As the characters Kramer and Newman from the seminal 1990s sitcom “Seinfeld” can attest, the state of Michigan’s 10-cent deposit on pop and beer bottles possesses mythic stature throughout the United States. The 1976 law made Michigan a national leader in bottle recycling, a trend which continues today; according to the Virginia-based Container Recycling Institute, 95 percent of bottles and cans with deposits in Michigan are redeemed and recycled. However, the state Legislature and Gov. Jennifer Granholm must not rest on their laurels in this field. It is time for Lansing to expand the deposit law to include bottled juices, water and iced teas.
Every year, countless bottles and cans not covered by the deposit law become litter or end up in landfills. Michigan residents cannot afford to waste the potential that recycling these containers holds for resource conservation. Under the current system, we are mortgaging our future by allowing used juice, water and tea bottles to go to waste. Adding them to the deposit law is a great way to spur Michiganders into recycling them.
The state Senate recently began the initial steps needed to go in this direction. Majority Leader Ken Sikkema (R-Wyoming) has appointed a Senate task force to explore such an expansion. The task force will hold at least eight public hearings throughout the state, and plans to release its recommendations in September. While Sikkema should be rightfully hailed for both taking the initiative on this project as well as illustrating that environmentalism should be a bipartisan area of concern in Lansing, it is important that the task force be the starting point, not the graveyard, for this proposal. While statewide hearings make for good media coverage, ultimately it is legislation that actually turns ideas into law. With stiff opposition to any deposit expansion emanating from the Michigan Grocers Association, it is important that the end goal of the task force not be changed or forgotten and that the state House begin action on this topic as well.
The task force also provides an opportunity to reexamine Michigan’s overall recycling program. While the state is a leader in bottle recycling, it has faltered when it comes to other materials; it is estimated the state has an overall recycling rate of 20 to 25 percent – a level below that of many states. During her campaign for election, Granholm pledged to push Michigans recycling rate up to 40 percent. Additional curbside programs and incentives for commercial interests can all boost the rate and should all be considered.
It has been 26 years since a significant addition to Michigan’s bottle-recycling regimen has been made. Expanding the current system to include containers of all types of beverages holds great potential and can yield tremendous dividends in the areas of waste reduction, natural resource preservation and, especially, convincing people to recycle. Just ask “Seinfeld” fans.