Cleaning Up California

Empty bottles and cans litter California’s beaches, parks and roads. The trash is an insult to the eyes and, on the beach, to the bare feet. Such insults are rare in the nine states that require refundable deposits on beverage containers.

Those states make it worthwhile to stow, rather than throw, the empties. The California Legislature can follow suit by approving AB 2020, which would require a nickel deposit on beer and soft-drink containers sold after June 1, 1986. Deposits work. About nine of ten empties are returned in Oregon, Massachusetts, New York and other states with bottle laws. Fewer empties mean fewer public dollars spent for cleanup and fewer chances for injury from pieces of glass or rusty cans.

AB 2020 would also require refillable bottles. They can be reused up to 10 times, saving energy that goes into producing glass and taking up less space in solid-waste landfills. Bottles containing anything other than residue from the beverage would not be returnable. That health precaution should placate distributors. They have fought every attempt to pass a deposit law, waging a $5-million campaign against one such effort in 1982.

Distributors fear that deposits would hurt sales and that the expense of handling returns would hurt profits. In New York, beer distributors found that uncollected deposits more than offset the handling expenses.


California recyclers, particularly those who operate for profit, oppose the bill because it would remove valuable aluminum cans from their trash flow. To their credit, they are trying to make recycling more convenient, and some distributors and recyclers are financing beach cleanups.

But bottle laws are more effective anti-litter measures. A nickel will motivate many thrifty adults and enterprising children. The payoff to the public generally would be unlittered beaches, parks and streets. California’s bottle bill, scheduled for action before the Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, deserves passage.