If you're charged an extra 10 cents for every can of soda, bottle of beer or even gallon of milk you buy, would you be more likely to recycle the empty containers?
State Sen. John Marty thinks so.
Marty, DFL-Roseville, has been trying on and off since 1987 to pass a container deposit bill in Minnesota with no luck. But he thinks that when state lawmakers directed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to do an in-depth study on it, they gave the idea a chance.
"That was a big step forward because it was always so controversial nobody wanted to talk about it," he said.
Only half of all cans and bottles used in Minnesota last year were recycled, according to MPCA officials.
"... If you set up a system where there is a deposit on each bottle, people do return them."
Marty said having people pay a deposit on their bottles and cans and then giving them convenient ways to get their money back could boost recycling of those containers.
"If people don't return them, people go around and pick up littered bottles and pick them out of the trash because it's valuable to them," Marty said. "It's been promised for years that people are going to learn and they'll start turning them in on their own, but if you set up a system where there is a deposit on each bottle, people do return them."
Ten states, including Iowa and Michigan, have deposit laws. Their recycling rates for cans and bottles are much higher.
After the Legislature directed the pollution control agency to devise a general framework, the agency came up with a plan that calls for a 10-cent deposit on all beverage containers. It would include beer and milk but not medicine, syrup or baby formula.
Consumers would pay the deposit when buying the beverage, and could go to a designated redemption center run by a nonprofit organization for a refund. That group would have to ensure a convenient way for people to return their empties.
At a public meeting about the proposed program attended by more than 50 people representing recyclers, retailers, environmental groups and the beverage industry, a big question was how the plan would define convenience.
"The question was phrased like, How far is too far to ask somebody to drive to get rid of their aluminum cans?' And my immediate response was, 'Well, I can walk out of my garage and get rid of it right now,' " said Ryan O'Gara, a lobbyist who represents a couple of companies that do neighborhood waste pick-up. "If a system similar to this goes through, unless I'm willing to drive somewhere, I basically have to give up the 10-cent deposit I put down on this container."
Representatives of waste management companies spoke out against the deposit program. The companies that manufacture beverages also have concerns.
Tim Wilkin, president of the Minnesota Beverage Association, said out-of-pocket costs for consumers would skyrocket with a 10-cent deposit. He said people who live near Wisconsin or the Dakotas would think twice about buying their drinks in Minnesota.
"It's very easy to go over to from Moorhead over to Fargo, do your shopping there and Minnesota loses sales tax," Wilkin said. "They lose corporate income tax, they lose all sorts of revenues. And it's going to be very negative on those retailers."
Amid the discussion on the deposit law, some groups are pushing for a simpler, more centralized recycling system for the state. Right now, every city has its own program.
"It's always positive for government and the private sector to think about recycling more," said Paul Gardner, executive director of Recycling Reinvented.
His group is pushing for a statewide recycling system that would be managed and paid for by industry groups.
"Talking about container deposits or whether we should invest money in incineration of garbage or divert food waste, those are all positive steps," said Gardner, a former Democratic state representative. "We have to back up potential choices with data and talk with potential stakeholders to figure out the best way forward."
An in-depth cost and benefit analysis on a container deposit program is due to the Legislature in January.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story identified Paul Gardner as a former state senator. He is a former state representative.
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