Bottle bill would boost recycling in Maryland

This summer, as I enjoy Maryland's parks, outdoor dining, waterfront areas, bike trails and neighborhood walks, there's one thing that really bums me out: litter.

You know what I'm talking about — the water, soda, beer and sports drink containers that litter our streets and waterways. This summer's bummer is a symptom of a much bigger problem.


Nearly 1 billion recyclable beverage containers will get trashed instead of recycled in Maryland this summer alone. Our low container recycling rate has serious consequences for public health, climate pollution and our quality of life.

As Gov. Martin O'Malley points out in his newly launched comprehensive climate plan, less than 25 percent of our bottles and cans are being recycled. This means more leaky landfills, dirtier air from incinerators, and more litter and litter cleanup costs. Maryland can do better.


Governor O'Malley has rightly included container recycling in his new plan, in the form of a deposit on recyclable beverage containers, commonly referred to as a bottle bill. The plan would get our state to an achievable goal of 80 percent container recycling by 2020.

The 10 states with bottle bills have container recycling rates triple ours and have all seen major reductions in litter. A 2011 impact analysis by the University of Maryland's Environmental Finance Center asserts that "beverage container deposit programs have proven to be the most effective tool for reducing litter."

Reuse and recycling programs are best for society. They are cleaner, safer and less of a drain on natural resources. As the governor explains, "We will set the long term goal of becoming a zero waste state. ... In order to reach our goals, we have to come up with smarter and more innovative and more sustainable ways to deal with our waste."

Maryland should be leading the country in recycling and sustainable waste management, not falling behind as we currently are. While the beverage companies are profiting from an increasingly single-use, throwaway society, taxpayers and local governments are left to pick up their trash, quite literally. We pay the financial and public health costs of the ever-increasing amounts of packaging they produce.

This common-sense law is a simple way to incentivize recycling and reduce litter, and we applaud Mr. O'Malley for taking the first step toward bringing the bottle bill to Maryland. This summer, Maryland PIRG has talked to more than 5,000 people across the state about container recycling, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive — we've collected thousands of signatures in support of the bottle bill.

It won't be easy. Already, special interest lobbyists are putting pressure on the state to back off. It's going to take a lot for Maryland to overcome special interest opposition, so it's important that Marylanders have the governor's back.

Let's all get behind bringing the bottle bill to Maryland to increase recycling, reduce litter — and take the bummer out of next summer.

Emily Scarr is Maryland PIRG state advocate. Her email is