More than 25 years after Michigan began offering a deposit for recycling soda bottles, some Michigan legislators are looking to expand the law to include bottles for fruit drinks, iced tea and water drinks that were not as popular when the law was originally drafted.

Paul Wong
Ann Arbor residents Shirley and Shannon Knickerbocker return bottles yesterday at Meijer.<br><br>JOYCE LEE/Daily

Rep. Mike Switalski (D-Roseville) has introduced a bill in the state House along with his co-sponsor, House Majority Floor Leader Bruce Patterson (R-Canton). Because the original law was a citizen initiative-based constitutional amendment, the bill needs a three-fourths majority to pass. Switalski said he is confident that the bipartisan support will help to push the legislation through.

“We”re looking to stay No. 1,” Switalski said, and maintain Michigan”s reputation as “the most environmentally conscious state.”

When the original bill passed in 1976 it was highly successful, reducing roadside bottle and can debris by 80 percent.

Amanda Hathaway, public relations specialist for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, which is lobbying legislators to pass the bill, echoed Switalski”s sentiments. “We are definitely considered a leader in the country because we chose to do this so long ago,” she said.

Michigan, one of just 10 states to have a deposit law, also has a lower proportion of bottles and cans littering its beaches than any other state.

In 1998 alone, 800 million bottles of sports drinks, fruit drinks, and the like were sold. The extreme popularity of these drinks provides a good reason for adding a deposit, Hathaway said. But even more so, she added, these types of bottles are the number one item cleaned up from Michigan beaches.

In 1997, the Center for Marine Conservation cleaned up 1,363 non-deposit bottles along Michigan shorelines, Hathaway said.

This bill is a reintroduction of a bill sponsored by Switalski alone last year, said Patterson.

“I decided this year as House majority floor leader I needed to get on board,” he said. “There doesn”t seem to be a logical reason for (the bottles) not to be included.”

Legislating deposits on additional containers now, however, is far from a sure thing. Grocers are leery of any proposed requirement that would add to the piles of containers they already have to accept, especially when store owners are under growing pressure keep their premises clean.

“We”re really at a critical point because of the new emphasis on food safety,” Linda Gobler, president of the Michigan Grocers Association, told The Detroit News. “It”s not uncommon to find roaches, diapers, even condoms, in the bags of bottles and cans people return.”

But all parties involved said they are more than willing to work with the grocer”s industry.

“We”re meeting with everyone in the industry to work everything out in advance,” Hathaway said.

Patterson said grocers are often handling 200 percent the number of bottles they sell. “We don”t want our highways and byways to be littered,” he said, but careful consideration has to be taken in placing that litter next to “our breakfast foods.”

“We”re trying to convene a meeting of all the interested parties to look at how we can deal with problems and still expand the law,” Switalski said. “If we get everybody who has interest in it involved than we”ve got a good chance” of passing the bill.

Sen. Burton Leland (D-Detroit) is working on a similar bill in the Senate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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