Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 27, 2013

Editorial: Bizarre new recycling law would undermine bottle bill

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Michigan has unveiled a new plan to increase the state’s dismal recycling rate, but it does so by undermining one of the most successful recycling efforts in the nation’s history. To call it bizarre is too kind.

Under the proposal, retailers might be allowed to opt out of accepting bottle and can returns.

Some grocery and party store owners — many of whom have complained bitterly about the bottle law since the day it passed in 1976 — will immediately get out of the recycling business. They’ll still be allowed to sell profitable soft drinks and beer by the case but won’t be obligated to take the bottles and cans back to be recycled.

Instead, the state Department of Environmental Quality suggests the creation of what it calls “redemption centers” where people could take bottles, cans and other recyclable materials such as paper, metal, glass and plastic.

Never mind that many Michigan residents already have curbside recycling. In the DEQ’s vision, they’ll bundle their bottles, cans and other recycling and schlep off to the redemption center, just another Saturday errand. Oh, joy.

“This is not an effort to undo Michigan’s bottle bill,” DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel said. To many watchers, however, that is exactly what it is.

Strangely enough, the group that represents retailers who deal with all those bottles and cans says the bottle law is not a problem.

According to the Michigan Grocers Association, retailers don’t object to the bottle law and would actually like to see more recycling of containers of other beverages such as water, iced tea and juice, something environmental groups have been advocating for years.

Michigan’s bottle law works, and always has. According to the Michigan Recycling Coalition, an estimated 97 percent of containers covered by the law are returned. Will that number go up when consumers have to haul their empties to a “redemption center” instead of dropping them off when they go shopping? Hardly.

Michigan only recycles 14 percent of the stuff it should be recycling, compared to a national average of 34 percent, and that has to change. The solution, though, is to make it easier to recycle, not harder, and the best way to do that is to make curbside recycling mandatory. For everyone, everywhere.

If the state also wants to open “redemption centers” that’s fine. But leave the bottle law out of it; exempting retailers from their key role in keeping bottles and cans off the side of the road will jeopardize the bottle bill but do nothing to boost recycling.

The sooner this goofy idea is landfilled, the better.