I’ve been on a coke binge lately. Not coke as in cocaine, obviously, but coke as in Coca-cola.
It’s bad. In the last month I’ve bought an eight pack of small cans, a 12 pack of normal size cans, and a 6 pack of 16 ounce plastic bottles. This from a guy who averages maybe 4 soft drinks per year.
Since the last time I seriously bought soda regularly for personal consumption was in college circa early 2000s, I had never noticed the lovely 5 cent deposit for carbonated drinks in Massachusetts. While this is a small amount in the grand scheme of things, on a per drink basis it can be a significant percentage: For bottles of carbonated fruit soda that cost me a buck, it comes out to a 5% additional charge plus taxes. For the 8 pack of mini Coke cans I bought at $3 for the pack, the 40 cent deposit charge comes out to a 13% additional charge not including taxes. Yikes!
My Main Beefs With Bottle Deposits
Evidence shows that bottle deposits significantly increase recycling rates compared to cities that don’t implement bottle deposit systems. As an eco-conscious person this should make me happy—and it does, to an extent. But it also annoys me because of two side effects:
- I pay the deposits even though I recycle everything through my curbside recycling program
- It encourages scavengers to rummage through out recycle bins, and they like to enter our property and do this early in the morning
1. I Pay Deposits Even Though I Recycle
This irritates me because I’m one of the most diligent recyclers yet still have to pay a bottle deposit. The only way for me to get my deposit back is to carry my soda containers back to a deposit center. Of course this makes zero sense when I have curbside recycling and also don’t own a car (and if I did, would the extra few cents I get make up for the gas I burn getting to said deposit center? Probably not.)
I know that bottle deposit advocates argue that deposit systems complement curbside recycling services, but this still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. If you’re at a restaurant that recycles containers, you dump your containers in the recycling bin. You don’t keep the container so you can carry it to a recycling center and get your deposit back (unless you’re really hard out on money so that your time is worth pennies per hour). It seems like bottle deposits not be as effective in increasing marginal recycling rates today in cities with comprehensive curbside recycling programs.
2. It Encourages Scavengers To Rummage Though Private Property
Even more annoying to me than the extra cost (which is more a violation of principle than a true financial burden) are the scavengers who go around digging through people’s recycling bins searching for cans. In fact, one statistic I’m curious to know is how much of the “increase in recycling rate” in cities with curbside recycling systems from bottle deposits is due to homeless people collecting cans off the street rather than everyone else recycling more.
I don’t have a problem with scavengers picking cans up off the street or trash cans—if they do this they deserve the deposit money they get since they’re providing a public service by diverting the waste stream. What I do have a problem with is when they enter private property to dig through my recycling bin. Especially when their favorite time to do this is early in the morning when I’m asleep (my window is right next to the recycling bin). Waking up to the sound of bottles clinking is not my idea of a good morning.
This seems to be one of the major problems with bottle deposits in my view even if they’re “effective” in raising recycling rates: the deposit isn’t high enough for working people to justify getting the deposit, but they’re high enough to incentivize scavengers to dig through recycling cans.
Instead of just touting the benefits of bottle deposits environmentalists should try to address this issue as more cities gain curbside recycling programs. Which is why I think more innovative programs like RecycleBank, which leverage curbside recycling and try to reward people for recycling more instead of throwing things away, are a good addition to the recycling arsenal.
Some Lingering Questions
- Bottle deposits have increased recycling significantly in areas where they have been implemented, but have things changed culturally so that we should now try a new approach instead of bottle deposits? I wonder if so many people who grew up in the 90s are ingrained with a recycling mindset that the benefits of bottle deposits in curbside recycling cities today aren’t as great as proponents claim and that bottle deposits are actually keeping us from seeking new solutions to increase recycling rates
- How much of the remaining loss of recyclable materials is from lost opportunities outside the home, like in restaurants? I’m always shocked how many restaurants even in the Boston/Cambridge area don’t have recycling bins next to their trash.
What Do You Think?
Am I just being a curmudgeon about bottle deposits here? Does anybody know of recent studies that might clarify the questions I have? I’d love to hear your thoughts.