Posted by: Martin Scherer | 17/05/2011

Bottle return deposit – Another crazy old regulation?

A good friend, Ruth, tells me Michigan has a law putting a return deposit on every bottle. Isn’t that wonderful? Do other states do that?

On the UK side of the pond, I get sick of walking down the road past all the coke cans people leave on the pavement and in windows. I know each of those cans is aluminium and have a value. Do people collect them to make a bob or two?

In the states they do. You see people with bikes and large plastic bags on their handlebars filling with coke cans. That would not happen in the UK. They don’t need to, they get state benefits and those state benefits deny them the learning they can do something to improve their own lives. Even if it’s only collect some cans to make a buck. When I was a kid, and now I sound like my dad, it was a real thrill to find a returnable bottle.

I became so good at it, I searched everywhere. Around the back of hotels, out with rubbish, I found glass soda siphons. They had five shillings return on each! That was in days before I started work at two pounds and five shillings a week. I was earning a fortune until one day a guy from a truck asked what I was doing? Those were his empties to collect!  Opps.

It gets worse. At seventeen, I was a milkman. Hundreds of bottles. Yes, we’ve all heard stories about milkmen, largely a myth, and certainly not this one. Instead of walking down the path to the pavement and back up the next path, I took short-cuts nipping through the hedge or over the fence.

I ran the whole delivery route. One day, running, I jumped a wall. Three bottles in one hand and two in the other, my foot caught the wall, throwing me to the floor. The bottles of the left hand smashed on the path and my hand slid straight into broken glass. Blood everywhere, the neighbours got a doctor who started to bandaged my before the ambulance to took me for emergency surgery. As the Doc started wrapping I said, “Hang on, there is a piece of glass in there.” I could see it between the bones. I turned my hand and pulled it out.

Printed on the glass it said, “This bottle cost four pence, please return.’

Years ago, when employing labourers, some went tip picking when I didn’t have work for them. Yes, you have the third world poverty image of rubbish tip pickers, but these were men and said they often earned more in half a day picking than a day labouring. They collected all the scrap copper and aluminium. One specialised in just plastic. They were recycling before it was fashionable. Until the Council banned tip picking on Health and Safety grounds!

At one job I had, I took a short-cut access a wasteland field. Every morning in holes in that field, were guys digging. What for?  It was an 1800’s rubbish tip and out of those holes, they brought all kinds of antique bottles. The rubbish tips of today are the archaeological sites of tomorrow. Archaeologists get very excited when they find a rubbish tip. Then they can dig up the rubbish bones to see what the people of the time ate.

An American neighbour of mine had double knee surgery and lost his job. What did he do? Sit at home feeling sorry for himself and get fat? He could have, his wife was an accountant.

No. He was up early to collect all the wire he could from neighbour’s rubbish. Then he sat in his garage, striping off the rubber to get the copper. High quality copper. He got his legs back into use quicker, he kept slim, retained his self-respect, and soon got another job. I really admired that guy.

You can’t do that in the UK. That’s creeping regulation for you, big brother government, and social care from the cradle to the grave. It makes people dumb, frighten and dependent.

Not all regualtions are crazy. I raise my glass to Minnesota. If I am every on my last luck, I know somewhere I can earn a bob or two.



  1. Hey Jack, thanks for the acknowledgment. The last sentence should read Michigan, not Minnesota. And YES people here do collect bottles since they are worth 10 cents each. The one exception is some water bottles are exempt from the bottle return law. Next time you are in the states you can look on the side of any Coke can or bottle and it will indicate its value in a few states. Unfortunately very few states have a bottle return law and Michigan’s is by far the most generous at $.10 per bottle or can.

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