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Retailers want more of the money from unclaimed bottle deposits

Rex Roof
Creative Commons

Grocers and distributors who sell cans and bottles of soda and beer want a bigger share of the money left over when people don’t cash in returnables.

They say now is the time because they expect a surge in returns. The state allowed bottle returns to resume in mid-June, but the retailers and distributors say there’s still a backlog of cans and bottles that have yet to be returned. 

Joanie O’Sullivan-Butler is the CEO of a distribution company. She said distributors and retailers want more of the money from unclaimed deposits to help manage the wave of can and bottle returns. 

“The infrastructure needs to be re-invested in as we look toward the long-term viability of a system that we can all remain proud of,” she said.

Spencer Nevins with the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association said there’s no interest in repealing the returnable law – which he called one of Michigan’s most successful environmental programs.

“In terms of cleaning up our lakes, our streams, our green spaces. It’s exactly what the voters voted for in the ‘70s when they passed this. It really just needs to be invested in so it can continue to move forward because it’s a tremendously successful program,” Nevins said.

But the distributors and retailers said the 10-cent bottle deposit should not be expanded to include bottled water.

There are bills before the Legislature to change the distribution of money from unclaimed bottle deposits. But the state’s environmental agency is opposed.

Hugh McDiarmid with the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy said that would reduce the money available to pay for cleaning up polluted industrial sites.

“Those kinds of cleanups are in large part funded by these unclaimed deposits,” he said. “And we would see a slowdown in the pace at which those properties are cleaned up and a slowdown in which they could be put back on the tax rolls and made a community asset.” 

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Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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