On roadsides throughout Indiana litter chokes the ditches. Under beds of wild geranium, years-old bottles and cans crinkle and clack together. Newer garbage sits on top.
Michael Greven and his 13-year-old son Liam of Columbus, Indiana, take exception to this unsightly garbage, and recently set out with a goal to walk from the city they call home to the state capital in Indianapolis, picking up bottles and cans the entire way. A sixty-mile journey.
Armed with a backpack full of garbage bags, twist ties and mechanical grabbing arms, they walked rural roads through south-central Indiana to make a point of showing how much waste these roadsides hold.
Michael is a "green" businessman who hates to see litter carelessly thrown out. "Think about all the latent energy out here just sitting in ditches," he says. Greven helps run two businesses, CasaVerde and EcoSource. Both companies focus on efficient building design using LEED standards. EcoSource also offers solar energy technologies.
Greven's goal with the walk is to make a statement that will resonate with the public and lawmakers in the Indiana Legislature. He hopes to aid the passage of container deposit legislation, also known as a "bottle bill" through the legislature.
Economically, such a bill would provide the state much-needed revenue — by Greven's estimate, $15-20 million dollars a year. This is achieved by the state keeping a portion of the unclaimed deposits. "They can't turn their noses up at $20 million dollars," says Greven.
He sent an invitation to Gov. Mitch Daniels to join him on his walk to aid in the cleanup. Greven wrote the governor could join while they "pick[ed] up bottles and cans that should have a refund on them, but are now simply being thrown out of car windows and ruining our Hoosier landscape."
He's a busy guy
In entreating the governor, Greven added, "I know when you are out for a motorcycle ride the litter and degradation of our state has got to turn your stomach. We will have an extra bag available for you."
After many attempts to reach the governor, Greven finally got a response saying Daniels would be unable to make it.
"He's a busy guy and I respect that," says Greven.
Still, Greven sees Daniels' support as key to getting a bottle bill through the legislature, something that has failed in the past. Container deposit legislation has been sponsored in the state legislature numerous times but has yet to make it out of committee.
State Representative Milo Smith of House District 59 recently sponsored container deposit legislation three years ago. According to Smith's press secretary, Tyler Stock, Smith filed the bill as a means to initiate discussion on recycling. "It's a complex issue, it would cause beverage industry to raise their prices up front to cover the deposit, and some system to collect all the bottles would have to be implemented," says Stock. Stock goes on to say that Rep. Smith still believes the state and nation need a comprehensive recycling program.
While bottle bills have been successful in some states, the bottling, beverage and grocer industries spend millions of dollars defeating legislation at the state and federal level, according www.bottlebill.org.
Eleven states have successfully implemented bottle bills, including Michigan, which has the highest deposit — ten cents — for non-refillable bottles.
"You don't see this kind of litter in Michigan," notes Greven as he picks up a full beer can, where he says bottle bills have reduced roadside litter. Various studies show states with container deposit reduce beverage container litter in the range of 70-85 percent.
Legislation in Michigan is set up to allow the state to keep three quarters of unclaimed deposits, while the rest is re-distributed to retailers to offset their handling costs. According to www.bottlebill.org, up to 38 percent of containers went unclaimed in California in recent years. Also, in past years, unclaimed deposits totaled $84.7 million in New York, $28.5 million in Massachusetts, and $23.5 million in Michigan.
Container deposit legislation is one of the topics being discussed at the Indiana Recycling Coalition's Annual Conference and Exhibition, May 4-6 at the Holiday Inn North in Indianapolis.
IRC Executive Director Carey Hamilton says, "We will be discussing a host of different policy opportunities at the conference and we anticipate coming up with a few different initiatives across the state."
Some of the other options Hamilton mentions include "extended producers responsibility," which places the responsibility for recycling goods on the original manufacturer. She also cites bar and restaurant targeted programs, compost programs and disposal bans.
Hamilton adds it is "absolutely true" that bottle bills can increase the recycling rate and have a positive economic impact by "creating jobs for those collecting, sorting and processing recyclables." And as a manufacturing state, Indiana has many companies that could benefit buying recycled materials, and thereby saving on energy costs.
Thirty-three pounds per mile
On their journey, the Grevens were hampered by an anemic pace, sometimes picking up three to four bottles or cans every step of the way. Because of this, the pair walked around thirty miles, approximately half their original goal.
Even while only collecting trash from one side of the road and walking half their desired distance, the Grevens picked up over 800 pounds of trash. They found that trash was particularly thick in rural areas away from private residencies, where no specific person has a responsibility to keep the area clean.
The Grevens even went as far breaking down the numbers to count all the individual items they collected. In finding about 33 pounds of containers (not total trash) per mile, nearly one third was comprised solely of beer cans. "We spread it all out to count it and I said, 'Damn'," says Greven.
Their walk attracted attention; on the first day of their journey they were visited by Television station WRTV 6 of Indianapolis, the ABC affiliate.
Greven still wants to meet with Gov. Daniels, "That's the whole goal," he says, "We're going to do this walk annually, until we get it done."
Greven has a petition with thousands of signatures that he has accumulated over the years, but he sees the governor as key. In his latest letter to Daniels, Greven writes, "Hoosiers who we talked to along the way are for bottle and can refund legislation and we hope that you will get behind it as well."
When reached for comment about container deposit legislation via email, Gov. Daniels' press secretary Jane Jankowski replied, "It is not something that has been discussed and is not a part of the governor's agenda."
Greven's response to Jankowski: "Why not? It's a way to clean up the state and get revenue."
Next year, Greven plans to complete the walk before arriving at the Indiana Statehouse on Earth Day with all the garbage in tow, possibly placing the bags in front of the statehouse for effect. Greven hopes to organize people from different parts of the state to walk while collecting containers, converging on the capital on Earth Day.
To contact Michael Greven: firstname.lastname@example.org.