Poll: Should there be a bottle bill in Minnesota?

If you’re a faithful recycler, you probably fairly blanch when you pass the occasional trash bin, overflowing with bottles and cans which are better off recycled.

You may be about to pay for others’ disregard.

The Minnesota Legislature may soon consider a 10 cent recycling fee for bottles, cans and other beverage containers, the MPR’s Elizabeth Dunbar reports today.

If Minnesota is like the nearly dozen other states in the country that have bottle bills, it could be a battle royale. Few issues can be as contentious as recycling fees, and this debate could include class warfare, since the less-educated and poor are the worst offenders.

The motivation is an effort to get the state’s recycling rates up. Grocers and retail stores hate the idea because they have to set up a system to accept bottle and can returns. Customers hate it because (a) they have to pay another 10 cents and (b) they have lug cans around after they’ve finished it.

If you’re of a mind to recycle, it’s a pretty simple system now: If you’re at home, you drop it in the blue bin. If you’re out somewhere, drop the can in the nearest recycling barrel. Easy. That ends when it starts costing you 10 cents a can to do what you’re doing now.

Trash haulers also depend on the revenue from the aluminum (and plastic, as the case may be) at the recycling center to offset the cost of running separate trucks in neighborhoods to pick up recycling. Although most already charge a recycling fee to customers, the companies would likely have to increase the fee to make recycling feasible, which provides additional motivation for people not to use the recycling services.

All because people throw bottles and cans in the trash now.

Minnesota has a goal of recycling 80 percent of beverage bottles and cans. It recycles only 51 percent now.

  • Matt Janssen

    I groaned about the can deposit when I first moved to Iowa. But the numbers don’t lie. Iowa recycle rate (5 cent): 86%, Michigan (10 cent): 95%, Minnesota (no incentive): 45%. I support the deposit for Minnesota now.

    • My objection would be that the people who recycle will be paying extra — at multiple platforms and in lost convenience of curbside recycling — because of the people who don’t.

      • Matt Janssen

        Yeah, it hurts 45% in order to change the behavior of 55%. There’s a tipping point where it’s worth it. Is doubling the recycle rate that point? I guess its a judgement call. We also complained when they took Sudafed off the shelf, inconveniencing [99.9%?] of us who used it properly. Was it worth it?

      • Paul

        Unless things have changed when I lived in iowa, cans and bottles could be returned for deposit or placed in curbside recycling bins (with no return of deposit, of course), but curbside recycling still existed for cans and bottles in addition to paper. At least in my community.

        No doubt, the deposit affects behavior. I remember well when Iowa enacted it and one could see the difference in regard to bottles and cans along the roads as well as the little old men driving on mopeds from public trash bin to trash bin, fishing out cans and bottles others had tossed (I swear every town in Iowa had at least one of these guys).

        Iowa must have required stores selling cans and bottles to also be collection places, because all did. That was really convenient for the public. But it was a cost and messy for the stores, who had to devote space for storage and lots of clean up (because those cans and bottles come with all sorts of stuff in them). Even with daily pickups, there was still a pest issue for those stores with high volume (think Cub or Hy Vee size).

        When I lived there (until late ’80s), stores and redemption centers were paid six cents for each can, making a penny-per-can. Sometimes, it was a private redemption center in a town or region who acted as middle man between the stores and recyclers, contracting with stores to pickup and haul the returns from the stores to the recycler.

    • mwebster21

      Matt, what stops people from throwing the cans in the trash? Do you get money back when you return them?

      • Yes, you get the money back.

        If Iowa works like Oregon, you return containers to the supermarket (never mind that this likely isn’t a round trip for most bottles in Minnesota and many liquor stores are too small for this) or if you have a redemption center nearby, the stores in some certain radius don’t need to participate, so you go out of your way to a state redemption center that takes a cut of your deposit to cover its overhead.

        Simple, right?

        • mwebster21

          Ah, no, I don’t like this idea…

  • Matt Black

    I grew up in Michigan and when you had to hand the cans to a cashier, it wasn’t bad (yes, I realize you made it somebody else’s problem). With the automated machines that read the bar code, I always had problems with machines jammed, not accepting bottles it should, staff members not being around to help with issues, or just waiting for people to finish they’re 4 garbage bags worth of stuff. Often times, it wasn’t worth the 10 cents per item and I’d throw cans in the trash bin in the recycle room.

