Bottle recycling measure a possibility in state
BY JANET PEARSON Associate Editor
Sunday, January 08, 2012
1/08/12 at 3:52 AM
A toast to all you wine-sipping New Year's revelers residing in the Oral Roberts University vicinity: At the moment, you're the top wine-bottle recyclers in the city.
Unfortunately, these recyclers are the exception rather than the rule around here. Most New Year's celebrants - probably more than 90 percent - already have tossed their beverage containers into the trash, which is a darn shame, considering what large-scale bottle recycling could do for both Oklahoma's environment and its economy.
A week into the new year, the Metropolitan Environmental Trust is seeing an upsurge in glass-bottle recycling at its centers around town, which is what happens every year about this time. "This is our busy season for recycling glass bottles," said Michael Patton, MET director. "The wine drinkers (who recycle) all live near Oral Roberts University because we get a tremendous amount of green glass bottles from that area in the two weeks after New Year's. ... You can tell a lot about a person or a neighborhood or a community by its trash."
Indeed you can. You can tell, for example, that the vast majority of Oklahomans and Tulsans, for whatever reasons, aren't motivated to recycle, despite mounting evidence on the extraordinary values of recycling. Various estimates put recycling rates in this area well under 10 percent.
That could be about to change. Several developments in recent years, Patton believes, will lead to a "paradigm shift" in this region resulting in much more extensive recycling.
One of the changes is Tulsa's plan to restructure its refuse-collection system, which leaders say will increase local recycling activity tenfold.
Another is a continuing effort statewide to adopt a "bottle bill" that would allow Oklahomans to receive some money back - perhaps a nickel a bottle - when returning beverage bottles for recycling.
"This bill will change everything," said Patton. "People will no longer see empty bottles as trash, but as cash. Children will start collecting them for spending money. Low-income groceries will be able to make some extra money and help their customers at the same time. Even hotel maids will have some extra income from tourists."
Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, is pushing a bottle bill at the behest of a Sapulpa glass plant that could reduce manufacturing costs through such a measure.
McCullough recently conducted a study session at which experts extolled the values and virtues of bottle recycling.
"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," McCullough said in a press release after the session.
"This is not a Sierra Club bill or an idea from someone with a big-government approach to problem-solving," he added. "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."
Patton told the study panel that states that have adopted bottle bills have an average redemption rate of 84 percent. In Michigan, which has a 10-cent redemption fee, the redemption rate is a whopping 97 percent.
Under the concept that's been eyed in Oklahoma for several years, customers would be charged an extra 5 cents per beverage container at the time of purchase. When they return the empty bottle, they get their nickel back. When bottles aren't returned, the unredeemed nickle goes into a state fund that could help fund recycling activities or even other state functions.
Redemption can be handled in a variety of ways. In some states, stores take on the duties. Entrepreneurs also have gotten into the business because there's money to be made. And there are even vending machines into which recyclers can deposit empty bottles and receive a receipt for cash.
Industry sources estimate that of the 2.4 billion glass beverage containers sold annually in Oklahoma, 1.8 billion of them end up in landfills.
When plastic bottles are added into the statistics, the total soars far higher. Patton estimates that each Oklahoman uses 1.5 bottles each day - either glass, plastic or both - bringing the total bottle usage a day to an astounding 5.6 million.
If most of those bottles were recycled instead of tossed, it would help support a growing industry, control manufacturing costs, reduce litter, protect the environment, and extend the lifespan of the state's 41 landfills.
According to the industry, there are 48 glass plants in 22 states - a $5.5 billion industry that processes 30 billion glass containers per year. Oklahoma has three glass plants, employing about 1,000 residents.
As rosy as the bottle-bill idea seems, there is opposition. Some retailers would not want to take on redemption programs because of storage issues. McCullough said he would not support forcing retailers to accept redeemed bottles, adding that the "robust market" and market incentives for recycling "will readily generate a cottage industry of vendors who will accept the recycled containers and pay the redemptions."
Another critic told the panel that redemption laws could have high start-up costs and cause problems for stores located near state borders.
Obviously these concerns should be addressed, and McCullough promised to try to address any potential problems.
We've got a ways to go before we can claim we're turning green, but we're off to a good start. Let's keep the discussion going.
Original Print Headline: All bottled up
Janet Pearson 918-581-8328
A worker sorts glass bottles at the M.E.T. Recycling Center in Tulsa. Tulsa World file