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Random Friday Question: Why Doesn't D.C. Have a Bottle Bill?

The Washington area boasts the highest combination of affluence and education in the nation, and that same demographic profile aligns almost perfectly with the list of places in the country where you have to pay a deposit on every bottle of soda or beer--a 1970s era bit of green politics that proved to be very popular for a short while and then stalled out.

But despite this region's economic profile, neither the District nor the surrounding states jumped on board the bottle bill bandwagon back then, nor has the mid-Atlantic region seemed particularly interested in the new wave of bottle bills being pushed in state legislatures around the country. What happened to the deposit movement here? And why, in this moment of rising concern about global warming and wasted resources, doesn't the generally liberal politics of the Washington region line up with this particular piece of green policy?

That's today's Random Friday Question, which was sparked by a piece in last Sunday's New York Times magazine, in which writer Jon Mooallem explored why little plastic bottles of water, that odd accoutrement of contemporary fashion, are exempt from bottle deposit requirements.

Back in the 70s, when the bottle bill states-- California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont-- were passing their laws, the concern was over the massive quantities of soda and beer bottles that were piling up in landfills rather than being melted down and reshaped. Of course, nobody had thought of bottling tap water back then, so water wasn't included in the bottle deposit laws. But today, with Americans drinking and disposing of 30 billion single-serving bottles of water each year, water bottles are a real problem, and a good symbol of our failure to confront relatively easy pieces of the overall environmental problem.

Check out that list of states again, and note that no state has been added to the list since 1982, when New York joined it. Why did Washington never get on board that train?

A few years after New York joined those other states, the District put the bottle deposit question to its voters. In the 1987 referendum, the No campaign, led by major drink companies and can and bottle manufacturers, spent $2.2 million while the proponents of the bill spent $80,000. The bill went down to defeat by a 55-45 margin.

(Maryland, of course, shares the District's demographic similarity to other bottle bill states. Virginia, as always, is a more complicated case because of the enormous demographic, social and political divide between northern Virginia and the rest of the state. An effort to pass a bottle bill in Maryland this year went nowhere.)

The 1987 D.C. campaign on the bottle bill was one of the most fascinating and revealing I've ever covered. At the start of the campaign, polls showed 70 percent support in the city for putting deposits on bottles. But the campaign split the city by race, and in the final tally, whites supported the bill overwhelmingly and blacks opposed it equally powerfully.

The Post's Tom Sherwood wrote after the election that "An industry coalition calling itself the Clean Capital City Committee hired minority consulting firms and dozens of black political operatives to take the anti-deposit message to black neighborhoods, with help from black ministers. The industry group then bombarded the city with negative direct mail, media advertisements and telephone calls, focusing its efforts throughout the campaign on black-oriented newspapers and radio stations."

The anti-bottle bill appeal was part economic--a deposit raises prices, which inner-city blacks could least afford--but was also cleverly and cynically racial--the idea was that the bottle bill somehow was a sign of The Plan, the long-feared white effort to take back control of the District. Bottling industry-sponsored newspaper ads appeared around the city, saying, "You can tell a lot about an issue by who supports it and who opposes it." The ad, as The Post's Ed Bruske and Eric Pianin reported, listed organizations in white neighborhoods as "for" the initiative, including the Citizens Association of Georgetown and the Capitol Hill Gardening Club (strong enough code for you?) Then it listed more than three dozen black leaders and organizations "against" the bottle bill, including the NAACP and Operation PUSH (got the message?)

So would a bottle bill pass today, with a considerably changed racial dynamic and population in the city? Of course many of the same racial antagonisms and suspicions linger, and have perhaps been exacerbated by gentrification and dislocation, but environmental concerns now reach a broader swath of the population as well.

Would it pass now? Should it?

By Marc Fisher |  June 1, 2007; 7:53 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

MoCo did have its "snack tax", which included soda, a few years ago. IIRC it was universally hated and repealed in a few years.

Posted by: dgc | June 1, 2007 8:22 AM

I can't even imagine the snooty executive-types in this area returning empty bottles for a few nickles or dimes. A full bin of recycles awaiting pickup in front of the McMansions evokes a do-good feeling for the crusts that lives within those McMansions.

Posted by: Oh the thought | June 1, 2007 8:31 AM

Industry will still find ways to divide, misinform, and defeat voters. People of sense and goodwill need to unite the community by emphasizing facts such as:

"Broken glass is a significant health problem [for children] on littered urban streets. Preventive measures such as street cleaning, footwear education, and glass recycling incentives are needed to address this public health hazard." -- Martin A Makary,MD, MPH, Reported incidence of injuries caused by street glass among urban children in Philadelphia.
Injury Prevention 1998;4:148-149.

Posted by: Mike Licht | June 1, 2007 8:33 AM

A good question to ask first would be, do bottle bills increase recyling? There has to be some sort of record since the bottle bills were first introduced.

Posted by: Eric | June 1, 2007 9:38 AM

70s era green legislation????? When I was a kid in the 60s, the deposit was 2 cents on a regular soda bottle and 5 cents on a large beer bottle. It was a recycling issue. The bottling companies wanted the used ones back to washed and refilled. We used to collect the empties from beside the road and sell them to grocery stores. If 2 -3 kids started early in the day and worked with a wagon, it was fairly easy to make $2.00 to 3.00 before noon. Not bad money for 10 year olds when penny candy really cost just a penny. Every once in a while we would hit the jackpot and find a spot where the teenagers had been drinking the previous night. One Saturday I made close to $20. Frankly, a bottle bill would probably be a great way to cut down on litter.

Posted by: Woodbridge Va | June 1, 2007 9:44 AM

Yes to the bottle bill!!

