General Assembly Needs to Pass Bottle Bill
June 12, 2023
Rhode Island needs to tackle our litter problem this year by passing a bottle bill that places a 10-cent deposit on plastic bottles of every sort, including nips. Three states in New England — Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maine — currently have bottle bills in place and studies have shown that this type of legislation reduces litter rates significantly.
For a few months I collected empty nip bottles when I went on walks with my dog around my neighborhood in conjunction with Save The Bay’s Great Nip Pickup Challenge. It helped me get to know the neighborhood and, to no surprise, I always came home with a pocketful (or two) of small bottles. When I finally counted and turned in all my nip bottles to Save The Bay, I had 860 of them — a third being Fireball, a Canadian liquor with cinnamon flavoring. This was just a small fraction of the 85,600 nips that volunteers from around the state collected over a span of 90 days.
Many have suggested that we outright ban nip bottles in the first place, but this would have unintended consequences. Offering nips for sale is a form of harm reduction to folks who suffer from alcoholism because instead of purchasing a small bottle of liquor to satisfy their needs, they will be forced to purchase a larger bottle. By banning nips, we make the most destitute in our society spend more for larger bottles to consume. It is very important that folks with low incomes be able to access alcohol because alcohol withdrawal can be deadly. Banning nips would essentially say that only people of a certain means who can buy a bottle of booze can drink. We should not ban nips, but we should impose a deposit on the bottles themselves because litter is the problem we have to correct.
By not imposing a deposit on the bottles, we are essentially saying that plastic is worthless. If there was a deposit in place for these bottles, we would certainly not see them litter our parks and roadways as commonly as we do. A deposit system would help assist curbside recycling efforts, not hinder them as opponents to a bottle bill have claimed. States with bottle bills have a higher rate of recycling because consumers are incentivized by the deposit to make sure that containers are properly returned.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has suggested that instead of a bottle bill, we consider techniques such as “advanced recycling,” or pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is a process that combines high heat and chemical solvents to reduce plastic waste into an oil-like mixture. Proponents would have you believe that it is akin to creating a “closed loop,” but there are significant byproducts given off in the process, such as benzene, tolulene, xylene, and a chemical char product. “Advanced recycling” is more akin to incineration than it is recycling. It is grade A greenwashing.
Proponents of this method also claim that advanced recycling would reduce the production of virgin resources, but this is misleading propaganda at best. With the world slowly becoming more and more electrified, the fossil fuel industry is turning to plastic production as its saving grace. We produce about 400 million pounds of plastic waste every year and recycle less than a tenth of this. These numbers are only going to increase in disparity in the future if we don’t take action now to think critically about how we responsibly dispose of the plastic we already produce.
If we had a bottle bill, funds from unredeemed deposits could go toward helping businesses set up recycling programs. There are provisions in the bill this year for small retail stores to opt-out as well as grants for businesses to purchase “reverse vending machines” to accept returns.
It would be nice to walk down the street with my dog and not find plastic bottles strewn about in the gutters. Unfortunately, it seems that “doing the right thing” is not enough justification to get folks to stop littering. It is time for the General Assembly to step in and enact a bottle bill that imposes a deposit on plastic.
Tyson Bottenus is a hauler for Harvest Cycle Compost, a board member for Bike Newport, and lives in Providence.
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