'Can' Michigan Stop Recycling Refund Scammers From Out of State?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on February 20, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Only Michigan offers a 10-cent recycling refund for bottles and cans, as savvy soda sippers (and "Seinfeld" fans) can attest. But the refund is only supposed to apply to bottles and cans purchased within the state of Michigan.

At 10 cents each, the Great Lakes State offers about double what most others pay for empty bottles and cans. That's led some to bring their recyclables to Michigan so they can cash in on the extra money.

But some Michigan lawmakers have caught on, and they aren't too happy. On Tuesday, they introduced a bill that would crack down on out-of-state bottle returners.

Michigan's current laws already make it a crime to return out-of-state bottles to Michigan for the higher refund. If you're caught, there's a penalty, The Associated Press reports.

The new proposed law would make it a crime to merely attempt to return out-of-state bottles in Michigan. Violators could face a $1,000 fine, up to 93 days in jail, or both.

So why such a strict policy? Apparently, out-of-state bottles are really costing the state; by one estimate, Michigan loses as much as $13 million a year on out-of-state bottles and cans, according to the AP.

Most bottle return programs act as a way for the state to earn a little income. You pay for the bottle deposit upfront when you buy the bottle and if you return it, the money is returned too.

When a bottle isn't returned, the funds stay with the state. It's an easy way to collect some revenue.

That money can then be used for almost any purpose. Michigan uses it for environmental cleanup programs, according to the state's Bottle Law FAQs.

If out-of-state bottles are returned, however, that cuts into the money Michigan has to spend. Not only that, but if the bottles were purchased out-of-state, some other state is getting the revenue when the bottles are purchased. Michigan then has to "return" money it didn't initially collect.

Many crimes punish both the act and the attempt as a way to further discourage potential criminals. While the proposed law isn't yet a reality, bottle and can smugglers beware: Michigan lawmakers are on to you, and on this issue, they aren't going to kick the can down the road.

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