Luskin: On roadside trash

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(HOST) With the roadsides clear of snow once again, and Green Up Day behind us, commentator Deborah Luskin is asking for a raise.

(LUSKIN) Vermont passed the nation’s first bottle bill, banning the sale of beer in non-refillable containers back in 1953. Unfortunately, the legislature succumbed to pressure from the beer industry, and the law was allowed to expire four years later. Vermont’s current Beverage Container Law was passed in 1972. It requires a five-cent deposit on all beer and soda containers, and was second in the nation, after Oregon. Unbelievably, Vermont is one of only ten states with bottle deposit laws.

The stated purpose of Vermont’s law is to reduce litter, increase recycling, reduce waste disposal costs, create local jobs and save energy. According to the Bottle Bill Resource Guide, Vermont’s bill – updated in the 1990’s – has resulted in an overall 90 – 95% redemption rate. As far as I can tell, the five to ten percent of beer bottles and soda cans that are not redeemed are tossed by the side of the road.

As much as I sometimes wax eloquent about how much I enjoy winter sport and summer hiking, the one activity I engage in year round is walking. So, for years, I’ve been picking up these cans and bottles and turning them in for nickels. Rather than get angry at the slobs who throw their beer cans out the window, I thank them for funding my walks. If I average twenty-five cents a day and take about 300 walks over the course of the year, I make about seventy-five bucks – about the cost of a pair of good walking shoes,

So, in addition to getting all the health benefits of regular exercise – reduced stress, increased metabolic function, cardiac conditioning and all that – I get paid to walk. It’s a rare day that I don’t pick up somewhere between a quarter and fifty cents for my efforts. Mondays, especially, I sometimes earn two, even three bucks along the back roads.

When I’m down in the ditch fishing out containers worth nickels, I inevitably pick up juice bottles and cans that are not returnable but are recyclable. Because I’m a good doobie, I pick them up too. But I do get annoyed.Honestly, it takes the same effort to pick up a can that held iced tea as one that held suds. It seems to me, all drinks sold in twelve-ounce cans ought to be subject to the same deposit laws as mainstream brews.

Not only should all beverage containers carry a deposit, but the deposit should be doubled, to a dime, or maybe even to fifteen cents. Especially in these hard times, forcing folks to have to fish two coins out of their pockets might give pause to those who throw the equivalent of real money out their car windows.

If the bottle law were expanded to include all beverage containers – even plastic water bottles – and the deposit raised to a quarter, I bet there’d be fewer containers tossed by the side of the road – and maybe more trash pickers eager to pick them up and turn them in.


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