Finally, Hope for a Bottle Law

Californians are a little closer to having cleaner beaches, parks and roads. A 1-cent deposit on beer and soft-drink containers is a little closer to becoming law.

A penny may not be much of an incentive for redeeming empty bottles and cans, but it is a start, and better than nothing. At stake is the proper disposal of an estimated 120 million cans and bottles.

For 20 years the California Legislature bottled up bottle bills in Sacramento. For 20 years the beverage industry won, the environmentalists lost and the litter grew.

At last a compromise, a penny deposit rather than the traditional nickel deposit, has eased the legislative bottleneck. The Senate has overwhelmingly approved the amended version of AB 2020, sponsored by Assemblyman Burt M. Margolin (D-North Hollywood.)

The compromise bill would work this way: A penny deposit is added to the price of each can and bottle. That 1 cent is refunded along with part of the scrap value of the container and a fraction of the unclaimed deposits. Diligent consumers can expect an average of 2 cents back per container.

There are details to work out in conference committee. The current legislation would not require grocers and other retailers to accept the empty containers--a common practice in other states. Retailers would only have to make sure that a recycling center or reverse vending machine was available within their general trade area. That could make returning the bottles and cans a big inconvenience. But, even with the bother, some industrious adults and children would scavenge for the bounty from other people's throwaways.

Time will tell if a penny is enough incentive to clean up the state. The bill would require a 65% rate of return by 1989, or the deposit would double to 2 cents per container. If that standard is not met by 1992, the deposit would increase to 3 cents.

Bottle laws are at work in nine states. Finally there is hope for a cleaner California. AB 2020 is a good place to start.

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