EarthTalk: The soda bottle I'm holding only lists
a few U.S. states and deposit amounts on it. Aren't more than
just a few states requiring that bottles be returned for recycling?
-- Calvin Terry, Castine, ME
Currently 11 American states have “bottle bill”
laws on the books that require a deposit of usually five or
10 cents on beer and soda cans and bottles that can be redeemed
when empties are returned to the store. The state of Oregon
pioneered such legislation, passing the first U.S. bottle
bill back in 1971. Hawaii has the newest one, enacted in 2002.
Meanwhile, all but two of Canada’s 13 provinces (the
remote Northwest Territories and Nunavut) have bottle bills.
As with the American laws, Canada’s provinces require
deposits on all beverage containers other than those containing
The Container Recycling Institute (CRI), an advocacy group
based in Washington, DC, works for the passage of new bottle
bills and the strengthening of existing ones. According to
CRI, bottle bills make sense because they encourage recycling
and, in conjunction with curbside recycling programs, extend
the life of landfills by keeping cans and bottles out. Indeed,
recycling rates in states with bottle bills can be as much
as three times higher than in states without them.
Such programs also help reduce litter. Studies have shown
that beverage container legislation has reduced total roadside
litter by as much as 64 percent in regions with bottle bills.
Another documented benefit has been a reduction in incidences
of glass laceration, simply because fewer glass bottles end
up broken on sidewalks, streets and in kids’ play areas.
One Massachusetts study attributed a 60 percent decline in
reported childhood glass lacerations once the state’s
bottle bill went into effect.
Despite these benefits, however, many beverage manufacturers
oppose bottle bills, arguing that the five to 10 cents added
to the price of their products deters customers even though
the deposits are redeemable. These companies have effectively
squelched bottle bills in many U.S. states through the sheer
power of their lobbying efforts. Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola
and Pepsi and others have spent millions fighting bottle bills,
complaining that such legislation duplicates community recycling
programs already in place.
But CRI says the argument has been “wrongly cast in
either/or terms,” that refundable deposits and curbside
recycling programs are not mutually exclusive and should be
part of a comprehensive approach to recycling: “If the
goal is to maximize recovery of recyclables [and] reduce reliance
on raw materials for manufacturing new containers…then
a combination of recovery options should be employed to ensure
the highest…recovery rates possible.”
Beverage sales are growing, especially bottled water and other
non-carbonated drinks. And the waste has been growing as well.
According to CRI, some 118 billion aluminum, glass and plastic
beverage containers were discarded and not recycled in 2002
alone, more than double the number 20 years earlier. The main
issue is really who should pay the costs of recycling. Refundable
deposits are fair, says CRI, because they put the costs on
the producers and consumers of the beverages instead of on
the local communities and taxpayers.
CONTACT: Container Recycling Institute, www.container-recycling.org.
COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES
118 billion aluminum, glass and plastic beverage containers
were discarded and not recycled in 2002.
What are the implications of the massive thaw that is
taking place right now in Western Siberia? -- Brad Arnold,
St. Louis Park, MN
Russian researchers returned from an exploratory mission in
Western Siberia last year to report that the world’s
largest frozen peat bog there, land as large as France and
Germany combined, was quickly melting away “into shallow
lakes.” Sergei Kirpotin, a botanist at Russia’s
Tomsk State University and the leader of the research effort,
told the journal New Scientist that the situation was an “ecological
landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly
connected to climatic warming.”
The main worry is that as much as a billion tons of methane--a
“greenhouse gas” 20 times more potent than carbon
dioxide--could be rapidly released from the bog, where it
has been sitting harmlessly for thousands of years. This flush
of methane into the atmosphere could, in turn, further warm
Western Siberia has warmed faster than almost any other area
of the planet, with an average temperature increase of about
three degrees Celsius over the last four decades alone. Kirpotin
believes that man-made climate change, combined with cyclical
changes in atmospheric circulation caused by melting ice,
is to blame. Similar patterns are developing in Eastern Siberia
and across the Arctic stretches of Alaska.
Siberia’s peat bogs formed about 11,000 years ago at
the end of the last ice age. The huge bog in question is thought
to contain 70 billion tons of methane, or about a quarter
of all the methane stored on the Earth’s surface worldwide.
If it continues to thaw, as it seems likely to do, researchers
fear that the methane could force a “tipping point”
(point of no return) in the ability of the Earth’s climate
to regulate itself.
“When you start messing around with these natural systems,
you can end up in situations where it’s unstoppable,”
says climate researcher David Viner of England’s University
of East Anglia. “This is a big deal because you can't
put the permafrost back once it is gone.”
In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an
international group of climate researchers, estimated that
global temperatures could rise as much as 5.8 degrees Celsius
by 2100, thanks to known sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
According to Viner, scientists did not even anticipate the
possibility of events like this when making their predictions,
and how much they could add to the warming.
Environmentalists are using the Western Siberia findings to
step up pressure on world leaders to take concerted action
on climate change. Says Tony Juniper, director of Friends
of the Earth in the United Kingdom: “If we don't take
action very soon, we could unleash runaway global warming
that will be beyond our control and it will lead to social,
economic and environmental devastation worldwide. There’s
still time to take action, but not much.”
CONTACT: New Scientist, www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=mg18725124.500.