Soft Drink Tax, No. Bottle Deposits, Yes

You’re going to hear me talk a lot about stuff I discover when I’m scanning old film and prints.

Cape Girardeau Central High School vending machines circa 1963Cape CHS Students at vending machines circa 1963

This picture of Cape Girardeau (MO) Central High School students lining up to buy soft drinks in the Tiger Den sometime around 1963 caught my eye because of the glass bottles and the soda cases to hold them.

Nutritional aspect aside, what school would allow potentially lethal weapons like glass bottles today?

Fat tax on soft drinks

I’ve been reading lately about the idea of imposing a tax on soft drinks to discourage consumption. (And raise money.)

How about this instead?

Bring back deposits on bottles and cans

Make it a buck a container.

Don’t think it’ll work? Look at the roadsides. You don’t see many aluminum cans in the gutters. They’re picked up by folks who are willing to bend over to recycle them.

On the other hand, I’m constantly dodging broken glass from beer bottles. If you had to pay a buck deposit, you’d either bring the bottle back or someone would be more than happy to pick it up later.

It’s a win-win. The governmental agencies wouldn’t have to spend money to clean up litter, valuable resources would be recycled and folks willing to do a little work would have extra income.

Southeast Missouri Fair was almost as big as Christmas

When I was a kid, the high points of the year were Christmas, the 4th of July, Halloween, your birthday and the week the Southeast Missouri State Fair came to town.Cape SEMO Fair 1966

School would let out for half a day and we’d walk our legs off looking at livestock, checking out the cakes and pies entered in the cooking contests and load up on free handouts from every form of local business.

At night there would be stockcar races and a midway lit up with all kinds of lights. Music from rides would compete with barkers who were very good at separating you from your money.

Eventually, you’d run out of cash

At some point, the buck or so you had saved from your allowance would be gone, spent on fair food, rides or trying to win a hunting knife or a teddy bear.

Target shooting at Cape Girardeau's Southeast Missouri Fair circa 1966That’s when you and your buddies would go bottle prospecting. You’d crawl under bleachers, root thorough bushes and ask folks who were finishing up their drinks for their bottles – all for the 2-cent deposit.

Some of the more larcenous of the kids would lift up the edges of tents and snatch bottles that had already been returned. They grew up to be investment bankers or politicians.

No bottles left behind

When the fair finally pulled up stakes and headed to the next town, all that was left behind was a muddy field (it ALWAYS rained Fair Week), trampled sawdust and some blowing litter.

The one thing you’d NEVER find was a Coke bottle. They had all been Hoovered up by 10-year-old boys and turned in for two cents.

11 Replies to “Soft Drink Tax, No. Bottle Deposits, Yes”

  1. Hmm… when I was very young some friends of the family were building a huge house. I’d accompany my mom out there and help do some work on it (I helped install about half the upstairs at the age of 10 or so… they’d probably get in trouble for child labor these days) and I’d collect all the bottles that the construction guys left behind. Back in those days Florida still had bottle deposit and I think you could get 10 cents per. Maybe 5 but I’m pretty sure it was 10. I know I made probably 50 bucks that summer of just bottle returns.

  2. Oh yeah: My dad was a contractor and brought home bottles from the jobs for me to turn in and earn the deposit money for. I also made $5 or so a clip, by hauling a wagon full to the nearby Publix every week. The cranky lady behind the customer counter hated to see me pulling my wagon in there, but dutifully counted every one of them and helped me unload them into their big collection bin.
    I’m for bottle deposits — but I want them on plastic bottles, too. Get them out of our environment.

  3. I love the way government works …. not thinks, works. I remember a time when the school cafeteria was the only place you could get food, and the water fountain the only drink available. But they allowed soda machines onto grade school campuses creating a couple of generations of sugar/caffein addicts. Now that we’re hooked, they get the big payoff with a tax, telling us we should be glad to pay because the stuff is bad for us. Jeez!

    Going back to deposits is a good simple idea. I wonder if Publix and the bottling companies will go for it, because that’s probably the only way you’ll get the state legislature involved.

  4. The drink companies might resist because adding an additional cost at the checkout counter (even if you could get it back) might cut consumption.

    The sellers, though, might weigh the inconvenience of the extra handling against the advantage of people coming into the store to redeem their bottles.

    Traffic is traffic.

    I’m sure the payback from the state for having a lottery machine is less incentive than the traffic the lotto sales generate.

  5. Cape Central had an open campus for many years. Students would exit the building at lightening speeds and head out to their favorite spots for lunch. Many walked one and one-half blocks to Pack-A-Snack on Independence. I lived on Independence about 1/2 block up from Central. In the afternoon when we walked home, we would pick up the empty soda bottles that had been tossed in yards along the lunch route. I can remember many of my visits to Pack-A-Snack and Saturday/Sunday movie matinees being bankrolled by bottle deposits. It was recycling and roadside clean up in one!

  6. The cases of empty soda bottles were very heavy. One of the most hated jobs at Wimpy’s was separating the bottles by brand and taking the empties into the basement. The drivers who deliverd the full cases got the fun job of hauling the empties out.

    Back in ’78, my wife and I took a trip to Philadelphia and tried to redeem some Pepsi bottles we had taken with us. The grocery clerk looked as us as if we were from Mars and told us returnable bottles were illegal. Two years later, when we moved to northern Va., all we could find at the Manassas, Va., Giant were returnables!

  7. Thanks, Andrew. And thanks for introducing me to the Australian forums.

    There’s a good bunch of folks over there.

    And they don’t seem to mind me sneaking over from time to time.

  8. Bill,
    You’re not kidding about those cases being heavy. When I was a high school junior, my Uncle, who worked for my Grandfather at the Cape Girardeau Coca-Cola plant, gave me the “opportunity” to work at the SEMO University Greek dormitories stocking their Coke machines and gathering the empties from the dorm room spaces. Three stories on both ends of six dorms. A guy could really stay in shape going up and down that many stairs several times a week!

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