Posted by: kthhken | June 1, 2007 9:50 AM

Yes, I think the lack of scientific analysis of "bottle bills" vs recycling is required in an article like this and a glaring omission when it's not here.

When I visited new england in the 1970s it was not uncommon to see homeless people wandering around the resort areas with shopping carts, rooting through trash looking for bottles and cans. Sometimes you'd even see 10 or 11 year old kids throwing trash on the ground looking for bottles. You'd see rich swells giving local kids empty beer bottles at beachside BBQs. It was socially wrong, because it made the kids of the shop owners look like they were a) poor enough to accept trash and b) comfortable with beer. At the time I thought it was great, but in retrospect I wonder why curbside recycling isn't a vast economic improvement with a streamlined process.

Posted by: DCer | June 1, 2007 9:50 AM

The explosion of curbside recycling programs, both in the city and in the surrounding suburbs, has greatly reduced the need for deposits on bottles. Unless the city would count your returnables in the recylcing bin each week and issue a montly check, it makes no sense for someone to have to separate the returnables and bring them back to a redemption center, much as I did in Massachusetts as a child.

Posted by: IJM | June 1, 2007 9:51 AM

I believe DC and surrounding states have a decent recycling system in place already, so why would we want another redundant system?
Perhaps a national recycling law would make more sense than current piecemeal bottle bills...

Posted by: gc | June 1, 2007 9:56 AM

Deposits DO NOT encourage recycling!!! If you've ever been to a deposit state, you will see that people pay their deposit, and dispose of their recyclables no differently than any other state. It's almost as if paying that extra 5 or 10 cents entitles the user to despose of their bottle however they wish. What ends up happening is that people are more likely to depose of their recyclables with the general trash because individuals are not given recycling bins (who would throw their recyclable in a bin when they could take it to the center for a cash payout?). It's great for kids, the poor, and charities who can go around their neighborhoods begging for bottles and cans for monthly fund raisers, but for the average person, that extra 5 or 10 cents is viewed as a voluntary tax that can be returned if you have the patience and persistance to regularly visit your local recycling center. Not only that, but small automated recycling centers are located in the entrances of grocery stores, creating a filthy stench and crowd of people customers must walk through before purchasing their groceries. YUCK!!! I almost threw up when I saw recyclers in the lobby of a grocery store in Ann Arbor, MI with their carts filled with thousands of months-old beer, soda, and liqour bottles.

I'm all for recycling, but imposing a fee is not going to make the average person recycle. Making recycling convenient and easy is the key to recycling participation, and I think we are achieving that in this region through voluntary programs with regular bin pickups. Adding a deposit is just going to make recycling more difficult, and less-likely to occur. Why should I bag up all my bottles, drive down to the store to stuff them into a machine for a couple of dollars each month when I can just toss it in a bin and walk them down to the curb once a week? You would spend the value of the deposit on gas and time shoving those stinky, dirty bottles and cans into a machine. What needs to happen is to penalize those who choose not to recycle (multiple weeks of no bin at the curb would invite a warning and a fine if the trend continues), and to expand the areas that have regular recycling bin pickups. If recycling is as easy and convenient as throwing the item away, people will do it, and if well-educated, they won't need the "bribe" of a deposit to recycle.

Posted by: Steven | June 1, 2007 10:12 AM

I think it would be a good thing. Back in college I spent time in Detroit and noticed many times people would pick up several bottles or cans to get enough money to buy a pop (soda, to those who aren't familiar with the term).

I could see homeless folks picking up bottles and cans for money. Schoolkids who wanted to raise some money for a club. Heck, people who wanted to get an extra dollar or two.

The whole idea that this would be considered part of "The Plan" back in the day leaves me speechless yet not surprised it happened.

Why not try it?

Posted by: dirrtysw | June 1, 2007 10:16 AM

DC has a good curb-side recycling program that accepts all these sorts of containers. If the problem is litter find ways to improve use of the current recycling system: public recycling bins next to every public trashcan, tie trash disposal fees to weight of what's tossed (with no fee for properly disposed of recyclables), etc.

Based on my own experiences, dealing with taking bottles back to retailers where the machines are often clogged, full, or out of order is a much greater annoyance than just making good use of curbside recycling.

Posted by: tcr25 | June 1, 2007 10:20 AM

the "argument" that I recall from the opponents of the DC bottle bill was something along the lines of: how do you expect little old ladies living by themselves to get all those empties back to the store? Of course, no one ever challenged that argument by asking how those little old ladies got the bottles, full at the time, into their apartments in the first place. The campaign was demagoguery, pure and simple.

Posted by: eo mcmars | June 1, 2007 10:27 AM

Deposits are nothing more than a tax on those who choose not to recycle. Why should I have to pay a tax because someone down the street decides they don't want to recycle? My bin is overflowing every week with bottles, cans, glass, and paper, and forcing me to pay a tax to seperate returnable bottles is just going to make recycling more difficult.

We should be working to make recycling easier for everyone. Charging a desposit may seem like an easy way to encourage recycling, but in reality it just makes things more difficult and confusing.

Anyone who thinks deposits are a good idea should spend a month in a deposit state and see how much more you recycle than you do here with a weekly bin pickup. My guess would be that unless you're really hard up for cash, you will never redeem every single deposit, and will probably throw away more recyclables than you would around here. Most deposit states do not have curbside bins, public recycling receptacles, or designated public dumpsters.

Just walk through an airport or train station in a deposit state and see how many bottles and cans are thrown away. Because of the deposits, there are no public cans for bottles, so people who don't have a the capacity to carry them around until they get to a recycling center (boarding an airplane), and they end up in the regular trash. Additionally because those returnables end up in the regular trash, you gets people looking for a few dollars digging in the trash creating an unhealthy situation for them and everyone else as trash that was thrown into a container is now spread out around the container.

