Wednesday, 09 October, 2002

Whatever Happened to Returnable Soda Bottles?

Remember returnable soda pop bottles?  My friends and I would search empty lots, dumpsters, and other likely places for discarded soda bottles that we could return for a nickel.  If we were really lucky, we'd find a quart bottle that would bring in a dime or more.  An hour spent searching for bottles often would result in two or three dollars that we could spend on pinball, sodas, and candy down at the local bowling center.  (Not my dad's center, though.  He didn't like me playing pinball.)  The soda delivery guys would pick up the bottles from the stores and take them back to the bottling plant, where they'd be cleaned and reused.  Breweries, too, often accepted bottles.  I remember stacks of empty beer bottles lined up outside the lounge at Dad's bowling center.

So what happened?  By the time I was old enough to order beer in a bar, they were breaking the bottles in the trash can (can't have kids sifting through the trash, drinking the dregs), and my last recollection of a returnable soda bottle (at least in the U.S., I see them all the time in Mexico) is from 1985.  It turns out that the push to non-returnable soda bottles was started by Pepsi in the early 1960's.  Bottlers found that it was cheaper to buy new bottles than to reuse existing bottles.  Consumers, too, liked not having to return the bottles.  So the bottles (glass and plastic) end up in landfills.  I still don't see how using new glass or plastic can be more economical than cleaning and reusing existing bottles.  It's certainly not very environmentally friendly.  Reuse is a much better solution than is recycling.  Not that I can recycle my glass around here.  The closest place that'll take any kind of glass is 30 miles away.   

If you've read this page for any length of time, you probably know that I have a very healthy distrust of government in general, and government "programs" even more.  But sometimes I wonder if government mandated recycling could be a good thing.  By all reports, it's helped decrease the number of containers that end up in landfills in California, Michigan, and other states with bottle return laws, but the efficiency of the programs is hotly debated.  But, dang, I feel guilty every time I throw out a bottle.