David E. Bonior
On the National Beverage Producer Responsibility Act
Before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Many people forget that until the late 1950s, most beverage containers were made from glass and redeemable for deposits under a system voluntarily maintained by bottlers. Eventually, the glass industry, wanting to expand their profits, developed the “no-deposit, no-return” concept and soon our highways and beaches were cluttered with empty bottles and cans --- prompting complaints from residents of Michigan and tourists alike.
I was in the Michigan State Legislature back in the early 1970s when Oregon and Vermont enacted the first bottle bills in the nation. A group of us tried to get a bottle bill through the Michigan legislature, but were stymied by special interests. So we took it directly to the people. The Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) led a petition drive to get it on the ballot and we made it! Voters in Michigan overwhelmingly approved a ten cent bottle deposit law, becoming the first industrial state to enact one.
Our bottle bill is the most progressive in the country --- and it’s working. In 2001, 98% of the deposit containers purchased were returned for a deposit, which is higher than the average recovery rate of about 85% for the 10 states --- including Vermont --- that have a bottle deposit, and significantly higher than the national recovery rate of 42%.
In fact, Pat Franklin, from the Container Recycling Institute, once stated, “Michigan does more than its share … Michigan and the other bottle bill states are doing the lion’s share of recycling in the U.S.”
The trouble is, for all our hard work and due diligence, our deposit law is being undermined by out-of-state and Canadian trash. Nearly 4 million tons of waste from other states and Canada were dumped in Michigan landfills last year --- almost 20% of all solid waste disposed of in Michigan. A national bottle bill would level the playing field for states like Michigan and Vermont that already have effective recovery programs. Our neighboring states like Illinois, Indiana and Ohio would reduce the amount of trash they generate. By simply reducing the amount of cans and bottles in the overall waste stream, we will curb the justification for other states to export garbage to Michigan. I am also supporting efforts in our state to prevent Canadian cans and bottles from being dumped in our landfills. There is no reason Michigan should be taking in other people’s garbage just because we’ve been responsible with our own.
The proposal by Senator Jeffords, the National Beverage Producer Responsibility Act, is a fresh approach to ensuring comprehensive beverage container recycling. It puts beverage brand-owners in charge of developing an efficient deposit return program to achieve an 80% recovery rate. It basically tells beverage companies, “your responsibility doesn’t end with the sale of your product. You need to have a plan to collect empty containers after consumption.” It’s a cost-effective, sound approach, and one I think we should explore in the House. I commend Chairman Jeffords for holding the first hearing on this issue in 10 years. I know our friend the late Paul Henry would be pleased to know that his former colleague has taken up the cause to enact a national bottle bill. Thank you for all the good work you are doing, and thank you for taking my testimony.