Project: Re-Energizing the Original Approach to Recycling

Let's revamp and re-brand the humble system of the bottle bill.

Ever drink a beer in Germany (or, for the teetotaler, a Fanta in Mexico), and notice the rough rings around the fattest parts of the glass bottle? That’s because it’s been recycled—and there's no telling how often that same bottle has been returned, refunded, and reused to quench the thirst of someone just like you. Chances are it's a lot, and that's a good thing.

In the United States, bottle-deposit legislation, or “bottle bills,” were among the earliest and most successful measures enacted by states to promote recycling, and yet it's rarely talked about by today's sustainable living advocates.

In the 1950s and '60s, when refundable and reusable bottles were abandoned by beer and soda companies, the bottles quickly piled up. To this day, it's estimated that bottles constitute some 40 to 60 percent of all litter.

In 1971, Oregon became the first state to fight this trend with a law requiring bottlers and retailers to charge a deposit, and then refund it when the bottle was returned. By 1986, 10 states had passed similar legislation, with refund rates anywhere from five to 10 cents, and collection rates between 66 to 96 percent. The national average hovers in the 45-percent range.

The last time you bought a bottle of suds, did you return it to the store where you purchased it for your rightful refund or just throw it in the recycling bin? (Despite its reputation as a mode of income for immigrants and the homeless, “poaching” from recycling bins is illegal in most cities.)

Part of the problem is that few people know how to take advantage of bottle deposit systems or why they’re such a good idea. That’s why GOOD is hosting an open call for submissions by designers, policymakers, problem-solvers, and general do-gooders to revamp and re-brand the humble system of the bottle bill.

the Objective
Let's bring this decidedly old school, tried-and-true method of reusing and recycling up to speed for the modern American middle class.

the Assignment
It's a shame these laws are so terribly confusing, so we're looking for your help to communicate, in any way that gets the message across, who owes what to whom, how much, where the money goes, and where to go to get a refund. Touch on things like handling fees, which in New York, can whittle your five-cent refund to a penny and a half. And tell us which, if any, grocery stores have reverse-vending machines. And when was the last time you drank an American beer in a reusable bottle? It's probably been a while. Maybe we can change that too?

the Requirements
Submit your entries here by Wednesday, November 16, and you could win $50, a GOOD t-shirt, and a year free subscription to GOOD Magazine. Happy designing!

via (cc) Flickr user waitscm

via Barry Schapiro / Twitter

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