Activists Hope to Recycle Texas Bottle Bill

It's estimated that Americans throw away about 3 million tons of single-serving beverage containers every year.

It's an impossible number to picture, it amounts to 112 billion soda cans and water bottles.

Which is why Pasty Gillham is on a mission to turn Texas into a bottle bill state. The co-director of Plastic Pollution Texas says the bill adds a 10-cent deposit onto the purchase of beverage containers, which creates an incentive for people to return the bottles.

"The financial incentive placed on the beverage containers gets those people who don't recycle to recycle. So it expands the recycling base."

Despite the fact that curbside recycling is available to more people than ever before, the number of beverage containers tossed in the trash continues to grow.

But in states with bottle bills, about 60 percent of beverage containers are recycled, according to the Container Recycling Institute. Compare that to 24 percent in states without the deposit programs.

State Representative Garnet Coleman plans to carry the bottle bill in the Texas House. He says he thinks of this as the next generation of Don't Mess with Texas.

"When I grew up we had deposit bottles. You did pay for your Fanta Orange or your Coke an extra amount, and then when you brought the bottle back you got that deposit back. And then they sent those bottles back to the bottler. This time the bottles are redeemed and the bottles are sent to recycling."

But here's the problem — previous versions of the Texas Bottle Bill were introduced and never even made it to committee. The most recent was in 2005 and applied only to containers sold in border counties. Before that, comprehensive bills were introduced in 1991, 1989, 1987...dating all the way back to the state's first bottle bill in 1981. That's 30 years of failure to overcome.

Mary Wood, the other co-director of Plastic Pollution Texas, says 2011 is the year of victory.

"In the past when the bottle bills have been introduced to the legislation, the environment within the state was not as green as it is today. People want to recycle. There's a movement to regain the resources that we are now putting in our landfills. And so I think we have a wonderful opportunity this year to pass this legislation."

Wood may be correct in thinking the public sentiment toward recycling is favorable. But bottle bills typically face stiff opposition from bottle manufacturers, distributors and big-name beverage companies like Coca-Cola and Anheuser Busch. Opponents say bottle refund programs are inefficient and amount to an additional tax on beverages.

Representative Coleman acknowledges the challenge, but says it's up to lawmakers to convince the bottlers and retailers this is an idea whose time has come.

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