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Editorial - Munching on aluminum?

April 22, 1997

Pennsylvania farmers, tired of picking up glass bottles and aluminum cans from their crop fields and pastures, are again asking the legislature to place a deposit on these beverage containers. Lawmakers are resisting because of retailers' opposition and fear that such a move might put local curbside recycling programs out of business. But as we said when this issue first surfaced earlier this year, there's a middle ground that may help farmers and local recyclers.

Testifying before a legislative panel this past Monday, representatives of farm groups, the state agriculture department and food processors advanced what (for us) is a new argument - broken drink containers may be contaminating the food supply and killing animals as well.

Jim Cole of Furman Foods said his company had been forced to turn away loads of peas contaminated with broken glass. Charles Brosius, the state agriculture secretary, said that livestock deaths from eating broken glass or shredded aluminum are so common that farmers have their own slang for it: "hardware disease."

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Brosius backs the deposit bill farmers favor, but he's being bounced from Gov. Tom Ridge's cabinet as of June 1. According to the Associated Press, Ridge does not support a deposit bill because it would divert the only recyclable that makes money - aluminum cans - away from municipal programs and threaten their financial stability.

Retailers don't want to handle deposit containers, citing health concerns and a lack of storage space. And labor unions fear the job losses that deposit bottles would bring for can and bottle manufacturers.

Let's look at the problem: Without some incentive greater than what exists at present, nobody's going to pick up bottles and cans along the roadside. Why not levy a small fee on each can and bottle, a fee that would be refundable at municipal recycling centers? The centers would stay in business, there'd be fewer containers tossed aside and best of all, those who do the dirty work along the road would get a few bucks for their trouble.

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