Michigan’s 10-cent deposit law on beer, pop and other bottles and cans, enacted in 1976, has been wildly successful in getting those receptacles recycled, though the state still lags in overall recycling. But those involved in making, distributing and collecting those bottles and cans say the law needs revamping. “Every year, millions of dollars that should be used on expanding and updating recycling infrastructure throughout the state goes into the department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy’s budget — and it’s not entirely clear how it is spent,” Spencer Nevins, president of the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association, said on Wednesday. “If we truly want to protect our Great Lakes, we must reinvest in this outdated program before it collapses under the weight of years of neglect.”
The organizations want a greater portion of the revenues from unredeemed bottle and can deposits to go to recycling programs, beverage distributors and police to help stop deposit fraud. But EGLE officials say doing so would take already insufficient funding away from programs to clean up contaminated sites statewide. Michigan is typically a bottle and can recycling star, ranking third behind only much more populous California and New York. That’s attributable to two key aspects of the state’s program: its 10 cents per bottle or can deposit, much higher than most states’ nickel or pennies in redemption value, and one of the most simple return systems in the country for consumers, allowing people to take their returnables not to a recycling site but to the stores where they purchased them.
Michigan returned more than 90% of its deposit bottles and cans for recycling every year until 2018, when the number dipped to 89%. Total refunds in Michigan have ranged from $346 million to $425 million per year since 2000, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury. The state Treasury Department collects unclaimed deposits, known as escheat, with 75% of the money going to the state’s Cleanup and Redevelopment Trust Fund and the other 25% returned to retailers. Michigan had a record $42.8 million in escheat in 2018 — and that number could soar this year, as residents for nearly three months were prohibited from returning bottles and cans because of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency orders in late March related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Redemptions resumed at large supermarkets and retailers with reverse vending machines in mid-June.
More than $80 million in bottles and cans accumulated unreturned in people’s closets and garages during the COVID stoppage, and some of those returnables were likely discarded in trash as people ran out of room, industry representatives said.