This news originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

February 17, 2006

One man’s trash

Bottle deposit may encourage recycling, but what would it do for business?

By Jennifer Ginsberg
Staff writer

Those empty soda cans and bottles that litter car floors, desktops and the side of the road could one day be worth more than just that warm fuzzy feeling you get from recycling.

A West Virginia advocacy group is pushing state legislators to adopt a bill that would put a 10-cent deposit on metal, glass, paper and plastic beverage containers.

“The containers would have value, there would be people who would want these containers,” said Linda Frame, the program manager for the West Virginia Citizens Action Group. “People will pick up the containers to get the money, and [it] would clean up the area.”

West Virginians use more than a billion containers a year, she said. The group estimates that people would recycle 70 percent to 80 percent of the containers targeted by the bill if it became law. Now, West Virginians recycle about 60 percent of the aluminum cans and less than 20 percent of glass bottles, Frame said.

Litter could also decrease by as much as 80 percent, according to the group.

Eleven other states require deposits, and some companies are doing it on their own.

Seven states have reported a reduction in beverage-container litter ranging from 70 percent to 83 percent after implementing bottle bills. States also achieved higher recycling rates, according to the Container Recycling Institute, an industry group in Washington.

Meanwhile, some local stores are already selling products requiring bottle deposits. Kroger customers, for instance, can find milk in glass bottles from Homestead Creamery in southern Virginia.

The creamery began packaging milk in glass bottles in January 2001 to set it apart from the competition, meet the growing demand and trend in recycling and to provide a better-tasting product, said general manager Jeffrey Beckner.

It ships its milk to 150 stores in six states. Customers pay a $1.50 deposit when they buy the milk and if they return the empty container to the store, they get their deposit back.

The bottles go back to the creamery where employees wash, sanitize and refill them, and then they send them back out to stores. Homestead asks customers to return the bottles because the cost of glass is so much more than plastic or paper cartons.

Customers return about 75 percent to 80 percent of the bottles in established markets, Beckner said.

The price for a quart and half gallon of Homestead milk is 50 cents to $1 more (depending on container size and milk type) than Kroger-brand milk, before the extra $1.50 deposit.

Customer comment about the product has been very positive, Beckner said. For example, they like the bottles for nostalgic and environmental reasons, as well as for the taste.

This is the fourth year West Virginia’s bottle bill has been introduced in the Legislature. This year, it has gone further through the lawmaking process, but still has a ways to go before becoming a law.

Not everyone favors the bill.

“From a restaurant owner’s standpoint, it would be a nightmare,” said downtown bar and restaurant proprietor Scott Miller.

Bar and restaurant employees would have to make sure bottles didn’t end up in the trash, then have a separate area to store empties and cases to pack them in for the drivers who would have to haul the bottles back to the distributor.

Customers empty hundreds of bottles a day at Miller’s Bar 101, Sam’s Uptown and The Edge bars and Ichiban restaurant.

“When you’re busy, you don’t want to have to worry about where the bottles are going,” he said. “It takes away from the bartenders’ ability to help the next customer.”

The Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority gets close to

80,000 pounds of glass and plastic bottles and aluminum cans a month, said director Tim Dailey. The recyclables come from what people set on the curb on trash day and what they drop off at the Slack Street center.

Dailey estimates the center gets 15 to 20 percent of people’s recyclables.

“If we would go up to 90 percent of the recycling, what the bottle bill wants, we wouldn’t have the space to handle it,” he said. “Someone would have to build a processing plant that would handle it.”

The bill would allow solid waste authorities to apply for grant money for expansion projects. The money would come from the deposit money not claimed by consumers, Frame said.

But Dailey fears that a big recycling company would come in and replace his facility and 22 employees. Or people would go to the redemption center, instead of dropping off their recycling at his center.

He sees other flaws with the bill.

Consumers’ grocery bills will go up, which could hurt lower-income people. Ideally, consumers would always return the containers and always break even. But what about those who can’t get to a redemption center, or back to where they bought their containers, he asked.

Frame said she welcomes these types of concerns and sees them as a way to make the bill even stronger.

“Our goal is to hear these concerns and make redeeming containers as easy as possible,” she said.

To contact staff writer Jennifer Ginsberg, use e-mail or call 348-5195.