OKLAHOMA CITY (October 26, 2011) – Creating a state recycling program that allows Oklahomans to redeem money when beverage bottles are returned for recycling could have a significant impact on litter in the state, experts told lawmakers this week.
“It appears passage of a ‘bottle bill’ in Oklahoma could create an incentive for people to recycle bottles instead of putting them in the trash, aiding existing industry in our state while also reducing litter,” said state Rep. Mark McCullough, a Sapulpa Republican who requested the study. “There are still some details that must be addressed, but today’s study showed this idea has great promise.”
McCullough said he and others have worked on the issue for the past three years and he conducted the study to gather information from as many viewpoints as possible.
“This is not a Sierra Club bill or an idea from someone with a big-government approach to problem-solving,” McCullough said. “Instead, this is a market-driven proposal brought to me by the manager of a local glass plant. It seems the time is ripe to use market forces to reduce litter in our state while helping existing plants in Oklahoma better compete nationally and internationally.”
Michael Patton, an official with the Metropolitan Environment Trust in Tulsa, noted that litter is a big issue in Oklahoma and said the proposal could help reduce that problem.
Where “bottle bills” have been implemented, he said the average redemption rate is 84 percent. In comparison, just 4 percent of containers are recycled in Oklahoma today.
Steven Segebarth, an official with St. Gobain Containers, noted that glass packaging is now a national industry that would benefit from increased recycling efforts. He said there are 48 glass plants in 22 states comprising a $5.5 billion industry and those facilities handle 30 billion glass containers per year.
Such facilities employ 18,000 individuals nationally, including 1,000 in Oklahoma, Segebarth said. Unfortunately, he said estimates indicate 1.8 billion of the 2.4 billion beverage containers now sold annually in Oklahoma wind up in landfills instead of being recycled.
Mike Smaha, an official with Owens-Illinois Glass, told lawmakers his company obtains 80 percent of their recyclable material from “bottle bill” states.
And Fenton Rood, an official with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, noted there are now 41 landfills in Oklahoma that are rapidly filling.
At the same time, there are now three glass plants and three paper plants in Oklahoma that would benefit from a more robust recycling program that would reduce landfill challenges.
However, some opponents raised concerns about implementing a “bottle bill” law in Oklahoma.
Jim Griffith, CEO of OnCue Express, told lawmakers that most retailers have limited space in their stores and cannot handle the challenge of storing bottles returned for redemption.
McCullough said he would not support any bill forcing retailers to act as collection agents.
“I do not support forcing retailers to become trash collectors for the state and, fortunately, we are way beyond the point where that is necessary. Modern recycling redemption models left the idea of forced participation by retailers in the dust a long time ago,” McCullough said. “Today, there is definitely a robust market for recycled commodities and market incentives will readily generate a cottage industry of vendors who will accept the recycled containers and pay the redemptions.”
Another critic, Kevin S. Dietly, an official with distributor Northbridge Environmental, said “bottle bill” laws could involve significant implementation costs and disrupt sales. He said a 1999 study in Kentucky projected that a “bottle bill” would reduce sales at border stores by 4.6 percent.
Overall, McCullough noted that manufacturers liked the proposal while distributors opposed it – an “interesting and ironic situation.” However, while there was disagreement on some issues, there was broad agreement on others, he noted.
“There is a significance divergence on what the actual impact of a recycling program would be on distributors and consumer behavior,” McCullough said. “But the one thing everyone agrees on is that it would reduce litter.”
Overall, the Sapulpa lawmaker was pleased the study included significant participation from a diverse group of experts on both sides of this issue.
“The purpose of this study was to gather information on the feasibility of implementing a state-wide beverage container recycling program utilizing a refundable container assessment,” McCullough said. “It’s clear that there would be benefits to such a program, but we will have to address some of the potential problems to ensure there is buy-in from as many constituencies as possible.”