Bottle Bills Explained

Bottle Bills Explained

By Sofia Barandiaran, Social Initiatives Coordinator at Cycle

A few weeks ago, I told you about the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act and how it can help catalyze a shift to a more sustainable economy. Among the solutions that the Act proposes is a nationwide beverage container refund program (aka a bottle bill). But what is a bottle bill exactly? How does it work, and what are its benefits? Today I want to take some time to break down exactly how bottle bills work and why they’re so crucial to the work we’re doing at Cycle, and to the work of creating a sustainable future more broadly.

What is a bottle bill?

The basic idea behind bottle bills is to create powerful incentives for recycling by allowing consumers to receive refunds for each bottle or can that they return to an eligible redemption center. Here’s the breakdown of how that actually works:

  • In states with bottle bills, when retailers buy beverages from distributors they pay a small deposit for each bottle.
  • In turn, when the consumer purchases the beverage, they pay that deposit to the retailer.
  • The consumer can then bring the empty bottle back to a redemption center (often a supermarket) and get a refund for the deposit.
  • The distributor then reimburses the redemption center or distributor. 

In addition to dramatically increasing recycling rates, bottle bills are also cost-effective. California’s bottle bill, for example, pays for itself through unclaimed deposits, and drums up some extra revenue for other environmental initiatives to boot.

How can I take advantage of existing bottle bills?

First, figure out whether your state has a bottle bill yet. Ten US states–California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Vermont–and the territory of Guam currently use bottle bills to boost recycling. If you live in one of these jurisdictions, you’re in luck! You can take advantage of your state’s bottle bill to get rewarded for recycling. Check out this resource from the Container Recycling Institute to learn more about your state’s bottle bill or find a redemption center. Don’t live in the US? No worries, they have comprehensive information about bottle bills internationally as well. 

What are the societal benefits of bottle bills?

Bottle bills have a strong track record of increasing container recycling rates. On average, states with bottle bills have a beverage container recycling rate of 60%, compared to 24% for states without bottle bills, according to the Container Recycling Institute. Recycling has a host of benefits, from reducing resource consumption and alleviating plastic pollution to slashing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change. Our throwaway economy produces GHGs at every step of the supply chain, from the extraction of raw materials, to the manufacturing process, to waste management. Recycling helps to reduce GHG emissions at each of these stages: Using recycled materials reduces the demand for resource extraction, manufacturing products from recycled materials requires less energy, and recycling prevents waste from going to incinerators and landfills that emit GHGs. 

Why is it so important to pass a nationwide bottle bill and what can I do to help?

Bottle bills are a proven way to increase recycling rates, helping to end plastic pollution, tackle climate change, and reduce demand for environmentally destructive resource extraction. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which is currently in committees in both houses of Congress, would create a national bottle bill for the first time in the United States. 

This sort measure would be a game changer, and could help empower environmental action throughout the economy. Cycle is a perfect case study of the sorts of innovations in recycling that a nationwide bottle bill would empower. Without a bottle bill, Cycle pays users for the market value of their recyclable bottles and cans, which can fluctuate greatly but often comes to around one to two cents per container in Florida. Under the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, each eligible container would garner a refund of at least ten cents–a dramatic and impactful increase that reflects some of the true social and environmental value of recycling. The Act would therefore empower Cycle to provide greater incentives for users to recycle, earn more money for their good deeds, and donate more money to eligible charities through our app. By increasing domestic demand for these recyclables and creating a price floor, a national bottle bill would also help the recycling market weather shocks like China’s 2018 decision to stop accepting most foreign recyclables. Cycle highlights the importance of strong policy leadership in the environmental space: Smart policy empowers innovators and entrepreneurs to multiply our impact on pressing environmental issues.

Now is a critical time in the movement to end plastic pollution–we need you to help us get there. To take action, check out my in-depth guide on how to advocate for the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, complete with phone and email templates to contact your legislator. We’re on the brink of a major shift in the way we treat waste–let’s work together to get there.  


Container Recycling Institute. “Bottle Bills.” Accessed July 1, 2020.

Karidis, Arlene. 2018. “Do Bottle Bills Boost Recycling?” Waste360, May 24, 2018.

National Conference of State Legislators. 2020. “State Beverage Container Deposit Laws.” March 13, 2020.

US Congress. House. Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020. HR 5845. 116th Cong. Introduced in House February 11, 2020.

US Congress. Senate. Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020. S 3263. 116th Cong. Introduced in Senate February 11, 2020.

US EPA. 2016. “Climate Change and Municipal Solid Waste (MSW).”