Think Global, Act Local – recycling fees

We’re all familiar with the nickel (or dime) deposit on a soft drink, and in some cases a bottle of water: bring your empty bottle or can back to the store and you get the deposit back.  Recycling fees in a number of US states and Canadian provinces are usually collected by an agency and applied toward safe recycling and refurbishing.  A program called Bye Bye Mattress, rolled out in Connecticut, California and Rhode Island in just the last couple of years, recently announced that it has recycled a million mattresses. The program collects a fee on the sale of every mattress, which supports collection and transportation of mattresses to recycling facilities.

Canada has electronics recycling fees on everything from computers to electronic toys, including home and car audio, video and stereo systems, and wired and cellular phones. The fee is collected at the point of sale and remitted to non-profit agencies, with names like Ontario Electronic Stewardship, which oversee collection and recycling of the goods when consumers are done with them. The state of California imposes an eWaste fee only on video display devices; the revenue is used for safe recycling of the devices.

Two states, North Carolina and South Carolina, have a disposal tax on so-called “white goods”, which includes kitchen appliances, water coolers, clothes washers and dryers, steam tables, and other large domestic and commercial appliances. The $3 tax is collected by the state and distributed to state and local waste management authorities.

Plastic bag bans and fees have been in the news lately. New York City has a bag fee going into effect February 15 of this year, but the state Senate has introduced legislation to eliminate it, arguing that the fee harms individuals and families on a tight budget and would bring little of its intended environmental impact. Other cities with bag bans and fees include Austin, TX, Cambridge, MA, Chicago, IL, Boulder, CO, and Washington DC. Hawaii prohibits non-biodegradable checkout bags. California became the first state to approve a statewide 10 cent bag fee this past November, though many of its cities and counties already had such a fee in place.

Bag fees are intended to reduce the use of disposable plastic bags, which end up in landfills, trees, rivers, and oceans. However, unlike other recycling fees that have been around for some time – most single-use bag fees are not remitted to any government or agency, but rather are retained by the seller. That makes their effect strictly a financial disincentive. The fee is meant to cover the costs to retailers of providing non-plastic bags and to raise awareness among consumers.


Teri Gil

All stories by: Teri Gil

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