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Published on February 9th, 2010 | by Dave Dempsey

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DE bottle refund law: Mend it, don’t end it, say advocates

A volunteer poses with the bottles and cans collected at a Massachusetts watershed cleanup.

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A month after the governor of Delaware proposed dumping the state’s beverage container refund law in favor of a new tax for community recycling, in-state and national environmental groups have come out against the recommendation.  Delaware is one of 11 states that has a law providing for beverage container refunds, which are strongly opposed by the beverage industry and some beverage retailers. In January, Delaware Governor Jack Markell called for repealing the state’s beverage container refund law. Although he called it a modernized bottle bill, the proposal would, in his words, end the state’s “returnable deposit and retailers would no longer be required to collect returned bottles.  The revenue from the bottle fee would go to help haulers and municipalities with the startup costs of curbside recycling, including helping with the purchasing of recycling containers for homeowners, new vehicles, and other recycling infrastructure.” He added his proposal would “dramatically increase recycling, reduce burdens on businesses, create jobs and restrain waste costs.”

In their response, Delaware advocates and the Container Recycling Institute said the Delaware law and refund system need to be expanded, not done away with.  They pointed out that the current deposit law applies only to soda and beer in glass and plastic bottles, 19% of all beverages sold in the state, and is the only deposit law that does not include aluminum cans, although 50% of beverages are in cans.

“Expanding our bottle deposit law along with statewide curbside recycling will be the best way to keep Delaware’s ocean, waves and beaches clean,” said Melissa Dombrowski, Chair of the Surfrider Foundation’s Delaware Chapter.

Curbside recycling programs have been demonstrated to achieve a return of 30 to 50% of beverage containers, while the most effective refund states achieve 80% returns or better.  Delaware’s rate is significantly lower than most other refund states in part because of the limited scope of containers covered.

Photo:  BottleBill.org




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About the Author

Dave Dempsey is a writer active in conservation for more than 25 years. A frequent freelance contributor and newsweekly columnist, Dave is the author of four award-winning books on the environment and a biography of Michigan’s longest-serving Governor, William Milliken. A native of Michigan who now lives in the Twin Cities metro in Minnesota, Dave served as environmental advisor to Michigan Governor James J. Blanchard from 1983-89. President Clinton appointed him to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission in 1994. Dave has also held numerous administrative, policy and consulting positions for nonprofit conservation and environmental organizations in Michigan and Minnesota. He was both policy director and executive director at the Michigan Environmental Council and Great Lakes policy consultant for Clean Water Action. Dave has a bachelor of arts degree from Western Michigan University and a master’s degree in natural resource development from Michigan State University, and has served as an adjunct university instructor at MSU in environmental policy.



  • Brandon

    I live in both Michigan and Illinois. Michigan has a deposit program and Illinois just does community recycling. In my experiences and observations, recycling is much more effecting in Illinois because all you have to do is put your recycling in a container and take it to the end of the street. In Michigan, you need to wash out the cans and bottles and then bring them back in to get your money back. This takes time, wastes, excess water in cleaning the cans and bottles just for the act of returning them, when they will be washed again in the recycling process, and the wasted gas in individuals driving their recycling to be returned. Also, not everything is covered by deposit so then you are left with recyclables that you have no option for recycling them.

    The deposit program just pushes people away from recycling. The easier we make it for people, the more likely they will be to recycle. How can we expect people to start recycling more when we make it a burden and a hassle?

    • http://Web Jeff

      You fail to realize one very important thing. In Delaware you have to “pay” for recycling pickup which isn’t cheap. I could see your point if that service was free or included with normal trash pickup but it’s not. Most people that pay a bottle deposit usually bring back their bottles when they’re ready to purchase something so you’re not wasting any more in gas for the trip. And in Delaware you don’t have to clean the bottles, just return them empty.

      So to your point, the deposit program in Delaware pushes people towards recycling. Removing it will push people to just throw away the bottles in the trash. But I’m sure in a decade or more they’ll pass another law making that illegal forcing residents to pay for recycling or drive the bottles two a recycling plant.

      Deposits on bottles works and forces both sellers and makers of such products to be responsible for such waste. Now you push that onto the consumer. So they want to tax us twice – add another tax to the residents and make the residents pay for recycling. Like that’s going to work and be a win/win for everyone. NOT!

  • Taddy

    I agree with expanding the beverage container deposit program. In British Columbia the province is firmly committed to Extended Producer Responsibility programs that put the onus on the industries to manage the end use of their economic activity. The beverage deposit program includes all ready to drink beverages (exept milk for some reason) and the industry achieve an 85% return rate. This is way higher than local governments’ voluntary blue box program.
    There is no reason why, in a free market, that the local government should be left with the responsibility of cleaning up after the party.

  • http://www.usnaturalandorganic.com Charles

    I live in Virginia and this was done away with many years ago. These projects are good ideas and as you stated need to be expanded on. Today when I go to put out the recycling to the curb only about 5 to 10% of the households have any recycling to be picked up. VA needs to reinstate these law also.

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