Posted by: John Stickerson | June 1, 2007 10:31 AM

The overwhelming failure of the vast majority of recycling initiatives across the country leaves no doubt about the surface material with which the road to Hell is paved. But recycling, as an intended outcome of any bottle and can deposit policy need not be the primary driver, or focus, of such a policy. I have never witnessed more egregious, callous, and self-hating littering tendencies in my travels throughout the so-called developed world, than I have here, in DC. That the previous attempt to pass a bottle bill in DC failed and became divided along racial lines, is as ironic as it is unsurprising: ironic in that the greatest concentrations of litter are found in the areas of DC with the highest concentrations of poor African Americans; unsurprising in that almost any public policy issue that is possibly contentious seems to inevitably become so and along racial lines. Personally I am sold on the idea having lived in New England -- if for only the positive impact bottle bills have on the issue of public littering, they are worth it!

Posted by: paul20002 | June 1, 2007 10:34 AM

I grew up in Michigan. Let me tell you, the bottle deposit law made a HUGE difference. It's amazing - when I go back there, I never see bottles strewn about. When I'm in a non-bottle-deposit state, I can always tell. (FYI, even if the buyer of the drink throws the bottle away, scavengers/homeless people/et al will pick the bottles out of the trash to return for some change. Grim, perhaps, but that's how I've seen it work...)

Posted by: PQ | June 1, 2007 10:37 AM

As a bicyclist commuter who is tired of the glass-strewn streets of DC, and the attendant flat tires, I applaud any measure that will incentivize returning bottles. Tossing the empty beer and vodka bottles to the ground to break where they are emptied is all too popular a means of disposal. A deposit would have an immediate beneficial effect because those closest to the street, the homeless, the winos, the street dwellers, could generate some income by gathering and handing in bottles for pay. Please, DC gov, do this ASAP.

Posted by: jim | June 1, 2007 10:42 AM

WOW! I dont' really have a position one way or the other on whether a bottle bill is a good thing or a tax or whatever else. But that campaign by the Antis is CRAZY!!! I know it still happens, but it's always shocking to me when it's just so blatant (and, apparently, still so effective).

Posted by: OD | June 1, 2007 10:43 AM

Government-funded studies conducted pre- and post-bottle bill in seven states showed reductions in beverage container litter ranging from 69% to 84%, and reductions in total litter ranging from 30% to 65%.

While the U.S. national container recycling rate is 43.5 percent, the container recycling rate in bottle bill states ranges from 58 percent in California to a high of 95 percent in Michigan, due in part to its higher, 10-cent deposit.

Bottle bills work.

Posted by: TheGreenMiles | June 1, 2007 10:45 AM

As someone who diligently divides trash between recyclables and non-recyclables, I was disappointed to learn from a neighbor recently that the District a couple years back stopped sending out separate trucks for the recyclables. According to the neighbor (and I have yet to verify), regular trash and recyclables are dumped into a common area in the trash trucks ... casting doubt on whether our diligent efforts to sort the two really lead to recycling ...

Posted by: Lance | June 1, 2007 10:45 AM

"litter are found in the areas of DC with the highest concentrations of poor African Americans; unsurprising in that almost any public policy issue that is possibly contentious seems to inevitably become so and along racial lines."

So I guess the rich white people have to pay deposits so that the poor African Americans don't litter and can have more nickels in their pockets. That makes a whole lot of sense.

Why don't the rich white people just organize weekly walks through African American neighborhoods to pick up their trash? To reduce this down to a racial debate is incredibly nieve and flat out ignorant. The reason litter is a problem in certain neighborhoods is because of the lack of access to trash pickups and recycling bins. People in lower-income neighborhoods have just as much pride in their communities as people in McLean or Potomac, and if given access to adequite trash services (public receptacles on every corner with twice-weekly pickups and recycling bins to every property owner with weekly pickups), you would not see the trash we see right now.

Anyway, what makes you think paul20002, that taking a few bottles and cans off the littered streets is going to solve the trash problem? Most trash floating around the city would not be covered in a deposit policy (most is paper, plastic wrappers, pull tabs, cigarette buts, and other debris), so how do you suppose charging a deposit on bottles and cans will solve the general problem of litter?

Let's not be stupid here and create a racial issue out of a social issue. Everyone should have access to trash removal and recycling, but charging a deposit on bottles and cans is NOT going to reduce litter and has been proven time and time again to not increase the rate of recycling. States that have deposit programs can not get rid of them because the unredeemed deposit money is used to pad state operating budgets, and if anyone can find me a legislator in a northeastern state that is willing to reduce state revenue, I would love to shake his or her hand.

Posted by: Collin | June 1, 2007 10:53 AM

I support a bottle bill in DC 100%! We have a HUGE problem with litter in Columbia Heights, where I live, and a modest 5 or 10 cent refundable deposit on all plastic and glass bottles would do wonders for the cleanliness of the streets.
The city has changed by leaps and bounds since 1987, and I'm sure such a referendum would pass this time.

Posted by: Mr T in DC | June 1, 2007 10:57 AM

South Africa banned platic bags in stores years ago. Shoppers bring their own re-usaable bags. Maybe DC can be that advanced someday. Basically, people everywhere are lazy so throw their trash where they please. Look at the places in DC where people have smoked cigarettes. Butts (the cigarette kind) everywhere. Even Macchu Pichu is littered with cigarette butts, and toxins from those can pollute water sources.

Posted by: Steve | June 1, 2007 11:02 AM

I remember one of the big arguements against the bottle bill this way:

Something like 30 percent to 50 percent of bottles are not return in areas with a deposit. That means for every 100 dollars paid in deposits, about 30 to 50 dollars is not returned to consumers. In gross terms, it would be a net transfer of money from black customers to Asian shop owners.

