The Michigan bottle deposit law pays environmental dividends

Our bottle bill has been a huge success for Michigan's environment.

Nathan Murphy

If you’re like me, during the early part of the pandemic you may have relegated a corner of a garage or basement to a growing pile of returnable cans and bottles while returns were halted to protect store employees and the bottle/can processors.

Because we support our bottle return system so well the backlog of unreturned cans and bottles grew quickly. At one point, experts estimated Michiganders had accumulated almost 6 million bottles and cans in garages, basements, and sheds. That’s nearly $60 million. That’s a number so large that people handling returns were concerned that a sudden restart would create a lot of problems as folks tried to return them all at once. It turns out that most of those fears were unwarranted, and it looks like we’re getting through the backlog sooner than expected.

The bottom line from these numbers is that our decades-long tradition of returning cans and bottles works. Michiganders do the right thing. On average we return about 90% of returnable cans and bottles, which is a rate among the best in the country. Those are billions of cans and bottles over the years that get recycled rather than ending up in a landfill, or worse, polluting our ditches and our lakes and our rivers. The recycled aluminum, glass, and plastic means less destructive mining and drilling. It means energy savings from not processing ore for aluminum or oil for plastic. The bottle bill success results in a lot of positives for our environment.

So as you clear out that corner of the basement or garage and get those returnables returned be proud of the foresight of Michigan voters who backed the original bill back in 1976. It’s made a big difference in keeping bottles and cans out of our environment, and getting them recycled in ways that help our environment. Our bottle bill is a real environmental success story.


Nathan Murphy