Container deposit laws, also known as bottle bills, are laws that require a minimal deposit to be paid on cans or bottles that can be recycled. The deposit can be refunded if the can or bottle is returned. Container deposit laws encourage recycling and minimize waste in landfills.

Bottle Bill Process

When a retailer receives a shipment of beverages in bottles or cans, he or she pays a deposit to the distributor. The deposit fee is then collected from the consumer. If the consumer returns the container to the retailer, the deposit is refunded. The retailer then returns the container to the distributor and is refunded the deposit plus a few cents handling fee. If the container is not returned, the retailer loses only the handling fee, as his deposit was passed on to the consumer. In many states, the distributor retains the deposit fee. However, some states collect unclaimed deposits, which are then used to fund environmental programs.

United States Container Deposit Laws

In the U.S., the first container deposit law was passed by Oregon in 1971 in response to an increasing litter problem. The law was recently expanded to included water bottles as well as soft drink and beer containers. Only a few other states have container deposit laws, however they include the populous states of California and New York. The standard deposit is five cents, although some states charge a slightly higher deposit on alcohol bottles.

Countries with Bottle Bill Laws

Many European countries have container deposit laws, and in many cases redemption rates are well over 80%. The high rates of redemption may be due to relatively high deposit charges compared to the U.S., coupled with the ease of redemption. These countries normally provide many routes for redemption, including reverse vending machines. Many Canadian provinces also have bottle bill laws. Ontario has a detailed deposit refund system that is administered through the government, and has logged return rates of over 98%.

South Australia has had a deposit system in place since the 1970s. The current system is perhaps the most extensive in the world, adding deposits to paper juice and flavored milk containers. It is believed that approximately 600 people are employed in container deposit recovery, including not only professional collectors but people on the edge of society who collect bottles from dumpsters for a living.

Advantages of Container Deposit Laws

Bottle bills have been credited with many benefits. It is believed that in addition to the environmental impact of reducing waste, container deposit laws also minimize littering and increase public safety. According to a 1996 study in the American Journal of Public Health, the Massachusetts container deposit law was credited with a 60 percent decline in childhood glass lacerations.

The Bottom Line

Container deposit laws have been shown to provide a positive impact on the environment, communities and even public safety. Compliance is not as high in the United States as in several other countries, which may be partly attributable to the relatively low deposit cost and difficulty of returning bottles in the United States.