09/16/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

It's Time For Deposits. On Everything.


In 1953, the State of Vermont passed the nation's first bottle bill banning the sale of beer in non-refillable bottles. That same year, a group of businessmen from the bottlers and packaging industry got together and founded "Keep America Beautiful." By the seventies, their success in selling disposable containers could be seen everywhere, literally. So they pumped up the volume, hired an italian guy who looked vaguely Indian, and picked the tag line "People Start Pollution, People Can Stop It", and effectively shifted responsibility for their product from the producer to the citizen, and ultimately through the cost of collection, dumping or recycling, the taxpayer and government. Ever since then, it has somehow become ingrained in our culture that it is our job to pick up after the producers, to deal with their waste.

It doesn't have to be this way. In Canada, 97% of beer bottles are returned to the beer stores and refilled. In France, a wine bottle gets reused about eight times. A strong deposit and return system gets ingrained in the culture as easily as putting it in the blue box. So why not put a deposit on everything?

People say they are so concerned about the mercury in compact fluorescent bulbs getting into the landfills. So put a 25 cent deposit on them and have people bring them back. People do have to replace them so what is the hassle?

Americans throw out 2.5 billion batteries every year, which are the source of 80% of the mercury in the waste stream; put a 25 cent deposit on every battery and you can bet they won't be in the waste stream any longer. It's not a big deal; if you don't lose your batteries then you really only pay the deposit once.

In our cities, the street cleaners spend much of their time picking up coffee cups and takeout waste. The big externality in the convenient takeout coffee is the civic expense of picking it up. So lets make it Starbucks' responsibility- put a deposit on every coffee cup that goes out the door.

Recycling on the taxpayers nickel as we do it now not the answer, it is time for producer responsibility and zero waste. Put a deposit on everything from automobiles to small appliances to hamburger clamshells to water bottles to coffee cups and see how much less garbage we have about.

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