I don't know if any of those facts are true but that was the arguement.

Posted by: Josey | June 1, 2007 11:05 AM

Some of the world's biggest recyclers, Europeans and Canadians do not have deposits. Why should citizens who do their part to recycle voluntarily be charged because others choose not to recycle?

Proponents argue that recyclers are not "charged" because the deposits can be easily redeemed and local centers. However, these proponents have obviously never stood in a line in a recycling center that smells like a cross between a sewer and a port-a-john to drop off $5 worth of bottles and cans.

Yes, adding a deposit is going to increase the likelihood that a bottle is going to end up at a recycling center instead of the dump, but that does not mean more people are recycling. It just means that fewer bottles and cans end up at the dump because the scourge use the deposits redeemed as income. In reality deposits end up being a form or forced charity. I, personally would rather see my charity go to causes that I support, not some unknown person who find a bottle I didn't have a chance to return.

Posted by: Johnson | June 1, 2007 11:07 AM

Why are people here equating recycling with litter? Most litter is not in the form of returnable glass, plasic, and aluminum. Most forms of trash on the street are paper, non-recyclable plastics, and cigarette butts. Not only that, deposits are not found on all glass bottles (wine and liquor bottles do not have deposits in any state), so to argue that broken glass on the street would be eliminated through a deposit program is not valid.

This equation of trash/litter to the level of deposit is superficial. Creating a deposit program is not going to reduce litter. Providing trash service and having regular litter removal will work. Similar to graffiti, if litter removed as soon as it happens and is not a visible reminder that the act is permissible, the rate will be significantly reduced to a more tolerable level, and will encourage people to want to keep their neighborhood streets clean.

Posted by: Rich Kearns | June 1, 2007 11:17 AM

I gotta say, I'm all for new ideas that work, but this just isn't it. I just cannot say I would take my bottles to a cash-in center when I have a recycle bin. Also, who needs another line to stand in in DC?? Between going to the courts or regulatory commissions and DMV, I stand in enough lines run by ineptitude. I certainly wouldn't stand in another one voluntarily for $3.65!

Posted by: Ryan | June 1, 2007 11:27 AM

Ikea has started charging customers for plastic bags, and many retailers in California are doing the same. Our disposable-happy society has created a mindset that everything gets thrown away. Even with an agressive nation-wide deposit program, it will take a generation or two to whean ourselves off the luxury of being able to throw everything in the trash.

Deposits are not the answer to the problem. They can help by generating income for the homeless and charity groups, but in the end they do not make average people more aware of how to limit the amount of real trash generated by each person. What needs to occur is to begin to heavily enforce litter laws and begin charging people for trash service based on weight. People will think twice about throwing heavy items (usually recyclable glass and metal) in the trash, and items that may just be broken (electronics, appliances, etc...) will end up at salvage centers instead of taking up valuable landfill space.

Posted by: Kendrick Stepnoski | June 1, 2007 11:33 AM

I vacation in upstate Michigan. In a resort town like Ocean City, Maryland. They have a deposit required on bottles & cans of ten cents. You don't see any bottles or cans lining the streets or in parks. Just like Ocean City, Maryland. Ha Ha Ha

Posted by: Stu | June 1, 2007 11:38 AM

I think Ryan is confused about how a bottle bill would work. Bottles wouldn't be returned to some city-run facility but rather to the store (or any store) where they were bought. The stores, of course, have always opposed the bills because it requires extra storgage space on their part -- as opposed to all the space they currently waste on special promotions and the like.

Posted by: eo mcmars | June 1, 2007 11:40 AM

Collin, I disagree with you entirely, on literally every point you raise, beginning with your absurd suggestion that wealthy white people should walk through poor black neihborhoods on some form of trash clean up duty. I live on a block in NE DC that is pretty close to 8th & H Streets, where there are 4 different Metro Bus stops. At the beginning of the day the sidewalks are clean and free of all litter, having been cleaned by Metro the previous night. By 2:00PM, literally every day, they are teeming with all manner of litter, including a lot of soda bottles. It is worth noting that there are large trash cans on almost every corner of every block on Capitol Hill, including on these 4 corners. Also, there is not a problem, in DC, of a lack of access to trash removal services. I have read DPW reports that suggest the recepticles that DC distributes are either not put out to the curbs in some neighborhoods, or have gone missing after they were delivered. Further, a casual glance around Potomac Gardens and Sursum Corda, not to mention the eastern corners of NE does not support your assertion that the occupants in these housing projects and neighborhoods take much pride in the appearances of their environments. Finally, I am not making a racial issue out of a social one. Race, in this case, seems purely coincidental; poverty seems so much more a denominator for this kind of behavior. A bottle bill has shown to dramatically spill over into other types of littering, reducing it across the board...

Posted by: paul20002 | June 1, 2007 11:43 AM

there are plenty of trash bins in Shaw and DCDPW does a great job maintaining them. Still the litter problem is huge. It is a race/class issue. I've watched people within steps of a trash bin just drop their litter on the ground.

A bottle bill in DC is a litter /clean water issue (where do all those bottles go after a rain storm? Ask WASA how much it spends skimming surface trash off the Anacostia?) DC needs a bottle bill and needs to ban the sales of "singles."

Posted by: shaw | June 1, 2007 11:44 AM

Bottle bills don't really work in areas that have recycling. Those who are inclined to return bottles recycle already. What does work is trash stickers. Every household gets a certain amount of stickers per month free. The trash bag will not be picked up without one. You can buy more if you go over your limit at a grocery or convenience store. This promotes Recycling because there is no sticker requirement for recycling. It behooves you to reduce your trash by recycling. It have been very effective in Austin, Texas, which, though it is a 'Blue' city, is still Texas. Best of all, it's not a tax, since if you use a reasonable amount of trash, you pay nothing, and only those who choose to make a lot of trash pay into the system. You stand to make money off of it.