    In the Upper Peninsula, there was limited recycling that was done outside of bottles, but you had to haul to the refuse center. Eventually, the center dropped that program because it just wasn’t profitable enough. I wonder what the effect would be in the out state areas here. Would they see a similar change in companies participation.

    One positive: It was a great fundraiser in High School. I was part of a couple of groups that would do can pickups from people around town to help raise money.

  • Denny

    Sadly, economic incentive is sometimes the only way to change people’s behavior.

    One thing I’ve never understood about a deposit/return system is what the retailers do with all the returned bottles and cans? Why can’t they sell it to the same companies who collect it from our curbs now? Assuming the recycling rates go up as in other states, wouldn’t this actually provide the trash haulers with an increase in revenue from recycled materials?

    Also, since beverage bottles/cans make up a fair share of curbside recycling now, I wouldn’t be opposed to reducing the frequency of pickups in order to offset the lost revenue.

    Bottom line for me is that clearly we need to do something; 51 percent is abysmal.

    • Depends how it’s structured. If it’s a 10 cent DEPOSIT, then there’s no way the trash haulers — the neighborhood trash haulers — do anything but lose money (until they pass it on to the customer) because the customers aren’t going to recycle curbside; they have to take it back to the grocery store. Or people just stop buying the stuff in the first place.

      One thing that’s not clear to me. Is a typical can with 10 cents in aluminum at the scrapyard?

      • Veronica

        There you go, Bob. A Newscut field trip.

      • Rather than making it inconvenient or expensive to recycle, why not put the sting on throwing things away?

        • How would you enforce that? Do we want to hire a bunch of people to poke through everyone’s garbage to make sure it’s sorted properly?

          • Chris McDaniel

            A small town in Indiana requires you to pay for each trash bag collected. Recycling is free. Its amazing to see the volume of recycling compared to waste once the incentive to save money is introduced. …”The City of Jasper follows a “pay as you throw” trash program. Each
            trash bag shall have a trash tag/sticker attached to it. Trash tags cost
            $1.50 each”

          • Denny

            That’s interesting. I do like the idea of paying for garbage pickup by the load, not as a service. I think I put my garbage out once a month, and yet I’m paying the same as my neighbor who has an overflowing can out there every single week.

          • David

            many contractors (and Mpls) have different size bins you can have picked up. if your household produces little waste, get a small bin and pay less.

          • Residential garbage cans have been shrinking for decades. Enforcement is already happening.

          • Fortunately, we have far more accurate data for solid waste generation than the size of residential garbage cans: http://www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/data/score/recycling-in-minnesota-the-score-report.html

      • When I took aluminum cans to the scrappers a few years ago, it was about 50 cents per pound. I think the highest I remember was maybe 75 cents per pound in the mid-2000’s.

    • Jeff Klein

      There’s a better way, and it’s called single-sort. To people in Minneapolis who are already putting their bottles on the curb along with all of their other recyclables, this is a ludicrous step backwards. It’s an idea that’s being pushed by well-intentioned environmentalists that have been dreaming of it for two decades, except now we have the technology for a better system anyway. The only way this wouldn’t be totally insane is if single-sort cities were exempt.

      • The problem is less with people not recycling at home and more with people not recycling “on the go” – it’s when you buy a pop or water and then toss the container in the trash because there’s no recycling bin around rather than bring it home with you to recycle.

        • Jeff Klein

          Easier to fix the problem with a recycling bin next to every trash can.

          • Sure. And Minneapolis passed a commercial recycling ordinance in 2011, but how do you enforce it? Do you see recycling bins available at every Minneapolis business? Should we have every city have to pass an ordinance like this and try to figure out how to enforce it or address it at the state level?

  • tboom

    Wow! (nearly) half my neighbors, friends, and relatives are inconsiderate pigs.

