Don’t Mess With Texas 2.0

When the iconic “Don’t Mess with Texas” signs went up in the mid-1980s, littering in Texas was reduced drastically. It was the most successful anti-litter campaign in history dropping the litter rate in the late 80s by over 70% (McClure). Since then, the population in Texas has steadily increased, but despite this the littering rate has still seen a steady decline by about 34% in visible litter from 2009 to 2013. All seems well in Texas, but I think we can still do better. By introducing the Beverage Container Recycling Incentive Program or “Bottle Bill” for short, we can further reduce visible litter in our state, while incentivizing recycling, and benefiting businesses, individuals and the government financially. I’ll be observing and analyzing the effectiveness of the bottle bill in other big states and using that to assess the viability of it in Texas.

Now what exactly is the Bottle Bill and what does it entail? How could it benefit us and the state of Texas in so many ways? In essence, all beverage containers will be marked up to include a 5 or 10 cent deposit based on container size. This deposit will be reimbursed in full to whoever brings the beverage container back to a recycling center. Beverage containers primarily include, but are not limited to, glass bottles, plastic bottles and cans.

There are many benefits to passing the Bottle Bill. Firstly, recycling is encouraged for these goods rather than sending them to the landfill. Then, in the case of un-redeemed deposits by those who are not interested in getting it back, retailers have increased profits and the state makes more money to be put toward further funding for recycling and anti-litter programs. Additionally, with recycling plants emerging to process the redeemed bottles, jobs are created and unemployment is decreased. According to NAPCOR, for every 1,000 tons of material that is recycled, 22 new jobs are created (Texas Bottle Bill). They go on further to estimate that there is between 200 to 300 million pounds of plastic available to be recycled if Texas were to have a bottle bill. An estimated 100 to 150 jobs could be created by direct virtue of a bottle bill. One of the more subtle and unintended benefits the bottle bill has had in other states is benefiting the homeless and the poor who could pick up other peoples’ litter to make some money. Although not intended, this helps clean up litter in cities and helps the homeless, though on a small level, by giving them an avenue to make a little money.

How badly does Texas need legislation like this if the “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign was so effective? In Texas, almost 15% of all visible litter is made up of redeemable containers that would be covered under the bottle bill.

Redeemable containers comprise 63 million of 434 million pieces of visible litter found on Texas roadways [Source]

This translates to approximately 63 million containers annually, a number that is only bound to grow as the Texas population does. This is a very sizable percentage of visible litter that bottle bill legislation can cut into and turn into something beneficial at virtually no cost to the taxpayer. Redeemable containers are the largest specific category of visible litter in Texas, and being able to cut into that with a piece of legislation that has proven effective in other states should encourage us to follow suit.

Now that we know the potential benefits of a bottle bill in Texas, we have to see exactly how effective it could be to implement by looking at other states that have implemented it. This will give us a good estimate of what to expect here in Texas. I will include two other states as case studies to highlight the potential effectiveness of this type of legislation: Michigan for its long, well documented history with the bottle bill, and California for being a large state with similar demographics to ours.

By looking at Michigan’s data, we see an ideal outcome for this bill’s passage in our state. In the first chart, we see how much money has been refunded to consumers and how much has been un-refunded. The full length of both color bars shows the total sale of containers, while the red bar shows a proportion and value of how much has been redeemed out of the total.

The un-redeemed deposits are split 75–25 between the state and retailers respectively, infusing money into the economy [Source]

Across the span of this bill’s enactment in Michigan, we see the rate fluctuate slightly, but the rate of redeeming and recycling is still high. Between 2010 and 2014 (5 years’ worth of data) the rate of redemption is somewhere near 95%, which is outstanding. This indicates the number of bottles potentially littering the streets has fallen drastically, recycling had increased, as well as having approximately 20 million dollars to split amongst the state and retailers 75–25, respectively. The state uses this money to further tackle the issue of littering and fund the recycling plants, and the retailers pocket the un-redeemed deposits as profit. Looking at the next chart gives us another good visual representation of how often people are redeeming and recycling containers. This is what we’d hope for in Texas.

The refunds on bottles have been consistently high, showing that bottles are turned in to be recycled at a rate of approximately 95% [Source]

Looking at California, we see a slightly different scenario. The results are based on demographics similar to ours in Texas, and will help us get an accurate depiction of what the results could be seeing as recycling and redemption rates vary by race.

The lines here are further apart but growing closer together in recent times, suggesting that states with demographics similar to Texas’ are increasingly reaping the benefits of bottle legislation [Source]

Here we see a raw number of sales made, and a raw number of redeemed containers, not in dollar value. We see a fluctuation in how often people redeem their containers over time, but one can assume Texas will follow suit with the global trend of “going green”, and have figures similar to California’s for the last few years. Over the last five years, Californians have redeemed approximately 85%of their purchased containers, which is still a very high rate. This further reduces litter and increases recycling by a great margin and has room for more improvement. In a populated state like ours, we can expect retailers and the state to make a considerable amount of money from un-redeemed deposits.

The biggest key to the bill overall, however, is how directly it affects litter itself, rather than just the rate of recycling. We know that due to the increased recycling rate, there are fewer bottles to be littered on the whole, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate how much less litter there is on the roads. In Michigan, from 1977 to 1979 (the first 2 years of implementation of the bottle bill), there was a 77% decrease in total bottles (redeemable and non-redeemable) littered on the highways, and 78% between 1978 and 1979 specifically. This is slightly more effective than our world famous “Don’t Mess With Texas” campaign. Seeing that implementing Bottle Legislation has a direct impact on reducing litter almost immediately are the kinds of results we’re looking for. Lowering the littering rate by 78% in the first two years would reduce the 63 million littered containers on our highways to approximately 14 million. This new number of littered containers would represent 3% of total litter on our roads rather than the 15% it currently does. This serves to prove that bottle bill legislation can directly affect the amount of litter on our roads for redeemable and non-redeemable beverage containers.

Having seen a successful “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign reduce litter, I think it’s time we offer the carrot rather than the stick with “bottle bill” legislation in Texas. With an ever growing state, (because who wouldn’t want to come to Texas?) we need to take proactive measures not only to reduce litter, but to increase recycling so our Texas-sized consumption doesn’t come back to haunt us. Bottle bill legislation is the way to go.

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