Cost of Recycling Municipal Solid Waste with and without a Concurrent Beverage Container Deposit Law
Alter, Harvey, The Journal of Consumer Affairs
After World War II there was a tremendous growth in the use of non-refillable (disposable) containers for beer and soft drinks. By 1985, nearly 80 percent of packaged soft drinks and 70 percent of packaged beer were sold in one-way bottles and cans (General Accounting Office 1990). During this period, the public reacted against littering of these containers and several states passed laws requiring a deposit on each container. These laws were intended to encourage return and reuse of bottles. Oregon passed the first law in 1972. Since then, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Vermont similarly require a deposit of five cents on each container. Michigan has a ten-cents deposit on large containers. A California law provides for buy-back of containers, instead of a deposit, through a complex system that scales both a fee paid to the state by manufacturers and the buy-back price paid to consumers to the fraction of containers returned (Naughton, Sebold, and Mayer 1990). Many other states have considered deposit legislation and bills have been introduced in every Congress since 1970 (General Accounting Office 1990).(1) Although the initial purpose of beverage container deposit laws and bills was to control litter, purposes now stated include conservation of energy and resources and reduction of municipal solid waste.
A great deal has been written about the pros and cons of beverage container deposit laws (BCDL): scholarly analyses (Moore and Scott 1983), federal reports (General Accounting Office 1977, 1980), and a variety of industry reports, state analyses, and public interest advocacy group papers too numerous to cite. There have been analyses (and advocacy) whether BCDL reduces litter, energy consumption, other resource inputs, and solid waste by moving the market to refillable containers for beer and soft drinks. For many reasons, there has not been a switch back to a refillable system, and deposits now apply to non-refillable (one-way) containers as well. For this reason, a large part of current advocacy for BCDL is to promote recycling and reduce municipal solid waste. New attention has been drawn to the relation between BCDL and recycling by issuance of another federal report. It includes discussion of the potential effects of BCDL on household, curbside recycling (General Accounting Office 1990).
BCDL and recycling household waste are two systems with overlapping goals, yet the systems may be in conflict. Each by itself returns high value beverage containers (steel, aluminum, glass, and plastic) to the resource stream. Household recycling returns these and nonbeverage containers plus some grades of paper. One potential conflict is economic, because with concurrent systems BCDL removes the most valuable scrap from the household recycling system. Another conflict is whether a single system or a concurrent system is capable of diverting more material from disposal.
Recycling of municipal solid waste (MSW) is growing rapidly. Although no authoritative figures exist for the start and stop of such programs, it is safe to estimate that more than 1,000 communities in the United States have some sort of recycling. There are several types of MSW(2) recycling systems (Office of Technology Assessment 1989). Those in most widespread use are drop-off centers (people place recyclable materials in bins) and curbside collection of materials separated by householders.
The purposes of this article are to contribute to the literature on the effect of BCDL on the cost and amount of the household portion of municipal solid waste recycled and to present a discussion of potential conflicts between the two. This is accomplished by examining the conclusions of the 1990 General Accounting Office (GAO) report and related literature. Analysis and discussion are centered on the conclusions of the GAO report because of its possible influence on federal and state policymakers.
This article is restricted to recycling and solid waste management issues related to beverage container deposit systems. The focus is on the differences in recycling costs and efficiencies (i.e., amount of waste diverted from disposal) comparing curbside recycling with and without a concurrent BCDL. Other issues, as the effects of BCDL on litter and resource use, seem adequately covered in other literature.
The 1990 GAO report states in summary:
Although deposit systems can divert potential revenue away from curbside recycling programs, most states with a deposit law have found the local curbside programs can coexist with deposit systems. Curbside and deposit systems in combination are more costly than either is alone, but deposit systems' costs are borne primarily by the beverage industry while curbside program costs are borne by municipalities. If curbside and deposit systems in combination continue to divert a greater amount of solid waste away from landfills, as landfill disposal costs increase, a dual curbside/deposit system becomes more cost-effective for municipalities. (1990, 1)
Two key conclusions are that the two systems in combination are more costly than either alone, and, if the combination diverts a greater amount of solid waste from landfills as disposal costs increase, a dual system becomes more cost-effective for municipalities. The questions are how much more expensive are dual systems than either single system and when does the dual system become more cost-effective.(3)
BCDL AND SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT: MACRO CONSIDERATIONS
The recycling industry generally recognizes that, as stated by the TABULAR DATA OMITTED GAO (1990), deposit systems divert valuable materials and revenues away from curbside recycling programs. However, these revenues, even without deposit systems, do not fully offset curbside program operating costs. One reason is that collection is the largest element of cost of solid waste management.(4) Collection of "recyclables" adds another, separate layer of costs, whether the materials are collected curbside, at drop-off centers, or are returned to retail …
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Publication information: Article title: Cost of Recycling Municipal Solid Waste with and without a Concurrent Beverage Container Deposit Law. Contributors: Alter, Harvey - Author. Journal title: The Journal of Consumer Affairs. Volume: 27. Issue: 1 Publication date: Summer 1993. Page number: 166+. © 2009 American Council on Consumer Interests. COPYRIGHT 1993 Gale Group.
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