A Better Bottle Bill: Will Illinois Ever See One?

Post Authored By: Kasim Carbide

What would you do if you received five cents for every bottle you returned to the store? Studies show that the adoption and implementation of bottle bills has not only provided an incentive program for prisoners and the homeless, but it also reduces litter and promotes recycling.1 The idea of paying consumers to return bottles for cash is nothing new, and bottle bills have been adopted by states like California and Hawaii and Maine since the 1970s.

Beverage containers account for a large percentage of all containers sold in the United States, and rewarding consumers results in keeping local communities clean. Unlike plastic containers of shampoo, peanut butter, and pickle jars, the contents of which may last several weeks or months, the contents of beverage containers are consumed within minutes – and often tossed on the side of the road.2

In order to earn the monetary incentive for recycling, a purchaser must pay a five cent deposit when purchasing a bottle in the state. The deposit is then returned to a consumer when the container is returned.3 Bottle bills result in incentivizing citizens to return bottles and minimizing litter by providing a monetary kickback, but the positive effects of bottle bills extend far beyond a few cents for each bottle returned. These bills have historically resulted in less litter, job creation, and an incentive program for prisoners as well as the homeless.4

Some Illinois lawmakers have believed a bottle bill would benefit and incentivize citizens since 1971, and today, HB2651 proposes a five cent deposit (and return) to incentive citizens to actively participate in their local community’s recycling efforts and return various types of bottles.5

Yet, bottle bills are nothing new; several states since the 1970s have enacted and adopted bottle bills for their citizens. Oregon implemented the very first “Beverage Container Act” in 1972, allowing its citizens to recycle glass, metal, and plastic water, alcohol and soda bottles up to three liters in size. Ten states and one territory have since enacted, adopted, and implemented bottle bills, with consistent positive results. Notably, however, these efforts are not limited to the United States – Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Indian, South Korea, Germany, and many more countries have implemented bottle bills similar to those in the United States, which have generally all been met with skepticism, but resulted with positive changes to local and national communities.6

Nevertheless, this is not the first year a bottle bill providing a recycling incentive in Illinois has been drafted, edited, proposed, deliberated upon, and then rejected entirely.7 In fact, the Illinois Bottle Bill has been proposed since 1971, and every two years lobbyists and private interest groups garner enough support to strike the bill.8

So, why is one of the state’s longest-running environmental battles a constant loser? In part, due to lobbying efforts from beverage distributors who argue that bottle bills do more harm than good.9 A chief criticism of these bills is that they cover only about 20% of a household’s recyclable materials, while ignoring other recyclables like milk jugs, paper, and other non-beverage recyclables. The bulk of the opposition is generated from companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Anheuser Busch, and their bottlers and distributers arguing bottle bills result in increased cost, sanitation concerns, a decrease in profits, and ultimately passing on an increase in handling returned bottles directly to the consumer.10

Yet, with the potential consumer and community benefits at stake, and the success of similar programs in sister states for decades, anti-bottle bill arguments lose wind. Ultimately, implementing a bottle bill is up to the citizens of any state, and all Illinois citizens should consider whether a bottle bill would positively impact local cities, and Illinois at large.

About the Author:


Kasim Carbide concentrates his practice in Corporate Law, Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering Compliance, and counseling FinTech startups. When he is not reading or billing, Kasim enjoys cooking, watching the Office, and playing Catan with family and friends.

1 A Bigger Better Bottle Bill, VERMONT PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP, https://www.vpirg.org/recycling/ (last visited Nov. 22, 2020); E.g., The Bottle Bill Works, WASHINGTON PUBLIC INTEREST GROUP, https://washpirg.org/issues/wap/bottle-bill-works (last visited Nov. 22, 2020); Carolyn Abate, How Homeless Recyclers Make a Living Redeeming Recyclables (May 13, 2016), https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/how-homeless-recyclers-make-living-redeeming-recyclables/.

2 Bottle Bill Resource Guide (2020),CONTAINER RECYCLING INSTITUTE, http://www.bottlebill.org/index.php/about-bottle-bills/bottle-bills-faq (last accessed Nov. 22, 2020).

3 The Massachusetts Sierra Club and MASSPIRG, The Impact of the Bottle Bill Update on Jobs in the Economy (July 2012), https://masspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/UBB_employment_report.pdf. See also Sarah Edwards et al., Employment and Economic Impact of Container Deposits, EUNOMIA (March 2019), https://www.eunomia.co.uk/reports-tools/employment-economic-container-deposits-ny/.

4 CJ May, The Invisible War of Bottle Bill Legislation, https://cleanriver.com/bottle-bill-legislation/ (last visited Nov. 22, 2020).

5 Recycling-Beverage Container Bill, H.R.2651, 101st General Assembly (2020) (proposing a five cent deposit for beverage containers to be paid by consumers on each beverage container sold in Illinois, which would be returned to the purchaser when the bottle is returned. Any deposits not passed onto consumers would be distributed as follows: 75% to the Agency for environmental and conversation-related programs, and 25% to each distributor in proportion to the amount of beverage containers each distributor sold in Illinois)).

6 Bottle Bill Resource Guide (2020), supra note ii.

7 Alexia Elajalde-Ruiz, Bottle bill’ debate, CHICAGO TRIBUNE (Sept. 19, 2007), https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2007-09-19-0709190567-story.html.

8 Casey Bukro, In Illinois, Bottle Bills Get Dumped, CHICAGO TRIBUNE (Oct. 27, 1987), https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1987-10-27-8703200879-story.html.

9 Michael Corkery, Beverage Companies Embrace Recycling, Until It Costs Them, THE NEW YORK TIMES (July 5, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/04/business/plastic-recycling-bottle-bills.html.

10 Sharon Lerner, Leaked Audio Reveals how Coca-Cola undermines Plastic Recycling Efforts, THE INTERCEPT (Oct. 18, 2019), https://theintercept.com/2019/10/18/coca-cola-recycling-plastics-pollution/.

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