New York — There's a simple way to get people to recycle more: Pay them more to do it.
Canny collectors have known for a long time that in Michigan, refunds for bottles and cans are 10 cents. That's why in a timeless Seinfeld episode, Kramer and Newman filled a mail truck with returnables and attempted to drive it to Michigan. But seriously, more than 90 percent of cans and bottles are recycled in Michigan, the highest rate in the nation.
In Oregon, redemption rates for metal, glass and plastic jumped to 73 percent from 64 percent a year after the state doubled its deposit to a dime.
"It proves what everyone knows: Deposits are a powerful incentive," said Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute.
In New York, the deposit has remained at a nickel since 1982, and inflation has eroded most of that value. (Five cents from back then would be worth 13 cents today.) It's one big reason only 66 percent of returnables are redeemed in the state.
Still, Gov. Mario Cuomo isn't budging from 5 cents — or the 3.5-cent handling fee that retailers and redemption centers pocket for sorting and bagging bottles and cans. The recycling industry is petitioning for help after its best customer, China, cut back on purchases. But it will have to make do with higher volumes, assuming the state Legislature approves the governor's proposal to put deposits on juice, coffee and other non-carbonated drinks.
Collins said she hopes the deposit is raised to a dime after more folks get used to turning in the new returnables.
"Introducing a lot of new volume to the system while increasing the deposit is a lot to do all at once," she said. "Taking it step-by-step makes sense."