DEQ Examines Idea Of Changing MI Bottle Return Method

Posted at 6:49 PM, Sep 26, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-27 07:17:11-04

LANSING, Mich. — In an effort to increase recycling, the Department of Environmental Quality has considered changing the rules in Michigan’s bottle return law.

Voters approved the bottle bill by a wide margin in 1976 in order to help clean up trash and improve energy efficiency.

“There’s probably 15 to 20 bottles at our house right now that we need to take back,” said Maha Watkins, who supports the bottle bill. They, along with other supporters, feel the bottle bill has spared Michigan from a lot of litter. They’d like to see other containers included like those for juice and water.

“All the bottles that have nothing on them, you see them lying everywhere. All the bottles that have something on them, you don’t see them. It’s simple,” said William Salters, a supporter of the bottle bill.

Michigan is one of the best states for recycling bottles and cans under the law.

The West Michigan Environmental Council says we have a 97% redemption rate.

However, the governor says the state has fallen behind in the race to recycle other materials, thereby missing out on what some call a big business and manufacturing opportunity.

“Plastics, high-quality cardboard and wood. There’s lots of value out there we are literally burying in the ground that we can take out and resurrect. There’s a half-billion dollar revenue benefit there,” said Nicholas Occhipinti, WMEAC.

A study by the Public Sector Consultants released in February of 2013 shows that Michigan only recycles at a 15% rate overall.

Ohio beats Michigan at comprehensive recycling with a rate of 25% and Minnesota has a rate of 43%.

The DEQ has been working on ways to change that rate as directed by the governor.

In that effort, a draft recommendation by the DEQ to allow stores to opt out of accepting bottles and cans as they currently do has caught the attention of the public.

The idea is to replace that process instead by a regional recycling center that collects everything.

The DEQ report says, “Retailers could choose to continue to collect beverage containers or they could establish a redemption center in conjunction with an existing recycling drop-off location that is either municipally-managed or privately-managed.”

After all, many grocers said the cans are dirty, take up a lot of space, and the process of collecting them is demanding.

Watkins would be OK with a regional drop-off.

“When we’re out riding around, doing whatever, we can always make one extra little stop,” said Charlotte Watkins, a supporter of the bottle bill.

However, others like William Salters, who collects cans to supplement his income says, that’s not a good idea.

“If it’s not somewhere close, South Division, North Division, it aint’ going to do us no good. We take it to our area stores,” said Salters.

Although this debate may heat up over the coming months over how to change Michigan’s recycling habits, most people agree beyond the bottles and cans with the deposits, Michigan can improve.

“We’re doing good but we need to do better,” said Watkins.

The DEQ says one of the other issues Michigan struggles with is comprehensive curbside recycling.

Brad Wurfel of the DEQ says while cities like Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor do well, others have no program at all.

Other states have given their municipal governments money in order to kick-start recycling programs in other communities.

Wurfel says that topic along with other ideas including changes to the bottle bill will be discussed over the coming months among a number of stakeholders.