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3.4.2. Beverage Container Deposits

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Savings from Economic Incentives

Like certain other products, beverage containers have been subject to both voluntary and mandatory deposit schemes. The beverage industry formerly made extensive use of voluntary schemes to recover refillable bottles but this practice fell out of favor with the introduction of cheaper "disposable" containers. Predictably, the share of beverage containers sold in refillable bottles fell.

As shown in the table below, ten states have passed "bottle bills" mandating beverage container deposits ranging in magnitude from 2.5 to 15, the most common amount being 5. Beer and soft drinks are subject to deposits in all ten states, mineral water in six states, malt in four states, and wine coolers, liquor, and carbonated mineral water in three states. Michigan includes canned cocktails, New York includes soda water, and Maine includes juices and tea. In most states, deposit requirements apply to the full range of container types, including glass, plastic, aluminum, and steel, but Delaware has exempted aluminum from its requirement.

Most states require retailers to take back containers that are in their product line, even if the container was purchased elsewhere. In Maine, however, retailers located within a certain distance of a certified redemption center are not obliged to take back containers. In addition to retail outlets, "redemption centers" accept containers in most states. Any organization may operate such centers, although certification of the center may be required. Some redemption centers and retailers could earn profits from mandatory handling fees of 1.5 to 3 per container paid by distributors. In most states unclaimed deposits are kept by the distributor.

Not included in the table is a deposit system in effect in Columbia, Missouri since 1982. Under that system, consumers pay deposits of 5 on beer, soft drinks, malt, and carbonated mineral water containers. Although retail stores are required to take back containers, no handling fees are mandated. The overall redemption rate is estimated at 85-95%.

StateYearContainers CoveredRefund Amount% Returned SitesUnclaimed DepositsHandling
CA1987Beer, soft drinks, wine coolers, mineral water2.5 < 24 oz
5 > 24 oz
Aluminum 88%
Glass 76%
PET 50%
Overall 84%
State certified centersProgram admin. grantsPer container
processing fee
CT1980Beer, malt, soft drinks, mineral waterMinimum 5Cans 88%
Bottles 94%
Plastic 70-90%
Retail stores, redemption centersKept by distributor or bottlerBeer 1.5.
soft drinks 2
DE1982Non-aluminum beer, malt, soft drink, mineral water<2qt5Insufficient dataRetail stores, redemption centersKept by distributor or bottler20%
of deposit
IA1979Beer, soft drinks, wine, liquor5Aluminum 95%
Glass 85%
Plastic 70-90%
Retail stores, redemption centersKept by distributor or bottler1
ME1978Beer, soft drink, wine, wine cooler, liquor, juice, water, teaBeer, soft drink, juice 5.
Wine, liquor 15
Beer, soft drink 92%
Spirits 80%
Wine 80%
Juices, non carbonated 75%
Retail stores and redemption centersKept by distributor or bottler 3
MA1983Beer, soft drink, carbonated water5Overall 85%Retail stores and redemption centersState2.25
MI1978Beer, soft drink, canned cocktails, carbonated and mineral waterRefillables 5, nonrefillables 10Overall 93%Retail stores75% environ-mental programs, 25% handling fees25% of
NY1983Beer, soft drink, wine cooler, carbonated mineral water, soda water5Wine cooler 63%
Soft drink 72%
Beer 81%
Retail stores and redemption centersKept by distributor or bottler 1.5
OR1972Beer, malt, soft drink, carbonated mineral waterStandard refillables 3. Others 5Overall 85%Retail storesKept by distributor or bottlerNone
VT1973Soft drink, beer, malt, mineral water, liquorSoft drink, beer 5. liquor 15.Overall 85%Redemption centers. Retail stores.Kept by distributor or bottler3
source: Container Recycling Institute

Beverage container deposits produce both benefits and costs. Littering is reduced, and valuable commodities are recycled, but such systems impose costs on users and on those who must accept returned containers. Porter's cost-benefit analysis of deposit systems suggests that any cost savings from deposit systems are likely to be small.

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