How Michigan bottle deposit bill could curb craft beer drinker complaints

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Two Kalamazoo County lawmakers are calling on the Legislature to expand Michigan’s deposit system to more bottles and eliminate an obstacle many craft beer drinkers face.

ANSWERING A TOP COMPLAINT

“I think the complaint I hear the most is that it’s really difficult to recycle those craft beer bottles because they’re only sold in certain stores or certain facilities and its hard to redeem those. So this bill would change it to universal so… stores will accept whatever was produced anywhere as long as it has the Michigan 10 cent stamp on it,” state Rep. Christine Morse, D-Portage, explained in a Friday webinar.

Morse and Sen. Sean McCann, D-Kalamazoo, introduced House Bill 4331 and Senate Bill 167, respectively, late last month. The measures would also expand Michigan’s deposit system to include all beverage containers except for milk — a move Morse said could boost bottle deposit recycling by 34%.

(An undated courtesy photo from Schupan Recycling shows a TOMRA reverse vending machine.)

‘CRITICAL TO THE ENVIRONMENTAL FUTURE’

Morse said the Flint water crisis and PFAS problems in Michigan have led to more bottled water usage, which means more plastic waste in Michigan’s landfills.

“So this would really pull that much more trash out of the system,” she said.

Michigan Environmental Council President and CEO Conan Smith said the issue also touches the Great Lakes and the fish living there, which have been impacted by microplastics pollution.

“Getting our hands around how we deal with single-use plastics is really critical to the environmental future and conservation future not just of the state, but of the planet. And so much of that are these bottles — the juice bottles, the water bottles, the milk bottles, those sorts of things — that we can recycle and reuse. And Michigan has a great aluminum system for doing that with aluminum. Why can’t we extend that to these other beverage containers?” Smith said.

(Cans and bottles run down a conveyor belt at a processing facility. Photo courtesy: Schupan Recycling)

“The reason I focus on environment as part of my platform is that I have three children and we have to leave this earth to them… and future generations. And it is an important responsibility that we should all be taking seriously,” Morse said.

EXPANDING THE ESCHEATS FUND

Michigan’s bottle deposit system is a point of pride for the state, with residents consistently recycling about 90% of all eligible bottles and cans.

(An undated courtesy photo from Schupan Recycling shows recycled cans and bottles baled for market.)

When residents don’t return a depositable container, the 10-cent reimbursement they lose out on goes to an escheats fund run by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. Currently, about a quarter of that money goes to retailers to help pay for their recycling systems. The rest goes to the state to help clean up contaminated sites across Michigan.

Under the proposed expansion of Michigan’s bottle deposit system, the escheats fund would also support regional recycling centers and local governments’ recycling and environmental cleanup efforts.

“Because there’s more bottles in the system, we’ll have more money in this fund, so we’ll be able to continue to fund contaminated sites at the same rate they are today,” MEC Policy Director Sean Hammond explained.

UPHILL BATTLE FOR BILLS

The MEC says the expansion would also be a boon for the recycling sector and the jobs it supports, but says some stakeholders in the bottle deposit system have been opposed to changes to the program.

Morse concedes the bills face an uphill battle in the Republican-led Legislature, which has yet to consider both measures. She is hopeful beverage companies like Coca-Cola and Nestle can drive the change, much like automakers have pushed the switch to electric vehicles.

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