effects of plastic pollution, some governments are backing bottle bills to encourage state residents to improve their recycling methods.

The first bottle bill was passed in 1971 in Oregon; it intended to reduce litter caused by beverage containers and ease the burden local landfills were struggling to overcome. Since then, nine states have followed suit and passed similar legislation, with Hawaii the most recent addition to the list in 2002.

So, how exactly does a bottle bill work? The system is relatively straightforward:

  1. Purchase: A state resident purchases a beverage from any retailer that comes in a plastic, glass, or aluminum package.
  2. Consume: The resident consumes their beverage entirely.
  3. Recycle: Once finished, the resident then returns their drink to an automated “reverse vending machine” and receives a small cash deposit in return.

Simple, right? The process can be compared to “borrowing” a bottle for a short time, enjoying the beverage within, and returning it to the store. Once collected, bottles are sent to recycling plants, where their material is used to make new bottles.

The Bottom Line: Are They Effective?

After requiring a hefty investment of time, money, and legislative tussling (not to mention the efforts necessary to raise public awareness), the question on everyone’s mind is the same: Do bottle bills work?  

Fortunately, the answer to that question is “yes.”

Studies show that deposit schemes like bottle bills are linked to a 40% reduction in beverage container litter. Furthermore, in states like Massachusetts, environmental officials state that no other recycling programachieves the same results as deposit systems in their region.

Now, that’s not to say that bottle bills don’t have some growing pains to overcome. For starters, a portion of the public remains wary regarding the legislation, with Massachusetts voters passing on attempts to expand the very same program mentioned above in 2014. That’s not to mention the fact that there are some forty U.S. states that haven’t established a bottle bill at all.  

If early signs are any indicator, bottle bills are a solution that could produce some genuinely lasting change if adopted by the rest of the nation. Hopefully, by then, it won’t be too late.