Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 9, 2012

Bottle bill proposal is irresponsible response


---- — Michigan's bottle deposit requirement is a popular law that works. Astonishingly, that hasn't stopped some lawmakers from trying to undermine it.

The state House ... passed a measure making new flexible alcohol pouches exempt from the state's deposit bottle law. The bill now heads to the Senate, where we hope it meets a swift end.

Backers of the bill say the exemption would remove a hardship on grocers. Rubbish. The move is a blatant attempt at undermining a law that has been strongly opposed by store owners and the beverage industry by opening the door to future exemptions.

It's been 36 years since Michigan voters approved the bottle bill — by a 2-to-1 margin — to require a 10-cent deposit on beer and soft-drink containers. The law, which went into effect in 1978, sought to reduce litter by making glass and plastic drink containers too valuable to simply throw away.

And it's worked. The bill has been effective in cleaning up the state's roadsides. We have no current statistics, but in the first decade after the law went into effect, beverage containers went from comprising 17 percent of litter to just 4 percent.

We could do a lot better by expanding the bottle bill to include juices, bottled water, teas and beverages other than beer or pop — something we've been advocating for more than a decade. It's estimated that more than 97 percent of beer and pop containers sold each year are recycled, compared to about a quarter of noncarbonated containers.

The House bill comes after the state Treasury Department ruled that pouches containing mixed drinks such as daiquiris and margaritas would fall under the bottle bill. Grocers are understandably worried about how to handle the containers, which won't work in the current machines.

The solution is without doubt expensive, and legislators and the state interested in helping retailers and their customers, who could ultimately pay higher prices as a result, would be justified in seeking approaches that could ease the transition.

The proposed exemption, however, is exactly the wrong response.

"Pure Michigan" should be more than a marketing slogan. It should be a guidepost for how we care for and preserve our natural resources by implementing laws and practices that reduce waste.

But too many lawmakers have shown little interest in improving our state's environmental stewardship when it runs into business' short-term focus on profits.

The proposed exemption is another example of misplaced priorities.

Battle Creek Enquirer