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Road trip, anyone? 

I have a long, honored history with refundable bottles. With childhood friends, I would collect squat, green Coke bottles, walk to the Bear Road Country Store in North Syracuse, N.Y., and exchange them for two cents each. I'd spend the money on penny candy, the bubble gum wrapped in a small comic. I got a treat, and those bottles got recycled. But because North Carolina does not have a bottle bill, the containers for soda, water, beer and wine have nowhere to go but the recycling bin.

Litter and waste reduction, job creation, a more efficient recycling program, environmental benefits, public health, providing small change for little kids: They're all positive payoffs of a bottle bill. If we followed in the footsteps of nine U.S. states, eight Canadian provinces, Mexico, every country in Central America, South Australia, the Pacific islands of Guam, Fiji, Kiribati and most European countries, where redemption rates top 80 percent, a smaller carbon footprint would be possible. Instead, North Carolina taxpayers recently forked over $16 million for roadside clean up.

All this thinking about bottle redemption came from a beer called Kennebunkport, spotted in the Weaver Street Market cooler. I bought the beer because I have two simple criteria for selecting which bottles of beer or wine get into my grocery cart—price and label. Price is an easy call. With labels, though, there is more to consider. As a graduate student I was the loyal consumer of a modestly priced red wine called Romanian Dancing Children. It was easy to spot on the shelf of the Red and White Market in Lexington, Va. But the label with the circle of children in native costumes eventually vanished. I couldn't find the bottle. But I saw a connection with Kennebunkport, so I bought it.

After sucking out the last drop of KBP India Pale Ale, I was preparing to add the bottle to my recycle bin. I looked more closely at that all-important label. The small print revealed that the bottle could be refunded for five cents in eight states. I raced to Google and found it was 808 miles from my doorstep to the Pugsley Brewing LLC in Portland. Surely there would be a redemption center nearby. With gas about $2.50 a gallon and my Mazda getting about 17 miles to the gallon, I would need 2,376 bottles for the trip to pay for itself. This was only one way, though, so I'd need a financial incentive for the return ride—maybe a load of lobsters or maple syrup?

After scratching out a few figures, I realized I needed to get more bang for the buck. That is, smaller bottles mean more cash, and the 7-oz. Coronita bottle is worth just as much as its big brother, while taking up only 32 cubic inches of space. I'd need 49 cubic feet of bottles, so the 72 cubic feet of my Mazda would leave plenty of room for Bubble Wrap.

But I'm going to need help. I only pop a cold one after mowing the lawn. It will take 66 years for me to hit my target. If only I could just get the brothers at Fraternity Court to drink Coronitas for the upcoming football season...

  • I have a long, honored history with refundable bottles.

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