by Jacqueline Brook
What is the purpose of a bottle bill? Is it really an anti-litter bill? Because the number of cans and bottles deposited along our roadways never seems to change. Although, granted, many of the containers are alcoholic—the disposal of evidence of drinking and driving. A bottle bill will not change that. And if someone is disposing of soda cans and water bottles by hurling them from their car window, they have a screw loose. The people who do that probably learned that kind of behavior in childhood; it is totally ingrained. A bottle bill is unlikely to be curative.
I proposed the idea once that people who are arrested for drunk driving should be sentenced to cleaning up our roadways, standing over a bucket of water, rinsing out all of the containers, and then recycling them properly. It’s a lot of hard work. A good penalty, I think. As long as no one else was hurt during the drunk driving episode.
The main thing that I noticed after the last bottle bill was that a lot of the small print that used to be on cans and bottles, telling you whether a deposit was due back to you, disappeared. I just went through my recycling bin for containers for which I think I might get a deposit back. The Pepsi, Coke, and hard cider cans have no such information on them. Only the tonic water bottles have that small print.
Have the legislators sat down with people from companies like Casella to find out how recycling is done, how much is actually recycled? It’s my understanding that it’s actually a very small percentage of what we think is being recycled. Everything has to be sorted perfectly and there can be no mixed materials.
If there is a label on a container that can only be removed with chemicals and lots of scraping, is that container recyclable? And who takes the time to do that?
If I order a sandwich at a counter in a restaurant and reach into the drinks fridge beside the counter for a bottle, can I stand in line at the counter a second time and expect to get my nickel or dime back? Should I go into the bathroom first and rinse my bottle in the sink, before standing in line a second time? If there is the residue of a sticky juice left inside a plastic bottle, is that recyclable? There is likely to be a recycling container in the restaurant, but if I just toss my bottle or can into it, then I lose the nickel or dime I likely paid on top of the drink price. And what about lids? It seems like a no-brainer (to me) to remove a metal lid from a glass bottle before tossing it into a recycling bin. But, what about plastic lids? Are they even recycled? And if someone at Casella has to be paid to stand around all day and unscrew plastic lids from plastic bottles, are those containers really being recycled?
The waste management center on Ferry Rd. in Brattleboro, in my experience, has never offered clear information about recyclables. The last time I went looking for that information on their website—which I thought should’ve been in detail and right up front on the very first page—I would have had to have taken the time to look up every single item separately, via a drop-down menu, to find out what can and cannot go into their main recycling bin. Yeah. There’s a button at the top of their website page for an A-Z Disposal Guide. It’s alphabetical, and it goes on for 23 pages. Oh! my mistake. There is a page that goes into great detail about what can and cannot go into the main recycling bin. You have to click on 2 buttons to get to it. There’s a “Recycling” button on the main page. And then, in small print, on the left side of the next page, you have to click on the words “What to recycle.” Then you arrive at a detailed list of dos and don’ts. Well, excellent! I’m glad I finally found that. I’ll have to print that out and stick it on my fridge. It’s a lot to remember.
That facility did find a pathway for recycling glass and they did have a dedicated bin for a while. They also had a very clear sign on the bin saying: “No plastic bags. No corks. No lids.” Things like that. Sadly, very few people in the area can read and comprehend such simple words, apparently. There was always stuff in the bin that shouldn’t have been there. People who drink wine apparently can’t remove corks from bottles or metal sleeves from their necks. That’s somewhat understandable. But, to not be able to unscrew a metal lid from a jar? Anyway, it became too expensive to pay someone to sort it all out. Even more likely, the minute a bin is contaminated with stuff that shouldn’t be in it, no recycling is done at all. The effort was finally shut down. That glass bin disappeared.
I think, to make a bottle bill successful, for whatever purpose it is intended, a full-page ad would have to be run weekly in all of Vermont’s local papers. Or a mailing would have to be done to every resident, clearly laying out all the dos and don’ts, what containers have deposits on them that can be clawed back somewhere, where that deposit can be gotten, does one need to spend extra time and gas to go to a different location than the dump, etc. That mailing would probably have to be done more than once. Half of the circulars, for any mailing, would probably get tossed, unread, in recycling bins along with the tons of junk mail that we all receive. And then there is the problem of all the people who just cannot read simple words like “No corks. No lids.”
So, I wonder if bottle bills are just another instance of feel-good political theater that really serve little purpose.
The author is a Putney resident.