Levying a deposit on beverage cans and bottles would reduce pollution and conserve energy, according to a government report.

The study released Wednesday by the General Accounting Office, Congress's investigative agency, improves prospects for passing deposit legislation next year, said Rep. Paul B. Henry (R-Mich.).

"It addresses all of the industry concerns," said Henry, who this year unsuccessfully sponsored a bill to charge a 5-cent refundable deposit on soft-drink, beer and mineral water containers. Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) pushed similar legislation.

"There is no correlation between a bottle bill and a dropoff in beverage consumption," Henry said. "There is no direct tie between loss of container manufacturing jobs and a bottle bill."

William L. Ball III, president of the National Soft Drink Association, said a national deposit law "would be an unwanted albatross around the neck of those who are serious about recycling and the environment."

Brewers and bottlers once imposed deposits to encourage consumers to return glass bottles. But the practice has gradually disappeared since the 1950s as cans gained popularity and bottlers switched to non-returnable plastic and glass.

Nine states have enacted deposit laws: Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont.

California in 1987 established a program in which redemption centers, rather than retailers, redeem beverage containers. Florida adopted a disposal-fee system in 1988 that affects beverage and other containers. Several other states are considering deposit laws, the study said.

The beverage and container industries and retailers have thwarted national legislation repeatedly since 1970. They contend such laws increase the beverage industry's costs and reduce sales.

The GAO report, however, said the trend toward cans and non-returnable bottles and away from returnable bottles has occurred in states with and without deposit laws.

The report also found that:

Although beverage consumption declined in some states after enactment of deposit legislation, the declines were short-term and only partly caused by the laws.

States with deposit laws have reported declines as high as 83 percent in beverage-container litter.

Deposit laws could play a "significant role" in meeting the EPA's goal of recycling 25 percent of the nation's solid waste.