In a pivotal stride toward environmental sustainability, both the U.S. and Canada have recently intensified their focus on recycling refund programs, with a keen eye on fostering responsible consumer behavior and minimizing the environmental impact of discarded containers. The spotlight is now on Container Deposit Return Systems (CDRS), which have emerged as a robust mechanism to incentivize recycling efforts. As federal attention converges on these programs, discussions surrounding potential legislative measures and the expansion of existing frameworks have gained momentum. With a growing urgency to address the escalating challenges posed by single-use packaging, policymakers on both sides of the border are exploring innovative solutions to enhance recycling rates and reduce the ecological footprint associated with disposable containers.

The Board of Directors of SWANA recently approved a new Technical Policy regarding CDRS, often referred to as bottle bills or recycling refunds. The SWANA Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Technical Division Advocacy Committee worked together to update the previous policy and bring this policy up to date. “I am thrilled to lead this committee of such dedicated professionals from across the spectrum of solid waste management,” said Maia Corbitt, Advocacy Committee Chair of the SMM Technical Division. “The team discussed with open, productive, deliberate dialogue and a vote of the majority when necessary. Ultimately, the policy guidance was passed in both the SMM Advocacy committee and SWANA Board of Directors by unanimous vote.”

SWANA Technical Policies serve as a resource for members and as guiding documents for SWANA’s positions. “The SMM Legislative Advocacy Committee took on several important initiatives in 2023, not the least of which was the revamped Container Deposit Return System policy,” said Technical Division Director to the Board Allison Trulock. “Bringing the policy into the 21st century, especially considering potential federal legislation on the topic, included several discussions with a wide range of points of view that ultimately resulted in consensus around the new policy. Kudos to the entire committee for their tireless efforts on this and other SMM policy initiatives.”

Summary of Container Deposit Policy

While CDRS may apply to many different types of containers or materials, SWANA’s updated Policy (Policy Number T-2.2) focuses on “single-use” beverage containers. SWANA endorses the concept of deposit return systems if they factor in the key points outlined in the policy with the goal of a deposit return system implementation resulting in positive outcomes. The policy describes several factors for a successful system, including an emphasis that existing recyclers should be allowed to participate, that ownership of the materials should be held by whoever possesses the material, that deposit value should be high enough to incentivize return, and that funds generated should be reinvested into the system.

It states that the deposit return systems should incentivize container design that works effectively with the systems and that the system should be designed to mitigate potential for fraud. In addition, the policy addresses practical operational concerns around site selection and the importance of safety for workers and visitors. Including worker safety in the policy is a strategy described in SWANA’s Strategic Plan – Forward, Together to improve industry safety.

The full list of key discussion points to factor into the development of a deposit return system include:

  • Integration of the Existing Recycling Infrastructure
  • Ownership of Material
  • Deposit Value
  • Deposit Return Systems Should Be Self-Sustaining
  • Site Selection
  • Container Design
  • Safety
  • System Integrity

Thank You to the Members of the SWANA Policy Committee that participated in this effort:

Chair: Maia Corbitt, Texans for Clean Water
Vice-Chair: Jonathan Levy
Arjun Krishnan, EFS Plastics
Allison Trulock, NewGen Strategies & Solutions, LLC
Brandie Townsend, GBB Inc
Heidi Sanborn, NSAC
Joe Dunlop, Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Department
Richard Schofield, Éco Entreprises Québec
Sarah Bloomquist, TOMRA Systems
Shannon Crawford, WM
Ketan Vinaykumar Shah Ph.D., University of Texas Arlington
Tim Flanagan, SCS Engineers
Bill Teter, retired

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