Bottle Bills in the 1970s

This article explores the importance of bottle deposits and how bottle bills can help save money, reduce garbage, create jobs, and conserve energy.

| July/August 1978

The statistics in this article are for the 1970s, but bottle deposits and bottle bills are still important today as the attempt to reduce the number of throwaway bottles with bottle distribution laws is still going strong today. Visit the Bottle Bill website for more up-to-date information.

Can you name a quick, easy, inexpensive way to [1] clean up the nation's highways, [2] reduce the amount of garbage in the city and county dumps, [3] save billions of dollars each and every year [4] create over 100,000 new jobs, and [5] conserve more than seven million tons of glass, steel, and aluminum every 12 well as enough energy to warm some two million American homes for an entire year? Ban the throwaway bottle and can by supporting bottle distribution laws.

Back in the 1940s and 1950s — when a few of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' more elderly staffers were still children — you could keep yourself in chewing gum, candy, and other teeth rotters by scrounging up and redeeming empty pop and beer bottles which in those days had a price on their heads! For example, in 1947 — when almost all soft-drink and beer containers sold were refillable — small bottles fetched 2 cents and quarts 5 cents apiece at any corner grocery or liquor store.

Pickin's weren't easy, though, because hardly anyone tossed out these treasures, which'd just pile up on the back porch — or in the garage — until someone would finally remember to haul 'em down to the market for a refund. In other words, even those few pennies on each bottle were enough to make sure that 95 percent of the containers found their way back to the bottling plants for a refill, and most were used 10 to 15 times — or more! — before either loss or breakage retired them from circulation.

No Deposit, No Return

Bottlemakers, of course, would have preferred a slightly less durable product, but it wasn't until the late '50s that they finally managed to formulate a glass strong enough to withstand the rigors of filling and shipping once, but too flimsy to endure them a second time! Meanwhile, the steel industry had been successfully promoting beverage cans since the end of World War II, and by 1960, the beer can had become a firmly entrenched artifact of American life, a monument to "convenience" scattered abundantly along the nation's roadsides.

Even at that late date (1960), though, you could still buy almost all your soft drinks and half your beer in refillable bottles. As the '60s wore on, however, the noble returnable-for-deposit glass container steadily lost ground first to the steel — and then the aluminum — can, and finally, to the "twist-top, no-deposit, no return" bottle (which has since joined its throwaway metal counterparts along America's highways and byways by the tens of millions.)

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