Message in a bottle (and a can, too)

May 11th, 2011

Non-tax revenue option worthy of Legislative support

By David Weinberg

There’s a message in a bottle, and I’m hopeful that Texas lawmakers will read the message and act.  As our state struggles to find ways to balance Texas’ budget and fund essential state services, there’s an urgent need for additional revenue.

Lost in the debate over whether to tap the state’s Rainy Day Fund or just how deep to cut services are reasonable, responsible sources of new, non-tax revenue worthy of consideration.

Among some of the available sources of non-tax new revenue, the beverage container deposit system stands out for its ability to not only generate revenue for the state but also spur job creation and benefit our environment, too.

Two pieces of legislation, House Bill 2114 and Senate Bill 1119, would establish a beverage container deposit system for Texas.

The program would work by placing a deposit on certain beverages – typically beverages such as water, beer or soda that are sold in aluminum cans and plastic and glass bottles.  When consumers finish their beverages, they are able to get their deposits back via conveniently located redemption centers and reverse-vending machines.

It’s a proposal that delivers green, in more ways than one.   Most notably, a beverage container deposit system would reduce litter, spur recycling, create jobs and provide much-needed new, non-tax revenue.

Under the proposed system, a generous portion of the unredeemed deposits will go back to the state’s General Revenue account.  These funds could potentially be used to offset cuts to education, health care, and other areas under this session’s budget knife.

A beverage container deposit system will also create thousands of new Texas jobs.  For example in Michigan, a state with less than a quarter of the population of Texas, passage of their container deposit program created thousands of jobs.  Imagine what it would do for Texas.  For a state that prides itself on its job creation prowess, this bill gives us even more reason to cheer.

And, then there are the other green aspects of such a program.

Texas manufacturers have a huge demand for aluminum, glass, and plastic and having access to high-quality recyclables will further promote manufacturing job growth while reducing landfill waste. Last year alone, we landfilled over 589,000 tons of beverage containers, that’s the equivalent of 25,000 truckloads of material with a market value of over $350 million.

Today, the Texas Department of Transportation spends $47 million annually on roadside clean up, finding on average 1,000 beverage containers annually on every mile of road covered under their roadside cleanup program.  Local municipalities spend untold millions more on litter pick up, storm draining cleaning and aquatic clean up.

A beverage container deposit system would help state and local governments reduce or avoid some litter clean up costs while helping to beautify Texas roads, parks and communities.

Such programs also present great opportunities to foster stronger interest in recycling more broadly and can provide considerable benefits to non-profits looking for fundraising opportunities.

Texas’ proposed legislation does not place a tax or fee on manufacturers or distributors, and it doesn’t place costly burdens or compliance measures on the backs of retailers either. Additionally, studies have shown that implementation of these systems to not have a long-term effect on the sales of beverages covered under the system.

A much-needed program like this has been a long-time coming in Texas.  Back in the 90’s, Texas set a goal for a recycling rate of 40 percent.  It’s now 2011, and we’re nowhere a two decades old goal.

So, maybe there is a message in a bottle (or can), one that would keep Texas cleaner, make the state a little greener, put more Texans to work and provide the revenue we urgently need to meet the state’s basic needs.

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David Weinberg’s op-ed column was published in the Houston Business Journal on May 6, 2011.