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LITTERING. Nation's capital next battlefield for bottle bills

After several years of unsuccessful efforts, supporters of mandatory deposits for beverage containers are optimistic about getting more ``bottle bills'' passed around the country. Bottle-bill supporters point to states like Michigan to illustrate how effective the legislation can be. According to environmentalists, not only have mandatory deposits been successful in Michigan and eight other states, but they also enjoy overwhelming public support once passed.

Bottle-bill supporters believe that in Washington, D.C., this November they will get their first victory in five years. They also think the Washington victory will have a favorable impact on similar bills in neighboring Maryland and Virginia.

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Bottle bills require consumers to pay 5- to 10-cent deposits when they purchase beer, soft drinks, and some other beverages in disposable containers.

By encouraging consumers to return the containers to reclaim the deposits, the laws aim to reduce litter on streets and highways and in lakes, streams, and parks.

In addition to Michigan, mandatory-deposit laws are on the books in Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Vermont.

``Once [bottle bills] go into effect, people really like them,'' says Hawley Truax, coordinator for the National Clearinghouse for Deposit Legislation, which is part of the Washington-based Environmental Action Foundation. Mr. Truax points out that opponents unsuccessfully tried to have bottle bills repealed in Maine and Massachusetts after their passage.

``There's no question that in the nine states that have bottle bills they are very popular and effective,'' concurs Jonathon Puth, director of the Bottle Bill Initiative Campaign in Washington. ``And as solid waste becomes a more severe problem in the US, bottle bills stand as a significant means for reducing the strain on land fills.''

Mr. Puth believes passage of a bottle bill in Washington will also have an impact on Congress. He says a national bottle bill will gain additional support once congressional lawmakers see its effectiveness close at hand.

Beverage-industry officials, who have long fought against mandatory-deposit laws, say that bottle bills increase beverage prices, reduce jobs, and do little to reduce the solid-waste problem. Most studies show that beverage containers are only about 20 percent of the litter problem, industry officials say.

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``Litter is not seen as much of a problem anymore; now it's solid waste,'' says Dave Karmol, general counsel for the Can Manufacturers Institute. ``In terms of solid waste, the deposit laws do very little for [that] problem.''

Mr. Karmol says mandatory deposits have shifted consumer demand toward plastic containers, which can't be recycled, instead of glass bottles or cans, which can. He adds that plastic containers end up in the land fills, adding to the waste-disposal problem.

Karmol also believes bottle bills are regressive. He says they hurt lower income people more than the affluent and that returning containers inconveniences the poor and elderly, who have to rely on public transportation to do grocery shopping.

But advocates of bottle bills are unconvinced by industry arguments. ``I would not be bragging to say that the bottle bill has been a phenomenal success in Michigan,'' says Don Stypula, public affairs director for the United Michigan Conservation Clubs.

Mr. Stypula says a poll conducted in May of voters in Michigan found that more than 90 percent of them said they would vote in favor of a mandatory-deposit law again if it were placed on the ballot.

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