A new study claims bottle bills do not cause a decline in beverage sales, an issue that's been debated over time.
A pair of nonprofit groups in favor of deposit systems, Container Recycling Institute and Reloop, took it upon themselves to study two decades worth of data from studies around the world to create "The Impact of Deposit Return Systems on Beverage Sales."
CRI President Susan Collins said she's had the idea for the research for many years.
"It's something we've wanted to do for a long time because we had heard that this is a concern that comes up in different reports, usually by the beverage industry, and we found that the claims that were being made sounded — trying to be polite — but the claims seemed far-fetched in some cases," she said.
Beverage companies, in general, have been resistant to bottle deposits.
The American Beverage Association, which includes 181 active member companies, had this to say about bottle bills when contacted: “America’s beverage companies are open to discussing solutions that will recover more of our bottles and cans so they can be remade into new ones. Our decades of experience working within deposit systems shows they work best when funded and run by private sector producers of recyclable materials, ensuring high recycling rates, financial stability and convenience to consumers.”
Collins has been reading both academic papers and news stories for years to learn about how beverage sales are impacted by different changes in the economy.
"We didn't feel like we were seeing any impact on beverage sales, any negative impact on beverage sales from the imposition of a deposit," she said.
Instead, the report suggests a variety of factors go into consumption trends on beverages covered by container deposits.
There currently are deposit systems in 10 states, with the most recent starting in Hawaii in 2005. Oregon, in 2017, upped its deposit from 5 cents to 10 cents. That move gave Collins confidence to research the issue because there would be adequate data from both before and after the increase.
"It was something that for a long time we had thought was worthy of study. And with the changes that happened in Oregon recently ... we finally had an opportunity in the United States to pull together a data set that had the period of observation that we wanted," Collins said.
"I didn't want to do it immediately because I wanted a couple of years before the event and a couple of years after to study it," she said.
Those opposed to beverage container deposits overlook what the report claims are "important considerations" that mitigate costs of programs.
Deposit program costs are partially offset by revenue from selling the containers to plastics processors as well as unclaimed deposits. Deposit systems also lower extended producer responsibility program costs in locations such as Europe and Canada that have EPR programs and for municipalities due to decreased recycling, disposal and litter costs.
The report, instead, listed several factors influencing beverage sales and price. They include: competition; the amount of money spent on marketing and advertising; discounting and promotional practices; taxes and regulations; profit margins; supply and demand; production costs; weather; health trends; changes in consumer preferences; supply chain disruptions; and geographic location.
"One of the things that we hope to accomplish with this study is to help everybody understand that maybe there isn't a monster under the bed. Maybe this thing that has been perceived as really scary isn't an actual phenomena that we can actually observe. And if not, then we don't need to be so scared," Collins said.
Collins said the ultimate goal of the research is to build a case for increased use of bottle bills, whether on the state level or nationally.
"The really good decision we're hoping for is to get every bottle and can in the United States on deposit because we know that that's the way we're going to achieve the highest recycling rate," Collins said.
CRI, based in Culver City, Calif., handled domestic information while Reloop, based in Brussels, provided perspective internationally for the new study.
"While producers often battle the introduction of deposit return systems because they wrongly believe they have a negative effect on sales, their impact assessments ignore the huge financial and compliance benefits," Reloop CEO Clarissa Morawski said in a statement.