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Advocates fight to reform Michigan recycling regulations

A 2011 Michigan Department of Treasury study found the enactment of a 10 cent deposit on plastic bottles in Michigan, which began in 1976, has created a 95.9 percent bottle return rate – the highest in the nation.

Despite Michigan's high return rate, some people in the community are working to make that number even larger.

Sarah Fiorillo, Public Interest Research Group in Michigan campus director at Central Michigan University, is a local advocate for the expansion of the return program. She hoped to reform it to include all types of plastic bottles.

“We’re trying to expand the bottle bill," Fiorillo said. "Right now, you’re able to recycle things like pop cans and beer bottles and get a deposit back. What we would like to do is put that 10 cent deposit on water bottles and juice bottles so that more is recycled.”

The Lake Isabella senior said the measure would increase recycling and decrease pollution.

“I think a lot of students, over the weekend, take all of their empties and get them recycled,” Fiorillo said. “They try to get their deposit back, and by recycling more bottles, they'd get to help the environment even more.”

According to PIRGIM, more than half a billion bottles are discarded in Michigan annually – enough to circle Lake Michigan about 33 times. The report finds that Michigan’s current recycling rate of 16 percent is roughly half of the national rate.

PIRGIM Program Associate Eric Mosher said an expansion of the bottle law would significantly reduce this solid waste and subsequently increase the state's recycling rate.

“Basically, recycling reduces solid waste,” Mosher said. “Michigan has a low overall recycling rate compared to its neighbors. Only Indiana has a rate lower than ours. It will prevent hundreds of thousands of containers from going to landfills and becoming roadside litter.”

Mosher said efforts to update the bottle law have gained some recent success after state Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, introduced an expansion to the Senate this year.

"Right now, the bill is in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Environment, and Great Lakes," Mosher said. "Our goal is to get it moved through committee and get it voted on by the Senate as a whole"