Combine these things with increased awareness, and reduction of bags in grocery stores, it can make a huge difference. You're still not going to stop litters and people who put their Butts everywhere (I'm a smoker, I put mine in the trash), but then some people are trashy and you'll have them everywhere. Can't legislate that.

Posted by: DCAustinite | June 1, 2007 11:45 AM

My home state of Kentucky went through a bruising attempt to implement a bottle bill in the early 1990s, which I supported. The beverage industry spent loads to kill it. In all the slippery rhetoric, one point opposing bottle bills rang true for me:

The storage of empty bottles, whose burden is placed primarily upon store owners, has environmental impacts as well. Why heat and air condition a bunch of empty bottles? If stored outside, how might a large cache of unclean containers impact vermin control? Do we really want bottle heaps collocated with grocery stores?

I think a far better solution along these lines is to credit individuals for the actual weight of their curbside recycling contributions. Stop appealing to an illusive sense of civic responsibility, and start paying for participation. In the parts of the country where these types of programs are already in place, recycling tonnage is way up, and citizen participation -- and support -- is not surprisingly, very high. Ask yourself a couple of questions:

1. How are you doing returning those plastic grocery bags to the store?

2. How likely are you to lug empty bottles?

3. Would you recycle more at home if you got free movie tickets or cash in the mail for your efforts?

Posted by: T Clarke | June 1, 2007 11:51 AM

I really hope they don't start charging me for plastic bags at the grocery store. I use those to bring my lunch to work (instead of buying paper lunchbags) and to clean out the cats' litter box.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 1, 2007 11:59 AM

One reason DC doesn't have that law?

Aluminum cans are too easily converted to crack pipes.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 1, 2007 12:00 PM

I grew up in a bottle state (ME) and all of our family trips were to other bottle states (CA, VT, NY, MA), so I never realized that some states don't participate in this system until I moved to DC and began bartending. I couldn't believe how many bottles I would throw away each night! In Maine, all of the restaurants and bars recycle the bottles for the deposit (that 5-10 cents per bottle really adds up). I don't know what deposit-state the posters above are discussing, but I know it was deeply ingrained in us NEVER to throw a bottle away (and I grew up in an affluent town that could easily afford to toss that change). We also had free weekly recycling pickup and a pay-as-you-throw trash policy in my hometown, so there was a lot of encouragement to reduce your trash.

High school teams and boy scouts would fundraise through bottle drives, and in college we'd use all of our returnables to pay for post-party cleaning supplies each week.

I never, ever saw bottles in the trash or left on the curb in redemption states, and I hope DC will encourage this legislation.

Posted by: Kelly | June 1, 2007 12:07 PM

I do recall Virginia, or at least Fairfax County, having a bottle bill sometime prior to 1983 (I know it had to be prior to then because I recall shopping at the Giant at Yorktowne Center when the bill was in effect, and I have not been to that Giant since we moved in 1983). I definitely recall taking the small club soda or tonic water bottles back to recoup a 20¢ deposit per six-pack. I also recall it being generally unpopular, which is probably one reason why it failed.

My father grew up in Brooklyn and talks about how as kids they all used to go around scavenging people's garbage for thrown-away bottles; they'd collect them, return them to the store, and use the money to go to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers.

Posted by: Rich | June 1, 2007 12:23 PM

Responding to "DC Austinite" about trash stickers: That sort of thing sounds unlikely to work in Fairfax County because most people contract with private companies to pick up the trash; in my neighborhood, for example, the homeowners' association has a contract with American Disposal Services and the cost per house is included in the monthly homeowners' dues. This sort of arrangement is quite common, although in some neighborhoods the individual homeowner pays for it. When you're already paying for trash collection, the idea of a system where you also have to pay for a sticker for your trash to be picked up would be about as welcome as a belch in church.

Posted by: Rich | June 1, 2007 12:28 PM

In 1987 I lived in Ward 7 and worked my precinct on election day in support of the bottle bill. Imagine my surprise when my local ANC Commissioner and other Ward 7 illuminaries including ministers showed up to work in opposition to the bottle bill. The reason they gave in their election day handouts was that the bottle bill, if passed, would allow for another transmission source for the HIV Aids virus and TB. So much for a discussion based on reason.

Posted by: DC Resident | June 1, 2007 12:28 PM

The bottle bill only encourages the homeless and unemployed to remain that way, and turns dumpster diving into a career. I can see the poor staking claim to certain dumpsters as their turf, and waiting for bottles to get thrown away by the more affluent. It helps the bottle and can litter problem, but actually increases the litter that is left by the dumpster divers. It is already this way in Massachusetts, and it would be that way here, too.

Posted by: Todd | June 1, 2007 12:34 PM

I moved to Loudoun County many years ago, but still visit NY on a regular basis to visit family. I also volunteer for Keep Loudoun Beautiful to pick up trash along the roads. The trash along the roadsides here is probably 90% cans and bottles. What I notice in NY is that it is hard to find a can or bottle along the road. My guess is that up there either people return their own bottles and cans for deposits, or those that do get thrown by the side of the road are picked up by other people, and they get the deposits.

Posted by: ex-NewYorker | June 1, 2007 1:09 PM

One thing to consider while using states that do have such a deposit requirement...there are some that do not have a recycling program at all. Thus, the bottle bill does make sense in helping reduce litter. To think a 5 or 10 cent deposit encourages homeless and unemployed to remain that way, and live off bottles makes me wonder if anyone has checked what a couple cents can buy these days.

