The bottle bill and farmers

Annual farm losses directly related to damage from bottles and cans tossed from passing cars averaged $938 in PA. Senate Bill 2220 would help eliminate the damage to livestock, crops and equipment.

By Larry Breech, president of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union

Every year more than 114 billion single-serve beverage containers made of aluminum, plastic and glass become waste or litter in the US. Meanwhile, the number of containers being recycled is dropping fast.

In states like ours, where there are no deposits on bottles, only about 10 percent of plastic bottles are recycled. That means 9 out of 10 bottles are buried or burned as waste. More than half of all aluminum cans also are wasted.

In our heavily agricultural state, beverage containers tossed from car windows onto farmers’ fields present special problems. Dairy cows suffer lacerated organs—and die—after chewing on cans. Plastic containers are ground up in harvesters, contaminating hay, feed and vegetable crops, causing millions of dollars in damage.

The beverage industry knows how to solve this: bottle bills. The 10 states with bills requiring deposits on containers recycled more containers than the remaining 40 states put together.

There’s a way that Pennsylvanians can become part of this bottle-bill effort.

The National Beverage Producer Responsibility Act, S. 2220, sponsored by U.S. Sen. James M. Jeffords (I., Vt.) provides a new approach to container recycling. It addresses the concerns of the industry without compromising the public interest.

The Pennsylvania Farmers Union supports this bill because it would place a value—10 cents—on beverage containers, dramatically reducing the number being tossed onto roadsides, fields and city streets. Not many people would toss dimes from their car windows; and if they did, others would likely pick them up. This effort could provide fund-raising projects for groups such as the Scouts and 4H clubs.

What’s new about Jeffords’ proposal is that it sets a performance standard that the industry must meet—80 percent recovery, the level currently achieved in most of the 10 bottle-bill states. The proposal also allows the industry the freedom to design the most efficient deposit-return program to reach that standard.

By providing beverage companies the flexibility to structure and operate their own container-recovery programs, this legislation takes advantage of container distribution and handling systems already in effect, allowing more efficient handling of returned beverage containers without adding administrative costs.

A national bottle bill would create jobs, reduce litter, save energy and protect the environment. Iowa reports that as a result of its bottle bill, 1,200 jobs have been created. If every state had a deposit-return system, a total of about 100,000 jobs could be created.

Existing beverage container recycling programs reduce landfill space by 20 million cubic yards a year, or roughly enough to fill Veterans Stadium during an Eagles game about 40 times.

But the real benefits are in energy and pollution reductions.

By weight, aluminum cans are a small part of the waste stream; but they represent 14 percent of the potential energy present in municipal waste. Recycling saves 65 percent of the energy required to make new cans from bauxite ore and other raw materials. If processed correctly, recycled cans could provide an enormous energy source.

Recycling glass and certain kinds of plastic bottles results in energy savings of about 10 percent and 50 percent, respectively. Reduced energy and raw materials consumption also means a reduction in pollution from manufacturing: pollution that causes acid rain, smog, global warming and mercury-poisoned lakes and streams.

A survey of 189 readers of Pennsylvania Farmer magazine, randomly selected, indicates that 98 percent favored a returnable container law. Beverage containers discarded on their property made up the overwhelming majority of the litter.

Livestock deaths, crop losses, feed contamination, equipment damage and other factors bring the average litter-related loss in Pennsylvania to an estimated $938 per farm. There is little a community can do about drought or disaster, but we can do something positive about litter from beverage containers by supporting Jeffords’ bill.