AN ACTION PLAN FOR HAVING ALL
STATES ADOPT A BOTTLE BILL
The Container Recycling Institute has done a tremendous job of compiling the reasons for a container deposit law throughout the country. Their statistics and testimonies are extremely convincing. The only problem is that their efforts and those of thousands of committed environmentalists have not been effective. In the 43 years since the enactment of the first law in Oregon only eleven states have passed a bill and one of those has repealed theirs! And since the founding of the CRI 23 years ago in 1991 by a DC area resident, only one state was added while one discontinued the program. Not an impressive record! Such is the power of money! Were one prone to conspiracy theories, one could posit that the mission of the CRI is to lull us into complacency that we are “doing something” about the litter problem.
For over ten years I have studied and been impressed by the CRI literature. I've even suggested ways they might be more effective in reaching the public only to be told that they do not have the resources for “action”, only lobbying and research. Perhaps then it truly is left to us – you and me to do something about it – to use experience and the social media to start a grass roots movement. It is appalling to me that most developed countries have bottle bills and they are far more stringent than any of ours.
Studies also show that the recycling rate for beverage containers is vastly increased with a bottle bill. The United States' overall beverage container recycling rate is approximately 33%, while states with container deposit laws have a 70% average rate of beverage container recycling. Michigan's recycling rate of 97% from 1990-2008 is the highest in the nation, as is the state's $0.10 deposit.
Beyond the persuasive studies and statistics, my personal experience convinces me of the efficacy of such laws. The living environment in my home state of Michigan has benefited greatly from its law enacted some 38 years ago. How satisfying it is to feel a part of a movement working to reduce pollution and litter. The only problem I noted was caused by the nearby states of Ohio and Indiana that had no law. It created problems for merchants near the boarder. Today the difference in the environment between my adopted “state” of Washington D. C. and Michigan is dramatic as bottles in Michigan are taken by youth, the rich, the homeless, the poor to their nearby store for recycling and monetary reward. While cost concerns seem to be paramount to the beverage companies, the benefits of the updated recycling process are legion and provide many positive results.
It's tragic that rather than looking objectively at the benefits of recycling we have been sidetracked. Bottle bills have become a political football, racial and class issues have been introduced, and short term profits and lobbying by the bottling industry have muted the voices of those concerned with the future of our planet.
SO WHAT'S THE PLAN?
I can think of a number of possibilities:
- Most appealing to me is one that would involve the youth of the nation – it undoubtedly stems from my passion of making education more relevant. The youth of America probably consume more than their share of beverages. And they should have a greater interest in the environment than us old folks. What a marvelous opportunity to involve high school youth in a meaningful study of the pros and cons of this topic! The lessons are limitless:
- the power of lobbyists
- state vs. federal laws – how quickly would they learn of the contrast between federal and state responsibilities.
- practical politics at many levels
- and of course all the issues regarding the environment.
- But how could we engage youth?
- Through organizations such as the National Honor Society, the National Association of Student Council Association of the National Association of Secondary School Principals
- The National Council of Teachers of Social Studies Teachers, The National Council of the Social Studies, The Center for Civics Education or other of the host of educational organizations.
- The National Speech and Debate Association,
- Or possibly extending the action and research to college groups.
- An aroused public could boycott the industry. Think of the impact health-wise as well as environmentally if for one week we would all refuse to buy bottled or canned beverage! While it seems unfeasible, think of how the social media has brought difficult change throughout the world.
- Countess environmentally conscious agencies, foundations, colleges and think tanks continue to produce convincing information regarding the environment. Can we find one that will be involved in an action program to change the law in every state or propose federal legislation?
Prone as we oldsters are to looking back to “the good old days,” I recall we recycled everything before the word was coined. We fixed, mended and reused. We had to because we had more time than money. Today most of us have more money than time so we build mountains of waste and buy new. But is this environmentally sound?
With the practice of bottle recycling so entrenched throughout the world, it is ludicrous that a bottle bill has not been adopted in all of our states. Even passing one in the District alone might well be futile with two adjacent states not having such a law. Surely there must be a way to overcome the forces aligned to defeat the passage of bills in all the states. We just need a strategy to make it possible. But this is where I fall back to a sports analogy. At my age I feel as a quarterback who has handed off to the running back: I'll help block, but the younger generation must carry the ball to the goal line while I plan the next "play"!