Saturday, August 08, 2009

From the road #2: A partial solution to road shrapnel

Cyclists in the Tucson area, especially in the Mountain Avenue corridor populated by under-mature college brats, encounter much more glass than they should, and throughout Arizona we commonly see roadside beer and pop cans, more glass still, and "urban flotsam" even in Garden Canyon and Oak Creek. It's a hazard to cyclists and an eyesore to everyone else. "There ought to be a law!", the vulgar might say. There already is a law: both the State and municipalities will fine litterers of the public streets and highways.

The law is a "stick"; a "carrot" is also possible. I remember, vaguely, grocery stores taking refillable bottles back and refunding deposits until the mid-1980s, at least in the Chicago area, but this seemed to have stopped when pop stopped being sold primarily in glass bottles. Bottles and cans to this day are stamped with "HI" and "MI" and "CRV" bottle deposit indicators or values--I've noticed these but didn't think too much of the system or directly encounter it until this trip.

One doesn't see bottles along the roads even in poorer or shabbier areas of CA like one does in e.g. South Tucson or the student-populated areas. There are some, but fewer. Perhaps a cultural difference is involved--I cannot say definitively--but I suspect that the State's bottle deposit program has something to do with it. This is what "CRV" indicates on some containers: California "Cash Return Value" of five cents for small bottles and cans and ten cents for those holding more than twenty-four fluid ounces. One pays a deposit at checkout and collects it at service counters or very nifty "reverse vending machines" which scan the bottles and give cash or cash-equivalent coupons in return.

This incentive may seem small, but there's little inconvenience associated with it and it can be a non-insignificant portion of the grocery bill for many. Moreover, it gives bums some other easy means to earn a little cash than "spanging" and gets both them and largely idle kids picking up after less conscientious neighbors and hauling the containers to the grocery store. And it puts recycling, something which some people don't do seemingly out of spite--it's no harder to throw the wine bottle into the blue bin!--into a nicely Sunnsteinian choice architecture. Roughly 78% of bottles are recycled in states with deposit programs, whereas only 23% are recycled elsewhere. keeps track of efforts to pass bottle deposit bills. Their records have a such a bill being introduced in Arizona in 2008, but by such far-left characters as Phil Lopes, Krysten Sinema, and Steve Farley (the public artist responsible for replacing cheap buses with expensive streecars in Tucson, presumably because they're more aesthetically pleasing.) A nonstarter, in other words, given the makeup of the Legislature. People can be prone to oppose ideas simply because they come from people who usually have bad ideas. Don't let that get in your way here. And cyclists: think it over a bit every time you patch a puncture.

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