Instead, school and scouting groups, bands, sports teams find this an excellent way of supplementing their fund raising for their uniforms, and trips. Unfortunately, some of their trips are to non-bottle bill areas such where litter and broken bottles making them wonder what kind of people live there.

I come from a bottle deposit state (NY), having lived in some affluent suburbs, one with and one without a recycling program. In each case, people did their part, returning, recycling to help reduce litter and the mountains of landfill. Granted, there was somewhat a "learning" curve but eventually it becomes second nature. Also some bottlers reused the bottles (after cleaning them, so don't think it is a way to spread disease) and reduced their costs. From what I have seen, I can only say "shame on you" to those who come up with far fetched reasons not to support such a program.

Posted by: Ray | June 1, 2007 1:20 PM

A bottle bill would be great if only to encourage restaurants and bars to recycle. I recycle everything at home, and have been known to carry empty bottles home from restaurants because I hate the idea of just tossing them. Ninety percent of the restaurants in this town provide no separate receptacle for disposing of recyclables...the idea that bars just throw out the thousands of bottles they empty each day is atrocious!

Posted by: Tina | June 1, 2007 1:33 PM

"Collin, I disagree with you entirely, on literally every point you raise, beginning with your absurd suggestion that wealthy white people should walk through poor black neihborhoods on some form of trash clean up duty."

You obviously didn't understand my sarcasm. You, along with other posters, are trying to make the trash/litter concept a racial one. You stated that the trash and litter are highest in African-American neighborhoods, yet they were against deposit legislation. The problem with trash is NOT a racial problem, and to inject race into this discussion is absurd, which was my point if you took the time to read it.

I'm not sure where people are seeing all of these plastic bottles and cans rolling around in the city, but a majority of the trash I see is in the form of paper, non-returnable plastic items (shopping bags, wrappers, straws, etc...), and butts. In my travels, I have not seen a reduction in these trash items on city street in states that require bottle deposits. I will say that I have rarely seen a bottle on the street in a deposit state (outside of New York City), where I have seen them slightly more frequently on DC streets. However, the litter problem in DC is not isolated or primarily caused by returnable bottles.

Do you actually think that a person digging in a dumpster for returnable bottles cares about cleaning up other trash? Do you truly believe that charging consumers 5-10 cents on a bottle will make them stop throwing other trash and cigarette butts on the ground?

Lets be real here...Requiring deposits has very little effect on the frequency of littering. What needs to occur is strict enforcement of littering laws, including the worst offenders, police officers. Additionally, if trash receptacles were redesigned to include bins for recyclables (like they are in other countries and in some private buildings) that actually contain the refuse and are emptied on a regular basis, the problem would improve.

Paul20002 fails to mention that while there are trash cans available around the city, the frequency that they are emptied does not match the frequency that they are filled. Also, most containers in the city do not prevent the wind from sucking light-weight debris right out of the can and onto the street. Paul20002 also states that trash bins are on the corners of the street, but are they in or close to the bus shelters? The answer in most cases is no, so you've got a guy drinking his soda when his bus arrives and must dispose of it, if there's no where to get rid of it, it ends up on the ground.

However, the bottom line is what is a 5-10 cent deposit going to do. The guy walking on the bus or train still cannot carry it onto the train, it just means someone else looking for profit is going to come by and pick it up before the street sweeper shows up.

Everyone here is completely missing the point that deposits do not reduce litter, nor do they increase the recycling habits of your average citizens. Such legislation will cause people to run to Maryland or Virginia to buy bottled beverages and reap profits in DC through the return. Unless MD and VA institute their own programs, it would be impossible to tell where a bottle was purchased without some sorf of expensive and beurocratic stamp program (most local bottlers are in Maryland and Virginia, NOT DC).

As much as people want to think deposits are a great idea to "force" recycling, they do very little to change the habbits of our naturally dirty society. We need to push programs that encourage voluntary recycling, reduce trash volumes, and enforce littering laws, and deposits on bottles and cans to NONE of that.

Posted by: Collin | June 1, 2007 1:54 PM

Josey, shop owners don't keep the money from bottle deposits. It would go to the DC government, who would then decide how to spend the money. Most states use revenue generated from bottle bills on litter control and things like that.

Posted by: TheGreenMiles | June 1, 2007 2:06 PM

sich, I didn't know that about Virginia communities, and in that case, you're absolutely right. As for the trash stickers, I was thinking more about DC proper.

Posted by: DCAustinite | June 1, 2007 2:11 PM

Why don't we just put institute a "trash tax?" Everyone pays some sum of money each year, but can reduce their "tax" through government subsidized trash pickups. People participating in the pickups get a percentage of their "trash tax" back based on the weight of trash collected during the pickup. Eventually the tax could be reduced as our streets and highways were cleaned up.

Sounds pretty silly huh? Well that's exactly what happens in states with bottle deposits. In this area, we see bottles and cans littering our street because there's no incentive for people to pick up after litterers. In states requiring deposits, litter in the form of bottles and cans is picked up instantly by people, who instead of seeing an empty bottle see a nickel or a dime.

We've all walked past pennies on the street and thought about picking them up (usually looking to see if they were heads up or down). Now imagine if those pennies were nickels and dimes. Would you even think twice before picking it up and putting it in your pocket, regardless of which side was up? Of course not, and that's what people in deposit states see. They see a bottle thrown to the side of the road not as trash, but as money. Does that make those people want to pick up cigarette butts, cups, straws, bags, hubcaps, screws, boxes, or anything else that cannot be turned in for cash? Absolutely not, and deposits certainly don't stop people from throwing those types of things to the side of the road.

Forcing people to pay deposits in a 400 square-mile area is not going to solve the larger problem of littering, and society's disgust with picking up other people's trash.

