Soda companies long have felt unfairly targeted by bottle deposit legislation. They have a point.
Clearly, the time has come to bring deposit legislation into the 1990s.
Coke and Pepsi bottles aren't any more unsightly than wine, iced tea or sports drink containers. Yet many states do not include noncarbonated drink bottles and cans in their deposit programs.
The reasons are largely historical. Bottle bills were adopted as litter-control measures in an era when consumers would not have dreamed of buying a single-serve bottle of Gatorade or lemon-flavored iced tea at a gas station minimart.
In some states today, 2-liter pop bottles — mostly bought in supermarkets, consumed at home and recycled through curbside programs — are subject to return deposits. But competing, easy-to-throw-out-the-car-window drink containers are not.
The key question is which direction to go: Expand the deposit programs to include new container varieties, or roll back the legislation and do away with all deposits.
The beverage industry would argue that deposits are an inefficient, costly way of dealing with litter problems. To date, that argument, and the industry's political power, have stood up to assault from groups that want to expand deposit programs. California and Massachusetts, for example, are among the states where legislative attempts to expand deposit programs have failed or been tabled.
But the plastics industry, and particularly recyclers, are ill-served by that policy.
Most of the plastic drink bottles in question are PET, which have value and are prized by recycling companies. The market for PET single-serve and noncarbonated beverage containers is booming, but the U.S. plastics recycling rate is suffering because those bottles are difficult to collect through curbside programs.
In recent weeks both the American Plastics Council and National Association for Plastic Container Recovery have cited the rise of single-serve bottles as one reason for the nation's stagnant recycling rate.
Three years ago, Plastics News called for the plastics industry to support a national bottle bill, as a means of improving the industry's image and giving a boost to recycling. We recognized at the time that it was a radical idea, but argued that the benefits to the majority of plastics processors were ample and obvious.
Perhaps now, after several years of stagnant recycling rates, industry will recognize the value of this more moderate proposal.