When asked if he’s evolved on the bottle-deposit law issue, Wolkins candidly said in a telephone interview Wednesday, “Yeah, I have. I’ve been adamantly opposed to it in the past.” He’s open to the possibility. “So I’m neutral on that now,” he added.
Results in other states have nudged Wolkins to that viewpoint. “It’s no question that [bottle-deposit laws] work,” he said. “If you have a bottle-deposit law in effect, it pretty much takes care of the roadside bottles.”
Under a typical bottle law, a retailer pays a distributor a deposit for each bottle or can purchased. Consumers pay the retailer for the deposit upon purchase. The consumer returns the empties to a retailer or redemption center and receives a refunded deposit. Retailers recover the deposit from the distributor, and often a handling fee (of 1 to 3 cents) to help cover the costs of dealing with the returned containers, according to BottleBill.org.
Retailers and bottling firms have lobbied against bottle bills in Indiana over the years. Memories of the pre-No Deposit, No Return era in the 1960s fuel some opposition. “Grocers had a bad experience with it back in the ‘60s,” Wolkins said. Consumers could return glass bottles and receive a refund of a few cents per bottle. But other trash often wound up inside the glass pop bottles. They were messy, too. Eventually, people bought fewer refillable glass bottles, when cheaper, disposable aluminum cans emerged. As litter grew, bottle bills came into existence in the 1970s and ‘80s. Michigan adopted its law in 1976, and its roadside trash dwindled significantly.
Such laws still face opposition. Wolkins sees an option that could lessen the backlash. Solid-waste districts around the state have expressed an interest in handling the returned bottles, he said. Also, glass companies that once fought a bottle-deposit law now support it, needing the materials to recycle and reuse. Plus, public support is high. A survey last year by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University found that 73 percent of Hoosiers backed a refundable container deposit program.