Do I return or recycle containers?

One of the most discouraging things I see in Recycling Bins when I walk around town is returnable bottles and cans. Those are the bottles and cans for which we pay a deposit when we purchase them.

The Maine “Bottle Bill” program began in 1978. Over the years, the bottle bill has evolved into a successful recycling program for glass, metal, and plastic beverage containers which reduces litter, conserves resources, and saves energy. The program now includes:

1. a 15¢ refundable deposit on spirits and wine beverage containers, and

2. a 5¢ refundable deposit on beer, hard cider, wine coolers, soda, or noncarbonated water beverage containers, and alcoholic or noncarbonated drinks sold in the State.

Beverages that are NOT covered under the Bottle Bill:

1. Milk, dairy-derived products

2. Maine-produced apple cider and blueberry juice

3. Seafood, meat or vegetable broths or soups

4. Instant drink powders

5. Products designed to be consumed in a frozen state

6. Liquid syrups, concentrates or extracts

When we return these containers to a redemption center, of which I know of at least three in Brunswick, the deposit is returned to us. The redemption center is then paid by the original distributors for the deposits they return, plus three or four cents per bottle for the processing, and then they recycle the collected containers.

When you put a returnable into the recycle bin, you not only throw away the deposits, but you also cost the town money to have the items collected, processed, and then recycled along with all the other items collected at the curb. Returnables can cost us all as much as $120/ton by the time they have been collected and sorted by our recycling processor. Glass returnables, in addition, are handled by our recycler like any other glass objects, so they actually do not get recycled at all , but are sent to a landfill, at an additional cost to the Town’s taxpayers, as I noted in an earlier column.

When we redeem these items, they get immediately sorted at the redemption centers, so the materials have no contamination, and have a higher value to a recycler. There should never be a returnable container in your recycle bin!

If you really don’t care about getting the deposit back, all of these redemption centers have programs through which you can just leave your returnables, and they will donate your refund to any of several local charities of your choosing. You could also just call those charities and ask them to pick up the bottles and cans, drop them off at the charity (several around town even have wooden collection boxes set out for that purpose), or offer a neighborhood kid the money they can get for taking them back.

For more information on the Bottle Law, see the Maine DEP website.

Harry Hopcroft is a member of the Brunswick Recycling & Sustainability Committee.

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