Bottle Laws Expand to Water

Most states don’t have bottle deposit laws. Some of those states that do have the laws are expanding them to include deposits on bottled water and other beverages. Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Most states don’t have bottle deposit laws. Some of those states that do have the laws are expanding them to include deposits on bottled water and other beverages. Lester Graham reports:


When Ed Solomon drives up in his delivery truck, he’s not just taking
in cases of soda and other beverages:


“Most every stop we go to as we deliver products, we take the empties
out, and the crates also. But, WHOOO! Yes. Sometimes there’ll be a
lot of empties at various stops.”


Solomon delivers Faygo beverages in Michigan. That state has the
nation’s highest deposit on bottles and cans: ten cents each. And
whether it’s Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Budweiser or Miller, if distributors
drop off product, they have to pick up the empties that people bring
back for the deposit refund.


Of the ten states that have bottle deposit laws, some are adding the deposit requirement to new beverages such as bottled water.
Forty other states have no deposit law at all.


Johnny Georges operates the convenience store Stadium Party Shop in
Ann Arbor, where Ed Solomon is dropping off new product and picking up
the empties. If the law in Michigan is expanded, it would mean Georges
and his employees would have to take in a lot more kinds of empty
bottles and cans.


“I think it’s going to take a little space in my opinion because there
are so many waters out there, so many juices, so many other brands.
So, it’s going to take a little space. Hopefully we’re going to
organize it as usual. And… we’ll see.”


Not everyone is that receptive to the idea. Beverage distributors and
major grocery chains are lobbying hard against expanding the deposit
law. Distributors don’t want to hassle with picking up the empties.
Major grocery chains say they don’t like the mess of people bringing
empties into the stores. They don’t like losing floor space to make
room for bottle and can collection areas. The bigger stores also have
to invest in bar code scanners to automatically count and sort the huge
volume of empties being returned.


A lot of small stores like Johnny George’s don’t have the fancy
equipment. Here, Georges just set aside a neatly organized area where
it collects and sorts the bottles and cans. He says he knows that an
expanded bottle deposit law would mean a little more hassle, but he
doesn’t mind:


“I like the new law. I hope they pass it. That takes a lot of trash
out of the street. And it’s good for the environment in the meantime.”


And Georges isn’t the only one who thinks it would be good for the environment.
Polls show a large majority of people support the idea.


James Clift is with the environmental group Michigan Environmental
Council. He says it’s time to expand the law to other containers.
When the bottle law was written 30 years ago, beer and soda pop cans
and bottles were the biggest concerns.


“But since then, bottled water, tea, other beverages, energy drinks,
we’ve got a whole new set of drinks on the market. And they’re a
larger and larger segment of the market to the point they may become
the majority of the market in the next five to ten years.”


Clift says his state needs to catch up to the changing market, but the
majority of the states don’t require a deposit on cans and bottles at
all. And Clift argues, you can tell when you’re traveling in one of
those states:


“You know, because you see all the trash along the roadways, you see
trash cans filled with bottles and cans and it just seems so unnatural
for someone who grew up in Michigan, you know, to throw away a bottle
or a can. Luckily, we’ve been programmed to know that that has value
and has other uses.”


So people there bag or box up their empties, take them to the store, the
stores can sort them and guys like Ed Solomon can take them back to be
recycled:


“It’s hectic, yes, it really is, you know, to deal with these empties.
Yeah, but, that’s the law I guess.”


And if the can and bottle deposit law is expanded to, and other drinks, as it has been some states, more distributors
and grocers in Michigan will find the job a little more hectic… while
40 other states do little to nothing to reduce the number of cans and
bottles headed for the landfill.


For the Environment Report, this is Lester Graham.

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Ten Threats: Bottled Water Diversion Debate

  • Some bottling companies, such as Besco, sell water, but keep it in the Great Lakes basin. Some others bottle it and ship it out of the region in great quantities. (Photo by Lester Graham)

Experts say one of the Ten Threats to the Great Lakes is water withdrawal. Water is taken from the Great Lakes for agriculture, industry, and public drinking supplies. Lester Graham reports there are many ways that water is used and shipped out of the Great Lakes basin, but few are more controversial than bottled water:

Transcript

Experts say one of the Ten Threats to the Great Lakes is water
withdrawal. Water is taken from the Great Lakes for agriculture,
industry, and public drinking supplies. Lester Graham reports there are
many ways that water is used and shipped out of the Great Lakes basin,
but few are more controversial than bottled water:


(Sound of bottling plant)


I’m watching big clear-blue water bottles, the kind you see on water coolers, are
bouncing along on a conveyer to be washed and then filled with water.
Chuck Swartzle is the President of Besco Water Treatment…


“Uh, we treat it – it’s well water – we treat it, purify it with reverse
osmosis, sanitize it, filter it and bottle it.”


Besco also bottles water in smaller containers, the kind you might buy at
the convenience store.


All of Besco’s customers are within the Great Lakes basin, so the water
will eventually make its way back to the lakes, but some bottlers
distribute water far outside the basin.


One of Pepsico’s Aquafina bottled water plants gets its water from the
Detroit River, which connects the upper Great Lakes to the lower lakes.
Aquafina’s bottled water is distributed inside and outside the basin. That
means Great Lakes water is being trucked away. It’s a net loss of water to the
basin.


That’s not anything new. Water from the Great Lakes basin in the form
of beer from Milwaukee or milk from Minnesota or any of the other
products you can think of that are mostly water are shipped far and wide
and have been for a long time, but some environmentalists say trucking bottled water
away is different. They argue it’s a lot like a recent attempt to take tanker ships
of Lake Superior water to Asia. It’s not like a value-added product that’s made
from water, it’s just water.


