Oklahoma lawmaker calls for nickel deposit on beverage containers

The so-called “bottle bill” would help reduce the amount of stuff going to landfills, increase the amount of containers that will be available for Oklahoma's three glass plants and clean up the state's landscape, state Rep. Mark McCullough said.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: October 31, 2011

The time is right for Oklahoma to pass legislation requiring consumers to pay a 5-cent deposit on soft drink and beer bottles and cans, as well as on water bottles, a legislator says.

The so-called “bottle bill” would help reduce the amount of stuff going to landfills, increase the amount of containers that will be available for Oklahoma's three glass plants and clean up the state's landscape, Rep. Mark McCullough said.

Consumers would get their 5 cents back when they bring the containers to recycling or redemption centers, said McCullough, R-Sapulpa.

Money from unredeemed deposits would go to the state, which could be millions of dollars a year, he said.

Details of the legislation still have to be worked out, but McCullough said he would pattern most of it after a proposal being considered in Tennessee. Bottle bills have been brought up occasionally in the past 30 years by Oklahoma legislators, but have not fared well.

Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, introduced a bottle bill this year; it failed to get a committee hearing this past session.

Ten states have bottle bills.


Decades ago, deposits were placed on beer and soda bottles. The deposit-refund system was created by the beverage industry as a means of guaranteeing the return of their glass bottles to be washed, refilled and resold.

But in the 1960s, plastic bottles arrived with their “no deposit, no return” feature along with aluminum cans. Consumers didn't have to lug back their bottles to the stores and could just toss out the disposable bottles without having to worry about losing their deposit.

McCullough said glass bottles under his proposal would not be redeemed at the stores where they were bought, as they were in the old days of returnable glass soft drink bottles. Instead, they would be accepted at recycling or redemption centers. The centers would sell the collected containers.

“This could be something for the state generally and it wouldn't be some big government boondoggle,” McCullough said after holding a legislative interim study last week on the idea. “I've seen enough to convince me that this is something that needs to move forward.

“We have relative popular support, we have something that could benefit the state and you have built into the model an opportunity for this to be self-sustained,” he said.

Significant costs

Kevin Dietly, with the Massachusetts-based Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants, told a House of Representatives committee conducting the study that bottle bill laws could involve significant implementation costs and disrupt sales.

Stores along Oklahoma's borders could lose business because the deposit would make their beverages more expensive, said Dietly, who spoke on behalf of the Oklahoma Beverage Association. None of Oklahoma's surrounding states have bottle bill legislation.

Beverage containers make up only a small part of the trash, he said. Beverage containers for nonalcoholic, nondairy beverages represent about 1.6 percent of the trash in 2008, based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency information.

Among litter, beverage containers of all types represent an average 7 percent of all littered items based on research conducted across 20 states and Canadian provinces since 1989, Dietly said.

The beverage industry's recycling policy calls for a comprehensive approach, he said. The industry is working on using more recycled content and replacing petroleum-based plastics with plant-based or renewable material and consumers should be motivated to recycle.

“You need to focus on the big picture and not the narrow picture,” he said. “There's so much more to worry about in terms of recycling that just beverage containers. Beverage containers just happen to be one aspect of the issue. We're only 1.6 percent of the waste stream and there's a lot more stuff out there than can be recovered and that should be recovered.”

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