The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 12, 2014

Our View: Recycling convenience comes with price

WHY IT MATTERS: The bottle fee is again re-emerging at the Legislature and we need to weigh in on how far we will go for convenience


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Minnesota lawmakers are considering a proposed 10-cent fee for bottles and cans in an effort to increase recycling volume that has been relatively stagnant.

Whether it is this proposal or some other, we need a solution.

In the recent past, there were generations who lived by the philosophy of “waste not, want not.” Those were during earlier hard economic times and necessity forced us to patch, repair, use and re-use as many items as we could until they fell apart.

Some generations today even take pride in the fact that they can squeeze all the available life out of a product before having to throw it away.

But times have changed.

With modernization and increased productivity we can churn out products more cheaply and make them available for more people to enjoy and consume.

But there is a tradeoff. With such convenience came a whole workforce that fell aside. Businesses that repaired shoes, televisions, clocks and even computer printers could not be sustained. Icemen and milkmen are almost fanciful figments of imagination for some. It is now easier and cheaper to buy new than fix something up.

But with convenience came responsibility. Waste facilities started to mount and trash hills became mountains. Municipalities began expanding their solid waste disposal services to handle such throwaway products until it became socially and environmentally unacceptable to be so conspicuously and unconsciously wasteful.

With our newfound conscience, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, solid waste per person peaked in 2000 and the recycling rate has increase from 10 percent of waste in 1980 to 34 percent in 2011.

But this government service comes with a government cost. And that’s where we are now. With increasing demand that governments find ways to reduce costs, Minnesota is looking to reduce its cost of recycling and put the burden elsewhere.

In preparation for a public hearing this week, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said the state’s recycling rate has been stuck at 45 percent and state officials would like that to hit 80 percent.

According to the MPCA study, the proposal may include charging consumers 10-cents on any beverage container less than a gallon. The money would be refunded at nonprofit collection centers, one in each county at least. Businesses could participate voluntarily and even “reverse vending machines” could be installed.

Reportedly this move would bring about 77 percent of beverage containers available in the marketplace that could be collected.

Besides saving government money, proponents of the bottle fee argue that energy consumption would be cut and jobs would be created, especially in the recycling-related businesses.

Critics warn that consumers would consume less and the burden of costly sanitary storage would fall unfairly on businesses. Other lobbyists told the Star-Tribune that the state already is a leader in recycling “without the onerous bottle deposit system.”’

The news organization also reported that current waste and recycling haulers could lose $4.6 million in revenue resulting in the loss of jobs.

Paul Gardner, executive director of Recycling Reinvented in Shoreview, said the report was “typical of the many tradeoffs in recycling. Everyone wants the benefits but not the costs.”

There are indeed tradeoffs and with them come responsibilities. Convenience comes with a price whether it is environmental or out of the wallet. The discussions coming next week and in the future will help us prioritize how much we are willing to pay for our convenience.

Other view on this topic:

“Minnesota has the chance to have a world-class system. If you imagine buying a 24-pack of soda, your price would go up 14 cents on average, that is if the beverage producers decided to pass all of their (new deposit) costs onto you, the consumer.”

Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute in California