Posted by: August | June 1, 2007 2:12 PM

I just moved here from Austin. The stickers are only in certain places (city trash haulers) and for trash above a certain amount. I never had to use a sticker.

What will solve the trash problem is education. You don't throw your trash on the ground (or your cigarette out the car window). Act like a civilized human being if you want to live in a clean city. Bottle deposits won't do it, if people don't care to act properly in the first place. It's not a black/white issue either. I've seen folks of all races throw their trash everywhere.

Posted by: ep | June 1, 2007 2:19 PM

For those in the city trash haul region, the stickers work, since they cost you money to get them. You as a single person probably never came close, but trust me, it really does work in austin because you have to get a sticker to get the trash picked up when you're over you limit. I know several people who started heavy recycling and also composting partially because of it.

Now as for trashy people who are too lazy to put their bottle or wrapper in a trash can, only punishment will make them stop.

Posted by: DCAustinite | June 1, 2007 2:54 PM

Some of the comments raise the question --- what becomes of the profits from materials that municipalities earn from curbside recyclling programs? Where does that money go? Any ideas?

Posted by: Brian Fish | June 1, 2007 2:55 PM

The overwhelming failure of the vast majority of recycling initiatives across the country leaves no doubt about the surface material with which the road to Hell is paved.

Evidence? I've heard of few failures. did you make that up?

Posted by: DCer | June 1, 2007 3:12 PM

Aluminum cans are too easily converted to crack pipes
I think you mean hash pipes. you cannot smoke crack this way, crack pipes are tubes. If you're trying to be funny, you aren't, you just came off ignorant.

Posted by: DCer | June 1, 2007 3:14 PM

I supported bottle bills when I lived up north in the 70s and 80s. They made sense, but they also do cost consumers a lot more in those states. They addressed a multi-faceted problem of landfill space for trash and littering. I agree that recycling has tackled the home and business end of the container problem. The remaining problem is litterers. While a bottle bill would reduce litter, why make responsible people pay for the litterers. It would be better to get tough on littering. Catch a few people pitching bottles out of cars on 16th St, slap them with a $50 or $100 fine AND make them go out on a trash patrol for a couple hours and pick up litter in parks and on streets or else have their fine tripled.
That would cut the litter problem and put the burden on those who are the offenders.

Posted by: Not a Fisher fan | June 1, 2007 3:23 PM

In Michigan, the unredeemed deposits are supposed to be used to improve recycling centers and educate consumers about recycling. However, legislators have been know to dip into the pool (usually tallying over $5 million per year) to supplement welfare programs.

As a part-time Flint resident, I am very judicious when in Michigan to make sure that every bottle I pay deposit on makes its way back to a recycling center. I also occasionally will pull a bottle or can out of the trash or pick up one on the side of the road during a walk. I will also give local kids any bottles in my bin if they're doing a fundraiser. However, I HATE returning the things, and the mess the return stations make of my local grocery. There is nothing worse than smelling warm decaying beer before going into buy my weekly groceries.

I also don't know if the deposits (10 cents in Michigan) really instill a sense of environmental responsibility. When I'm in the DC area, the bottle goes in the trash unless there's a recycling container closeby. Recycling is about convenience, and if it's convenient to recycle, people will do it regardless how much you bribe them with deposits. Deposits still don't solve the problem of other recyclables (paper, steel, copper, and wood) being tossed in the trash.

Litter is another problem altogether that will never be solved with deposits. Posters who are drawing comparisons between deposits and litter are fooling themselves. Anyone who thinks that deposits reduce litter, I have two names for you, Detroit and New York City. Detroit is probably one of the dirtiest cities I've ever seen (I've visited just about every major city in the US along with a number of international cities), closely followed by New York City, Buffalo (both in deposit states), Houston, New Orleans, and Baltimore.

Posted by: Octavio | June 1, 2007 3:31 PM

I think you mean hash pipes. you cannot smoke crack this way, crack pipes are tubes. If you're trying to be funny, you aren't, you just came off ignorant.

Yes, I'm sure that original poster is devastated that you called him ignorant because he doesn't know the proper way to smoke crack.

Posted by: VAer | June 1, 2007 4:02 PM

Some of the people on here are just flat-out crazy.

Why do people think that charging someone 5 or 10 cents more for a bottle is going to keep them from throwing trash out their car window? Deposit programs are supposed to be reinforcing environmental responsibility, but in reality they are no more than subsidies for the poor. A day spent at a recycling center in a state that requires a deposit will prove to anyone posting here that only people on the lower end of the financial spectrum, along with occasional fundraising groups, actually return bottles and cans. To those who question the ability to live off returning bottles, they have obviously never seen homeless people walk into a recycling center with $100 worth of bottles in shopping carts every single week. A case of beer cans will buy you a Big Mac in Michigan.

Deposits are only on bottles and cans, not gum wrappers, paper cups, cigarettes, paper, pull tabs, bottle caps, bags, and so on.

Deposits only encourage rummaging through trash bins and cans. They in no way discourage littering, nor do they encourage trash pickup. Deposits are incredibly inconvenient to get back with disgusting recycling centers crowded with people turning in shopping carts full of returnables, malfunctioning and inoperable equipment, and underpaid, disgruntled employees (I don't blame them if I had to deal with that stench every day).

The posters here who favor deposits have no idea how annoying the programs are, and how little they affect the overall environment. I would invite them to live in a deposit state, and pay 5-10 cents more for containerized beverages, and see how much you actually return. I will guarantee that not a single person here would get every nickel or dime back that they spent on deposits. I would also guarantee you that if I gave every person here a recycling bin and a weekly pickup and pamphlet explaining the advantages of recycling that just as many bottles and cans (along with numerous other non-returnable items) will get recycled as would get returned in a deposit state.

