Recycling The Old Fashioned Way: Deposit/Return

I don’t live in a deposit/return state, but I remember it’s availability when I was a small child nearly 40 years ago.  The idea was simple: When you purchase a product in a bottle, you pay a premium for that bottle.  When you are done with a bottle you return it to the store where you purchased it, and the fee is returned to you.  The bottle is returned to the company that bottles the product when the next delivery arrives, and the company washes, sanitizes, and reuses it.  It is greatly more energy efficient than sending bottles to a recycling plant where they must be sorted, melted down, and made into new bottles that still have to be sanitized by the bottling company.  The system made sense and more people used it than not.  Why throw away a bottle or even worse litter with it when you could get money for it?

At our local Whole Foods I now have the choice of using deposit/return when I buy Trickling Springs Creamery milk products from a relatively local dairy.  While this program is quite a bit different than when I was little (back then it was $0.05 a bottle, with this program it’s $2.00), the premise still works great.  I washed the bottles when I was done with them, and when I returned to the store to buy more milk I brought them with me and returned them to the customer service desk, where I received cash for the  bottles.  I then bought more milk, and the money I got back became the deposit on another bottle.


I’m definitely happy that our local Whole Foods (and by extension Trickling Springs Creamery) is offering this service.  I get tasty organic milk in glass bottles, I don’t have to throw away plastic-coated cardboard cartons or recycle plastic cartons, and the creamery gets to cut its bottling costs.  The only waste is the #4 recyclable cap.

I’ve been told the reason for the decline of deposit/return is because companies found it cost-prohibitive to collect the bottles, and large beverage conglomerates are continuously fighting deposit/return in favor of it’s own limited plans, despite the fact that deposit/return systems have been proven to work in a number of countries around the world.  I have to wonder, in these days of skyrocketing materials costs and what can only be seen as failures in curbside recycling programs (U.S. states that do not have some form of container deposit/refund system recover an average of only 24% of all containers sold in the state, whereas states with container deposit‐refund systems consistently recover 66 – 96% of containers included in their programs), doesn’t it make sense to give this another look?  Programs like this take the cost of recycling beverage containers away from government agencies and put it back on the producer and the consumer, which is really where it should be.

To learn more about deposit/return “bottle bills”, go to

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