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Will Container Deposits Encourage More Recycling?

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – Minnesota’s recycling rate is among the highest in the country. But that’s not saying a lot when you consider that at 47 percent, less than half of all residents are chipping in.

That’s a big reason state lawmakers directed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to come up with a way to encourage more of us to recycle beverage containers.

One idea floating around is to charge a deposit on every container. That money is then repaid when you bring those bottles, cans or cartons to a nearby redemption center.

A dime per container might be the incentive needed to keep more plastic, aluminum and glass from ending up in a landfill.

At Sharrett’s Liquors on University Avenue, owner Dana Rose sees the merits of a container deposit law. He just doesn’t want to handle the empties, like he once did years ago.

“If done right, you know, [such a plan] keeps the bottles and cans out of the lakes and gets them recycled,” he said. “It’s a smart idea to do it, but somebody else will have to pay for it.”

Minnesota wants to get more residents recycling their glass, aluminum and plastic beverage containers. Some 90,000 tons of these materials still ends up as solid waste and buried in landfills.

As it stands, about 50 percent of Minnesotans recycle beverage containers, the MPCA’s Wayne Gjerde said.

The agency is helping frame a deposit law that would be overseen by the MPCA but administered and operated by a third-party nonprofit.

As an incentive for consumers to recycle, consumers would get their deposit money back by returning the empties to a nearby redemption center.

There would have to be at least one redemption center in every county, plus one for each 5,000 residents of a city or county. The idea is to make redemption as convenient as possible to encourage greater participation.

“It would include all beverage containers except for medicine, syrups, condiments, that sort of thing,” Gjerde said.

Dairy products would also be included.

At a public hearing on the proposal at MPCA headquarters in St. Paul, a coalition of beverage companies, waste haulers and retailers opposed the plan.

They believe charging a deposit on each and every container sold will not only be costly to consumers – they believe separating the spend containers and redeeming them will be inconvenient.

Furthermore, opponents say pulling that material out of the current recycling waste stream will take away commodities like aluminum and plastics which pay the lion’s share of the cost of curbside recycling programs.

Tim Wilkin, the president of the Minnesota Beverage Association, said, “if you pull those materials out of the system then all of a sudden we’re paying more for the remaining materials, like glass and fibers.”

Wilkin says the best way to increase the rate is to push for more single sort recycling statewide.

The legislature has asked the MPCA to deliver a proposal for such a beverage container deposit program by Jan. 15, 2014.

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