DESPITE MULTI-MILLION-DOLLAR lobbying by those who are in the business of manufacturing or using throwaway bottles and cans, the nation's war against junk may be gaining new allies in Congress. Study after study keeps showing not only that throwaways are desecrating the national landscape and costing consumers unnecessarily for packaging and retrieval, but that they also are a waste of energy and resources. So there is increasing sentiment to reverse this no-deposit, no-return attitude about resources through passage of returnable-beverage-container legislation.
Tens of billions of throwaways are produced in the United States each year. That's a lot of trash. It's also a monument to wasted energy, as sponsors of the container legislation keep pointing out. Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) has been leading the Senate effort for deposits on bottles and cans as an incentive for the marketing of refillable beverage containers. He can point to numerous reports by government and citizen groups that cite potential energy savings through a revival of returnables.For example, estimates show possible savings of 115,000 barrels of oil a day and 7 million tons of reusable materials each year through a nationwide return to refillable containers.
To be sure, the statistics all leave some room for dispute by the industries that continue to foist millions of tons of steel, aluminum and glass on consumers (along with cheery reminders to use litter baskets). But it would seem only common sense that these billions of bottles and cans - whether strewn all over the land or stacked in little piles to be recycled at additional energy expense - are an expensive and offensive excess.
In the Senate, the legislation enjoys strong support not only from Sen. Hatfield, but also from Sen. Bob Packwood, Mr. Hatfield's Republican colleague from Oregon - where a popular, effective state law has been on the books for some years now. In the House, Rep. James M. Jeffords, Republican from Vermont - which also has such a law - heads a bipartisan list of 55 cosponsors. The nearly identical House and Senate bills would simply require that over the next three years, each soft-drink and beer container carry a statement of its refund value of at least a nickel.
Already, wise consumers have discovered that, where deposit returnables have been readily available the savings can be considerable. Moreover, no consumer would be required to return anything; the deposit merely would serve as a strong incentive to the packaging industries to let consumers borrow reuseable containers instead of repeatedly buying new cans and bottles. Through a uniform national changeover to refillables, the system would be handy for consumers, who now can't always find their favorite products in this sensible packaging.
As for the impact on industries in this market, most of the gloomiest estimates put out by opponents of the bill have assumed a complete and sudden switch to returnables. Not only would the shift be gradual, but, moreover, as the Environmental Protection Agency has noted, a nationwide phasing-in would minimize adverse repercussions. Besides, all indications are that there would be not net loss in jobs due to such a gradual shift.
So quite aside from the absurdity of continuing to manufacture a gross national trashpile every year there is a clear national interest in this energy-and resource-conservation measure. The immediate question is whether the legislation will receive proper congressional consideration in Congress. In the Senate, the bill rests with the Commerce Committee's consumer subcommittee. In the House, the measure is tied up in an Interstate and Foreign Commerce subcommittee on transportation and commerce, headed by Rep. Fred B. Rooney (D-Pa.), who - along with steel and brewery interests in his district - isn't eager to see the bill approved. While their concerns about the impact of the bill are understandable, the container bill is a reasonable measure that, instead of causing harmful upheaval, is meant to curb a foolish, expensive waste of increasingly precious resources. It deserves enactment in this session of Congress.