Posted by: Chris Tenmission | June 1, 2007 4:04 PM

I don't understand the argument here that bottle deposits discourage recycling. These programs coexist, and I believe that the duty that the deposit instills reinforces the importance of recycling programs. In my experience, deposit programs neither encourage waste nor vagrancy -- quite the opposite.

Posted by: Midwesterner | June 1, 2007 4:05 PM

Midwesterner, I don't think anyone here is saying that deposits discourage recycling. I just think people are saying that they don't encourage recycling as much as people think. Most people in these states are used to paying the extra money for bottles and cans and never see any of that money back. They money from the deposits goes to those willing to dumpster dive and organize bottle and can drives.

I would agree with that, and definitely with the statement that deposit programs do not affect the littering epidemic. The programs do help clean up the bottles and cans that people throw out their windows, but does nothing to change the initial habbit to treat our roads and neighborhoods as dumping grounds.

Deposit programs create disturbingly filthy recycling centers in our grocery stores and shopping malls, which further discourages people from returning bottles and cans. Some people see deposit programs as some magic bullet that will sove our problems, but I think we're on the right track by pushing voluntary recycling programs. Unless the deposits are going to really hit your pocketbook (more than 25% of the value of what you're purchasing), people will not blink at throwing a returnable in the trash.

If you want to increase recycling, make it easier with bins next to every trashcan in the city, penalties for placing recyclables in the trash, and increasing public awareness of recycling efforts. It has worked in Europe, Canada, and parts of Asia without taxing people through deposits, and it has been working here. Let's keep it up and continue to improve a good system, not undermine it with a deposit program.

Posted by: Nicholas Tresteguard | June 1, 2007 4:17 PM

1) The unredeemed deposits go into the bottlers/soda manufacturers' pockets, not the government's. So it's a windfall.

2) The only obvious benefit the bottle bills provide is that it gives someone an incentive to pick up litter in the form of bottles. Anyone who's responsible will throw the bottle out or recycle it properly, regardless of the deposit. The mentality towards litter has changed greatly in 30 years.

3) If we're going to have a deposit, why not just make it a bottle tax with the funds going to improve recycling programs? It's much more efficient to leave bottles curbside than to have to take them to a store and put them through a machine. And, DC does recycle--they have separate DC trash trucks collecting recycling.

Posted by: ah | June 1, 2007 4:21 PM

"1) The unredeemed deposits go into the bottlers/soda manufacturers' pockets, not the government's. So it's a windfall."

Absolutely false!! Stores that charge the deposits turn over that money directly to the state government. The government then reimburses stores and recycling centers for citizens returning bottles and cans. The bottlers/manufacturers benefit because the bottles and cans are shipped directly to their facility, meaning that they don't have to pay to operate their own recycling centers or purchase raw materials for new containers.

Any unredeemed deposit money remains in the state's coffers, and any surplusses can be withdrawn. The surplusses are supposed to be to improve recycling centers and other programs, but that money can be used for whatever the government wants. The bottlers and soda/beer companies do not see a penny from deposit programs.

Please get your facts straight before you make such an obviously incorrect statement.

Posted by: Henry | June 1, 2007 4:31 PM

"3) If we're going to have a deposit, why not just make it a bottle tax with the funds going to improve recycling programs?"

We already do. Most municipalities charge a tax on trash pickups to promote, improve, and encourage recycling programs. People don't usually see this tax because most homeowners do not pay their trash vendor directly anymore because they're usually paid through homeowner's association fees. That tax is there, you just don't see it. I would agree, however, that those efforts could be increased with minimal cost to taxpayers. A simple 1% increase in trash fees could significantly increase recycling efforts.

Posted by: Henry | June 1, 2007 4:36 PM

Please don't put deposits on bottles and cans!!! I spent a week in Detroit, and got sick and tired of saving up my bottles and plopping them through oversized, smelly ATMs to get my deposit back. I would been just as happy to not pay the deposit in exchange for my assurance that the bottles would end up in a recycling bin. The deposit system inconveniences recyclers for the ignorance of those who choose not to recycle.

Posted by: Josh T. | June 1, 2007 4:49 PM

Of course all of dc's asinine little problems can be traced to crack cocaine...

Yep, if we could just get people to stop buying addictive drugs, there'd be no more litter OR murders. Or maybe we could just get people to cool off on methadone, yeah that'll work, it's not supposed to be so addictive.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 1, 2007 5:43 PM

Actually wine and liquor bottles have deposit value in Maine and Iowa and Vermont. There are also deposit containers in Germany and in two provinces in Canada an one in Australia. The deposits work, in the US the 11 deposit states recycle more containers the the rest of the country combined. There are deposits on many things for valid reasons. Drink containers just make the headlines because sugar water pushers have big bucks to distort the facts.

Posted by: kris | June 1, 2007 6:51 PM

DCer, yet, you seem to know the difference between crack pipes and hash pipes. And you have the nerve to call someone else ignorant.

No, wait. I guess you are not ignorant since you seem to be an expert on the subject!

Posted by: MDer | June 1, 2007 8:17 PM

Having now lived in NY for a year I have to say that a deposit bill would be a waste of effort for any state. Most people see getting a deposit back as earning money, which it is not since you have to pay the deposit when you buy the bottle of whatever it is in the first place. I have to say that the rules are more of an annoyance than encouragement. It also encourages homeless to "dumpster dive" for bottles in cans in peoples trash. I do have to say I have met some impressive people who can live off of cans they find and return to the store but to have them wander up to my home and dive into my recycling bin is still unnerving.

Posted by: that guy | June 5, 2007 2:10 PM

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