States' Experience With Beverage Container Deposit Laws Shows Positive Benefits

PAD-81-08: Published: Dec 11, 1980. Publicly Released: Dec 11, 1980.

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GAO was requested to review and update the 1977 report it issued on mandatory deposits on beverage containers. States that have passed container deposit laws were used as the basis for this review and all environmental and business effects were noted.

In the 1977 report, GAO assumed that a high percentage of beverage containers would be returned to the beverage companies because of a deposit law. This would reduce litter and solid waste. Because the returned containers would probably be reused or recycled, energy and raw materials would also be saved. Both costs and revenues would increase for the businesses that would have to develop materials handling systems to redeem and transport the empty containers. The analysis in 1980 has confirmed the results of the 1977 study in a general way. Litter and solid waste would decrease because of a national beverage container deposit law. Reusing returned containers by either refilling or recycling would lower energy and raw material use in the beverage industry. Some costs would rise, and some revenue from recycling and retained deposits would offset cost increases. The specifics differ somewhat. The container mix projected in 1977 would be different in 1980 because of the rapid emergence of plastic bottles and the present dominance of the aluminum can. The amounts of labor needed at retail-sales points to process empty containers differ from that projected in the earlier study. If Congress passed a national law, the beverage container share of litter and post-consumer solid waste would be greatly reduced, and the burden of the costs involved would be shifted from the public to the private sector.

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