Last Saturday, environmentalists James Baker and Patricia Kennedy picked up litter along Early Maxwell Boulevard. But their goal wasn't just to clean the roadside.
Along with numerous anti-litter groups from around the state, Baker and Kennedy separated beverage containers from other trash to determine the percentage of litter that is cans and bottles. They're trying to convince the legislature to pass a bill that would allow Tennesseans to cash in on recycled bottles.
In the statewide project called "X Marks the Spot," a giant "X" was drawn across a map of the state. Groups in counties marked by the "X" were encouraged to separate litter on Saturday. Tennessee Bottle Bill Project coordinator Marge Davis will tally the totals.
"The 'X' is sort of a play on words," said Davis. "It has to do with the amount of money we throw away when we throw away bottles and cans. [With a bottle bill], new money will come into the state; new jobs will be created at redemption centers; and new industry will rise up to recycle."
Here's how it would work: Beverage companies will pay the state five cents for each bottle they manufacture. Then, when grocers buy from a beverage company, they will pay an additional five cents per bottle to that company. When the consumer buys a drink, they will pay a five-cent deposit to the grocer. The consumer can later take the empty bottle to a redemption center and get their deposit back.
According to the 2006 draft of the bill sponsored by state representative Russell Johnson (Loudon) and state senator Randy McNally (Oak Ridge), beverage companies would also be responsible for paying a three-cent handling fee per bottle to the redemption centers. Davis believes the beverage-industry lobby opposes the bill for this reason. Other opponents include some grocery stores and Keep Tennessee Beautiful (KTB).
KTB's anti-litter awareness campaign is funded by the state's Litter Grant Program, a resource founded in 1981 as an alternative to a bottle bill. Opponents worry that if the bottle bill passes, funding to the Litter Grant Program would be eliminated. But Davis said unclaimed deposits could fund Litter Grant programs.
"One of the reasons bottles and cans are such a problem in terms of litter is that they don't degrade," said Davis. "Paper products get broken up in the rain and snow, but containers remain."