Bill Lobenherz is a lobbyist for the Michigan Soft Drink Association.
He says bottled water is a value-added product, just like the many others.


“Indeed, there’s a lot more water in lumber, for example, Christmas
trees, and sometimes a lot less value added to it too. You don’t have to
do that much to cut it and ship it. Cherries, baby food and other non-
consumable products like paint. What about the water we have to put in
the automobile radiators? I really don’t know that there is a distinction
there. It seems to be more of a misplaced perception than it is any kind
of environmental reality.”


“I guess I’m having a hard time getting my head around the difference
shipping water out in a truck-load of bottles and shipping it out by
tanker. What’s the real difference there?”


“I think the difference is that there’s the fear that if it’s by tanker in those
quantities, that it could be abused. If it’s in bottles, it’s really quite
controllable, because there’s so much more value added to put it in small
bottles.”


Not everyone is buying that argument.


Dave Dempsey is the Great Lakes advisor for the environmental group Clean Water Action.
He says the most recent debates about water withdrawals started when that shipping company
planned to take about 156-million gallons a year to Asia. Dempsey says a single new bottled
water plant trucks away even more than that.


“The Nestle’ project, a single project in Michigan that has been sited and
is operating takes 168-million gallons per year. So, the volumes can be
greater in bottles than in tankers.”


But that’s still not that much water compared to other uses.


According to figures in a report by the Great Lakes Commission, the
cities and industries around the Great Lakes withdraw more than 43
billion gallons a day. Much of it is used and returned to the lakes, but
nearly two billion gallons a day is lost. It’s not returned to the lakes
because it evaporates or it’s incorporated into products. Two billion
gallons a day makes the Nestle’ bottled water plant’s 168-million gallons
a year seem minor.


But Dave Dempsey argues there’s a more sinister concern. He believes
if water is treated like any other commodity, large corporations that can
profit from it will begin to horde it, and control it.


“You will hear bottled water companies say that they’re just another user
like a farmer or a manufacturer or even a city water supply, but they’re
not because they’re asserting private ownership of a public resource and
if we essentially allow that by not putting controls on the water-for-sale
industry now, I’m afraid the Great Lakes may become the world’s largest
privately owned reservoir.”


A recent agreement between the states and provinces around the Great
Lakes allows bottled water to be shipped out in bottles as large as five-
gallons, but some environmentalists say that’s a slippery slope. They say
corporations will soon be asking why just five gallons? Why not 55-
gallon barrels? And then, tankers.


The bottling industry says the environmentalists are making a big deal
out of nothing, and would do better spending their time teaching
everyone to conserve water better instead of complaining about someone
in another state quenching their thirst with a bottle of water from the
Great Lakes.


For the GLRC, this is Lester Graham.

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Sewer Districts Seeking Bottle Tax

  • In an effort to leverage more funding for better sewer maintenance, many sewer districts are in support of a plan to tax some kinds of bottled drinks. (Photo by Pam Roth)

Sewage treatment districts are looking for more money to
fund repairs and upgrades to the nation’s sewage systems. One idea they’re discussing is a seven percent tax on many types of bottled beverages. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach
reports:

Transcript

Sewage treatment districts are looking for more money to
fund repairs and upgrades to the nation’s sewage systems. One idea
they’re discussing is a seven percent tax on many types of bottled
beverages. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach
reports:


A group representing 300 sewer districts around the U.S says a Clean
Water Trust Fund is needed for infrastructure projects. Ken Kirk is
Executive Director of the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage
Agencies. He says there isn’t enough public money to maintain the sewers
built
decades ago and reduce sewer overflows into rivers and lakes.


“We’ve gone from a grants program to a state revolving loan
program which is important but gets cut each and every year.”


So Kirk’s group will meet with industry lobbyists in Washington D.C.
this month and talk about other funding sources. One idea is to
create a national tax on all bottled drinks except for milk, juice,
baby formula and health drinks.


Kirk says polling shows people support having a dedicated source of funding for clean water. But a major brewer plans to fight the proposal. Miller Brewing says forty-four percent of the price of its beer already goes to taxes.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

Related Links

Plastic Beer Bottles Concern Recyclers

Midwest recycling leaders are concerned about a beer company’s
plans to use plastic beer bottles nationwide. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach has more:

Transcript

Midwest recycling leaders are concerned
About a beer
Company’s plans to use plastic beer bottles
Nationwide.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck
Quirmbach has the story:


Milwaukee-based Miller Brewing has been test marketing the
plastic beer bottles for about a year. Now, the company says it’s
ready to be the first U.S. brewer to use the plastic bottles
across the country. Solid waste officials say miller has made
the bottle a bit more recycling friendly, but some experts still
don’t want the bottles at recycling centers.


John Reindl is the
recycling manager for Dane County, Wisconsin. He says the amber-colored plastic

Miller would use for some bottles wouldn’t mix
well with the clear or green bottles that dominate the beverage
industry. So Reindl says the amber bottles would have to be
separated from the waste stream.


“That would cost between 5 and 6 cents a pound, which
means we would essentially get no revenue… so that would impose
a greater cost on our taxpayers.”


Reindl says a thin layer of nylon inside the plastic beer bottles
may also cause recycling problems. But Miller contends it’ll try
to recycle and reuse it’s own bottles, much of their supply may
come from states with bottle deposit laws.


For the Great Lakes
Radio Consortium, this is Chuck Quirmbach.