How to Increase Plastic Bottle Recycling

If it's not easy to recycle something, is it really recyclable?

That's a fair question to ask, since we consumers are constantly being reassured that a product is "green" or "greener" because it is "recyclable" -- even when, in reality, the product is barely being recycled at all. It's also a great question to ask following America Recycles Day, the November 15 event that promotes recycling but gives little lip service to reducing waste.

Consider single-use plastic water bottles. Companies that manufacture the billions of plastic water bottles flooding the market claim the product is "eco friendly" because the bottles are recyclable.

In reality, only 12% of the 15 billion throwaway water bottles manufactured each year are being recycled. As a result, 40 million plastic bottles are thrown into the trash or otherwise become litter -- every day. And the millions of gallons of petroleum used to manufacture and transport those bottles? That pretty much goes down the tubes, too.

What's the best solution? Stop buying plastic water bottles and drink water from a reusable mug or cup.

What's the reality? At least for the foreseeable future, water will be sold in plastic bottles. In fact, bottled water is the single largest growth area among all beverages, including alcohol, soda and juice, reports MSNBC.

That being the case, manufacturers should make good on their claim that their bottles are recyclable by putting a deposit on the bottles to ensure they're returned to a recycling facility.

Such "bottle bills" are nothing new. Since the first bottle bill was passed in Oregon in 1971, ten states have followed suit, including California, Maine,Vermont, Iowa, Michigan, Delaware, Hawaii, New York, and Massachusetts (full disclosure: I helped pass the laws in Michigan, Delaware, Iowa and Massachusetts). However, only three states -- California, Hawaii and Maine -- include water bottles in their program.

Do deposit laws work? According to the Container Recycling Institute, states with bottle bills on the books recycle 80% of beverage containers generally. Deposits of as little as five cents per bottle are effective, but in states like Michigan, which requires a dime deposit on a beverage bottle or can, 95% of containers are being recovered.

Which begs the question: why not pass a NATIONAL bottle bill to increase recycling?

Consumers would have a financial incentive to return the bottles for recycling, taxpayers would save money on litter pick up and the wasteful use of petroleum, and the environment would become cleaner as a result.

Seems like a pretty cheap way to make sure America really recycles, doesn't it?