  • Nikki

    I’ve lived most of my life in MN, but recently moved to MA, where they have a deposit. Municipal recycling in my part of the state is patchy. When I lived in a town that didn’t have curbside pick up, I would have to drag my recycling to the town recycling center or back to the groceries to redeem the deposit. The bottle return machines here are frustrating because sometimes they won’t take the bottle or can and the returns can limit the types, sizes, and brands they will accept. 9 times out of 10, I brought my recyclables to the recycling center, forfeiting the deposit. Also, it feels like a penalty to those who have limited access to cars. Nobody wants to bike or bus with bags full of empty recyclables. One perk is that i’ve eliminated almost all soda from my diet.

    • Matt Janssen

      Regarding the limited access to cars bit: If people are willing to bike and bus home with bags full of heavy groceries and cans of soda/beer, what pain is there to bike/bus empty cans back to the grocery on your next trip? And in that case, people will probably be encouraged to re-use their shopping bags instead of tossing those, too. Folks may also follow your lead and drink less soda!

      • Nikki

        I certainly understand, but there have been times when I have had sporadic access to a car and taken a taxi or had a friend help me with groceries and on those occasions, purchased the heavier items. When my access to a car was limited, many of my trips to the grocery were also tied together with other errands, usually leaving the grocery for last. There are ways for an individual to work around it and I guess this might seem kind of like nit-picking, but I can imagine this being problematic for a slice of the population.

  • MNBeerActivists

    Shouldn’t we be making it easier to recycle?

    Proposed Minnesota Recycling Changes to Result in Higher Prices for Consumers

    http://mnbeeractivists.com/legislativeevents/proposed-minnesota-recycling-changes-result-higher-prices-consumers

  • Now living in Oregon (from Minnesota), I can’t stand the bottle bill. It’s not a deposit, it’s a tax to support bureaucracy and smelly machines that don’t work. And as much as you’d like that money back, the machines don’t even pay minimum wage for your time, adding insult to injury.

    Recycling matters, but it misses the point, which is reducing waste. Taxes by the pound for everything an end customer can’t recycle or compost would quickly change their attitude about throwing everything away.

  • Livdnoregon

    Can return is a pain- especially because of our weather. Bees in the summer and freezing in winter. Let me recycle at my house- I already pay for that. Find another way to encourage recycling, otherwise it’s just taxing.

  • Jeff

    If the deposit is 5-cents per container it will cost and extra 30-cents (6×5=30) to buy a 6-pack of beer. If you use a can a day it will cost you an extra $1.50 per month to recycle your cans at your curb instead of taking them to the store. I will happily pay that much more per month (or a whopping $18/year) more to get my neighbors to recycle more.

    Also, I was told the other day that Minneapolis charges you more for trash pickup if you don’t recycle. (That makes total sense to me!) Now people there can pay less for trash, pay more for bottle deposit, recycle at the curb and not pay any more or less than before.

    • David

      i haven’t seen my parent’s water bill (where the trash service is charged) but I don’t know how Mpls would know if you recycled or not. The collectors are rushing through their routes and I’ve never seen them mark down if they didn’t pick anything up from a particular house.

      • Susan WB

        You’re just charged differently if you have a blue recycling bin or not. They don’t check whether you actually use it.

        • David

          To clarify, are you charged more to say “no thanks” to the blue bin?
          If so, there is not much keeping someone from taking the bin and throwing their cans in the black bin, right?

          • Susan WB

            The way I understand it, the trash bin only rate is the “regular” rate, and by asking for a blue recycling bin you get a discount. So yes, you could ask to get a recycling bin and then throw cans in the trash. I don’t know how common that is, and I expect it’s much less common now with single sort.

  • David

    I also recall hearing a report on mpr in the past couple of months (might have been this marketplace story http://www.marketplace.org/topics/sustainability/recycling-dont-overdo-it). But the takeaway I had was that individual recycle rate is quite high and the environmental costs plus the actual costs make it unattractive to invest more to get the rate even higher. The costs might outweigh the benefits.

    The guest in the interview mentioned that industry recycling might be an area we should focus – for example a utility company recycling a giant spool of wire and taking the money – rather than getting an individual to toss a pop can into a blue bin.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    At a cost of $29 million this idea should not get a single moment of further consideration.

    • Matt Janssen

      Can you give us the cost breakdown Kevin? Initial along with annual, and which costs are the suppliers/buyers paying and which does the state pay for? And are there any revenues from the sale of collected aluminium? And what about the deposits that never get redeemed? I think a full expenditures chart would be useful.