Bottle Bill History

In The Beginning
The first beverage container deposit law was passed in Oregon in 1972. Between 1972 and 1983, eight other states passed what have come to be known as 'traditional' deposit laws. These policies were enacted largely in response to the growth of one-way or 'disposable' aluminum and glass beverage containers that were usurping market share from the once dominant 'refillable' glass beverage container, and contributing to litter. Not surprisingly, these schemes were modeled on the refundable deposit systems utilized by private sector beer and soft drink bottlers for the first two-thirds of the 20th century in order to ensure return of bottles for refilling.

Under these 'bottle bills,' beverage retailers assess a 'deposit' on consumers, typically a nickel. And that deposit is 'refunded' when the beverage container is returned to a retailer. It's important to note that these programs were envisioned and adopted long before curbside recycling made it's debut in the early 1980's.

Throughout the late 1970's and early 1980's, environmentalists in California actively pursued a 'traditional' bottle bill. During this same period, private and non-profit recycling programs began to proliferate in the state. It's revealing to note, that when a statewide ballot initiative to enact a traditional bottle bill was narrowly defeated in 1982, a significant factor was the opposition to the proposal by many private sector recyclers who feared that the 'bottler-based' return system would undermine their growing recycling businesses.

It was in this context that environmental groups, local government officials, and private sector recyclers worked to develop a different kind of bottle bill. One that complimented, rather than competed with existing private and non-profit recycling programs. And one that would actually support the fledgling 'curbside recycling' programs that were sprouting in many California cities.

California Gets Its Bottle Bill
In 1986, with the support of environmentalists, recyclers, retailers, the beverage industry, local governments and others, California enacted their unique 'Bottle Bill' program as it was adopted by the State Legislature as AB 2020 (Margolin).

Under the California law, a 'redemption value' is assessed on beverage distributors on beverage sales to retailers and paid to the State. This cost is generally added to the price of the product (often known as a deposit fee) and passed along to consumers.

The revenue is then paid to public, private and non-profit recyclers on a monthly basis for beverage containers accepted for recycling. In order to participate in the program, a recycler must agree to accept all beverage types.

Under the system, consumers have several recycling options. They can return containers for recycling and receive the redemption value at either a supermarket-based recycling center or any of the other privately operated recycling centers. Alternatively, they can 'donate' the containers to a non-profit recycling program which then receives the redemption value. Finally, they can leave the containers in their curbside recycling program. And while they may forego the direct payment of redemption value under this option, the redemption value is retained by the curbside recycling program where the revenue is used to help offset the cost of providing the curbside recycling service.

While the program does require most large beverage retailers to either take containers back inside the store or establish parking lot-based recycling centers, it's interesting to note that from the beginning, most beverage container recycling (55% to 65%) has occurred at pre-existing private sector recycling centers. The supermarket-based recyclers account for about 25% of beverage container recycling, while the balance was about 15% to 20%, is handled by curbside recyclers.