About The Michigan Container Act

People visiting America from Europe were shocked to find containers strewn along our roadsides and piling up in the state's landfills. In response to both the internal and external criticism, Ladybird Johnson, wife of President Johnson, initiated a campaign aimed at beautifying the highways and roadways of America. "Don't Be A Litterbug" became the battle cry of Americans who despaired over trash thoughtlessly strewn out car windows and bags of trash dropped along roads by uncaring citizens. Ten years later, a movement to reduce roadside litter, clean up the environment and conserve energy and natural resources gained momentum. The words "No Deposit, No Return," found on most beverage containers sold in Michigan were permanently changed on December 3, 1978.

In 1965, the first bottle bill was introduced in the state legislature. Bills were introduced every year for the next nine years, but the lobbying efforts of the beverage industry prevented a hearing before either house of the legislature. In 1973, Governor William Milliken brought the bottle bill back into the public view by announcing his support. Despite a 1975 Market Opinion Research poll showing public support at 73-85 percent, the bottle bill remained bottled up in the House Appropriations Committee during the 1976 legislative session.

Michigan United Conservation Clubs (a National Wildlife Federation affiliate representing 400 conservation and sportsmens groups) embarked on a petition drive to place the measure on the November ballot. They joined forces with the Michigan Farm Bureau, League of Women Voters and other organizations forming Help Abolish Throwaways (HAT). The coalition launched a six-week petition drive, and Governor Milliken, who signed the first petition, gave Rick Jamison (now Executive Director of MUCC) a leave of absence to lead the effort. The petition drive was the most successful in the state's history. At the end of six weeks, 400,000 signatures were collected, nearly double the number required.

Soft drink bottlers, brewers, retailers, and labor unions united to form a coalition called Committee Against Forced Deposits (CAFD). They waged a media campaign that knocked the 73 percent public support rating down to 59 percent by October. They knew that the costs associated with handling used containers and recycling them would force them to raise prices on beverages, and could eat into the profits of their business. Their statistics showed that only 2.9% of the landfill trash was comprised of containers that could be reused.

The HAT coalition emphasized the grassroots support and promoted the benefits of a deposit system. The coalition raised money to promote the referendum (Proposal A), and Michigan United Conservation Clubs collected a record 400,000 signatures in order to place the bottle bill, known as Proposal A, on the November 1976 ballot. More citizens cast votes on the bottle bill that year than for President. When all was said and done, 64 percent of the voting public approved the 10-cent deposit on soda and beer cans. Michigan was the first industrial state to enact a bottle deposit law and has the most successful law of the ten deposit states. This is primarily due to the fact that Michigan has the highest deposit amount for containers: 10-cents.

Reduced Litter

Although litter reduction may not be the most important benefit derived from the bottle law, it was the driving force for its passage and a good way to measure its success. Michigan's high refund value virtually eliminated beverage container litter statewide.

According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, beer and soft drink containers comprised 17 percent of all roadside litter before the bottle law, and only 4 percent ten years after its enactment. Bottle and can litter dropped 80 percent in Michigan, resulting in a 38 percent reduction in total roadside litter.

Also, according to the Center for Marine Conservation's annual international coastal cleanup records, Michigan consistently has the lowest percentage of bottle and can litter on its beaches nationwide.

Increased Recycling

Perhaps the most important result of the bottle bill was the increase in recycling and the decrease in solid waste. Michigan has the highest redemption rate in the country, diverting more than 600,000 tons of refuse annually from landfills. Currently 98.4 percent of the deposit containers purchased in Michigan are returned for a deposit, which is higher than the average recovery rate for the other ten bottle deposit states that only get 80 percent of their bottles returned.

Although disposing of solid waste is not a big problem in Michigan communities because of the vast amount of available land and efficient and safe landfill practices, the bottle bill has reduced Michigan's solid waste stream by 7 percent, which saved Michigan citizens approximately a lot of money. Additionally, if the containers are actually reused and recycled it can generate a tremendous savings of raw materials, including metal, packaging, and other resources. While recycling is by no means free, savings can occur because it takes usually takes less energy to reuse and recycle containers than it does to manufacture new containers from raw materials. Making a new can from a used can requires only 5 percent of the energy it takes to manufacture the same cans from raw materials. The energy lost in the aluminum cans discarded across the nation last year alone could light the city of Atlanta for four years. Recycling paper and plastics do not offer the same huge advantages.

While recycling saves energy, there are other costs associated with the process that are not always considered. For example, to handle just the collection and recycling of beer and soda containers in Michigan supermarkets, trash collectors and manufacturers had to hire thousands of people to manage the workload. The cost of employing those people was passed along to the consumer. The privilege of drinking a can of soda is fairly high in relation to the cost of the soda itself.

Because of the bottle bills widespread public support, a citizen initiative was launched to add wine coolers and mixed spirits to the list of containers included under the deposit law. This action prompted the Legislature to adopt its own wine cooler deposit bill in October of 1986, which went into effect June 1, 1989.

Unclaimed Deposits

Just as with the bottle bill 13 years earlier, Michigan United Conservation Clubs undertook another petition drive in 1989 because the Legislature had steadfastly refused to address an important issue. This time citizens were signing a petition so that unclaimed beverage container deposit money could be used for cleaning up the environment. Unclaimed deposits are the dimes lost due to bottles and cans being broken, misplaced, thrown away, or carried out of the state.

In 1989 the Legislation amended the Bottle Deposit Law in to provide for recovery of unclaimed bottle deposits being retained by the beverage industry. The amendment directs 25 percent of all unclaimed dimes to the distributor to pay for additional costs, and the remaining 75 percent for environmental programs, such as pollution prevention and contaminated site clean up and redevelopment. Since the passage of this law, unclaimed deposits have generated nearly $38 million that could be used for the benefit of the environment.

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