How do bottle bills erode MRF revenue?

The research compared a variety of deposit systems and recycling rates increased in all scenarios, with the highest rates for a 10-cent all-beverage deposit. | Rokas Tenys/Shutterstock

New research finds that while deposit systems increase recycling rates overall, they also reduce the value of a mixed ton by more than 50% because less aluminum and high-quality PET make their way to sorting facilities .

The National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) released the study assessing the effect of beverage container deposit systems on MRF costs and revenues, as well as the effects on municipalities.

Prepared by Resource Recycling Systems (RRS), the research modeled six deposit scenarios with variations based on beverage type and deposit value. Each scenario is based on a medium-sized MRF with a throughput of 93,600 tons per year serving a community of approximately 1.25 million people in 473,000 households.

Overall, the findings were that container depots result in higher costs and lower revenues because high-value materials move into the depot system and out of the MRF. The fixed cost per ton is higher because the cost of running the same equipment is spread over fewer tons, according to the report.

The research estimates that municipalities could see an annual increase in MRF costs of $2.50 to $5 per household.

Resa Dimino, chief executive of RRS, said in a press release that the study provided useful data and “shows a need for balance between system and policy.”

“We need to ensure that municipalities and MRFs remain intact as higher quality materials are collected and removed from our waste streams and waterways,” Dimino said.

The scenarios included three different drink combinations with a 5 cent deposit and a 10 cent deposit. The combinations were beer and soft drinks; beer, soft drinks and water; and all beverages except milk.

The modeling assumes that aluminum, glass and PET beverage containers are included and that a 5 cent deposit gives a 65% refund rate while a 10 cent deposit gives an 85% refund rate .

Recycling rates increased across all scenarios, with the highest rates for a 10-cent all-drinks deposit (77% for PET, 83% for glass, and 89% for aluminum, versus a baseline 29%, 25% and 50% respectively).

The study also found that weighted value revenues for the average MRF ton would drop from $154 to $159 to $65 to $73 under a bottle bill. A drop from $154 per tonne to $65 per tonne would represent a 58% drop.

Overall, more glass and aluminum than PET would leave the MRF system in all scenarios, and the study suggested that between 10,770 and 17,630 tonnes per year would be diverted from MRFs. This could result in lost revenue for the MRF of between $11.90 and $23.50 per ton traded, the report predicts.

However, communities could see savings in the cost of disposing of bottle bills, according to the study, as well as a reduction in marine litter and debris and related cleanup costs. Higher value materials are also more likely to be circular, he noted.

The report says further study is needed to understand the effect on recycling collection costs and throughput due to changes in the density of the recyclables mix.

To help offset the negative effects of cylinder bills on MRFs, the study suggested policies like California’s, where MRFs are able to buy back containers in bulk and collect deposits.

“The policy can be structured to capture the benefits of beverage container depots – high recycling rates for target materials and materials more suitable for closed-loop applications – while ensuring that municipal recycling programs are not harmed. “, says the report.

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