In her commentary, "Bottle bill would boost recycling in Md." (Aug. 1), Emily Scarr argues that a bottle deposit bill is a "common-sense" solution to promoting recycling and reducing litter.
Ms. Scarr couldn't be further from reality.
While the bottle deposit scheme sounds simple — assess Marylanders a fee, say 5 or 10 cents on every bottle or can of water, soda, beer or juice they buy — it opens up a world of unintended consequences that ultimately leads to a more expensive and more complicated recycling system for Maryland. These are consequences that Ms. Scarr hasn't yet thought through.
We can all agree we need to recycle more, but how we recycle has a major impact on both the environment and our economy.
Broad-based recycling efforts, enhanced through the deployment of best practices such as variable rate trash pricing (pay as you throw), single stream collection, same-day-as-trash collection, and effective education promise far greater recycling and greenhouse gas benefits without the negative environmental consequences of a bottle deposit.
Simply put, the bottle deposit scheme is an old idea, and we have better ways to recycle now. With the exception of Hawaii, not a single state has adopted a mandatory bottle deposit law since the mid-1980s. As a matter of fact, Delaware repealed their deposit law, and other states are looking to do the same.
Here's why bottle deposits add hassle and expense to recycling:
•It boosts fuel emissions by requiring individuals to transport empty containers to redemption locations. Available research suggests that redemption often involves incremental travel and, therefore, incremental vehicle emissions, fuel consumption and time. The redemption scheme proposed for Maryland would rely almost exclusively on dedicated redemption centers, to which consumers would have to make special trips to redeem containers. Based on a draft state-funded study in Vermont, Maryland consumers would likely drive more than 70 million miles per year in dedicated travel simply to return containers.
•Requires a heavy investment in infrastructure and commercial vehicles to collect empty containers from redemption locations and transport them to processing facilities. Transportation infrastructure must be developed to collect material from redemption centers and any retail redemption sites; this infrastructure does not exist today and would all represent incremental travel and emissions. Ironically, this infrastructure duplicates the capabilities of the existing residential and commercial recycling systems.
•Competes with existing curbside recycling programs in Maryland counties that rely on the revenue from beverage container material. Existing recycling programs would continue with the same vehicles, routes, mileage, and emissions. Unfortunately, those programs would be handling less material making the routes less efficient and the programs would cost more because of the loss of commodity value from aluminum and PET. This lost revenue was the key reason why Maryland counties and municipalities united in opposition to deposit legislation in 2013.
•Levies yet another tax on residents and threatens local jobs. Maryland's porous borders with four neighboring states and the District of Columbia, none of which have deposit laws, would present a huge problem. Marylanders would find it easy enough to cross a nearby state border to make their beverage purchases and avoid the bottle deposit burden which would mean lost tax receipts to Maryland and fewer jobs for residents. At the same time, residents of neighboring states would bring containers to Maryland for refunds so we would be paying to handle their bottles and cans.
A deposit system would not complement our existing curbside recycling system. It would instead undercut curbside recycling's effectiveness and efficiency. Furthermore, the incremental benefits of deposits over an optimized curbside system are almost negligible and come at enormous marginal costs. The draft Vermont study found that adding deposits to a statewide single stream curbside system would double the cost of recycling in the state while adding 8 percent more tonnage and 3 percent additional greenhouse gas emission. These are poor returns on investment for doubling the cost of recycling to consumers and taxpayers.
Earlier this year, a group pushed a bottle deposit proposal before Maryland's legislature. Legislators failed to move the proposal forward with a consensus view that curbside recycling is not only effective, but popular and widely available — 90 percent of Marylanders have access to curbside recycling.
Indeed, there are smarter ways to recycle, unfortunately, the idea du jour is the bottle deposit, which isn't one of them.
Ellen Valentino, Annapolis
The writer is executive vice president of the Maryland-Delaware-DC Beverage Association.