Students clean Paint Branch Creek, raise awareness for state 'bottle bill'

Members of Maryland Public Interest Research Group pick up trash near Paint Branch Trail on Saturday, October 11, 2014. From left to right, Nivea Magalhaes, Anna Seo, and Salina Liller.

October 13, 2014

University students volunteered their time Saturday afternoon to collect trash and clean the Paint Branch Campus Creek to raise awareness for the proposed state “bottle bill,” which would offer residents a 5-cent redeemable deposit for each bottle or can they recycle.

The Maryland Public Interest Research Group and environmental science and technology department’s RESTORE society sponsored the semiannual event, which attracted more than 40 volunteers despite the rainy weather.

“In the past what we’ve done is gone and collected everything we can and throw the bottles and cans that would be covered under a bottle bill into a big, huge pile so that everyone who walks by can see how many we collected,” said Rob Swam, president of MaryPIRG and a senior environmental science and technology major. “At the end we total it all up to see how much money we would have had if the Bottle Bill was in effect.”

State Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Md.) proposed the bottle bill under the name Statewide Container Recycling Refund Program in 2013. After it was read in committee, it died without a vote, but Frosh is reintroducing the bill. 

Similar bills have been enacted in 10 states. Sen. Frosh’s bill would introduce a new element to recycling — It would provide a monetary incentive for people to return cans, bottles and other containers.

Last year, the group could have made $70 from the number of cans and bottles they collected from the creek’s edge if a bottle bill was in place, Swam said. In addition to containers, the volunteers gathered trash and paper and even a hubcap and a Jimmy Choo purse.

“It’s ridiculous that the bottle bill isn’t in Maryland,” said Sofia D’Ambrosio, president of RESTORE and a junior environmental science and technology major. “It’s such an easy way to encourage people to recycle and an easy way to get money.”

According to the Department of the Environment and the Office of Sustainability, this state maintains a recycling rate of 45.4 percent, much lower than this university’s 78 percent rate.

This state’s recycling rate is also lower than those of states with a bottle collection bill enacted.

In states with a bottle collection bill enacted, such as New York, redemption rates are more than 20 percent higher than this state’s recycling rates.

Other than improving recycling rates, a bottle bill could prevent litter, help the environment, create jobs, complement curbside recycling, produce high-quality recyclable materials and encourage producer and consumer responsibility, according to the Bottle Bill Resource Guide.

Prior to the creation of the can in the 1930s, the beverage industry crafted a deposit-refund system to guarantee customers would return their glass bottles so they could be washed, refilled and resold, according to the Bottle Bill Resource Guide.

The deposit-refund system is associated with a small payment to the redeemer and a charge of 1 to 3 cents to help cover the cost of handling the bottles and cans, according to the Bottle Bill Resource Guide.

“I think it’s really stupid that we don’t have it, and I think it’s stupid that people are against it,” said Grace Davis, MaryPIRG university sustainability campaign co-coordinator and a junior environmental and science policy major. “It has a lot of benefits, and it’s been proven to work in the 10 other states that use it.”