Quote of the week

Michigan, alone among the 57 states, has a ten-cent container-deposit law — five cents seems to be the maximum elsewhere — and apparently this is high enough to motivate your friendly neighborhood derelict to go poking around in people’s trash bins in hopes of finding some easy dimes:

It is bad enough to find my trash in my own yard, but a few weeks ago, I was infuriated to discover my “reject” bottles (which lack the magical Michigan label) thrown onto the lawn of the nearest lot where there is a street light! The picker obviously couldn’t read the label in front of my house as it was too dark, but once he saw that they weren’t redeemable, he just figured he’d throw them wherever he was. I hate having to pick up my bottles (trust me, I know they’re mine, as it’s a beer not sold in Michigan which I buy as a special treat) from a neighbor’s yard, and I hate whoever the hell did this. I would love to see whoever it is punished. But there never can or will be any sort of legal punishment, because derelicts who commit summary quality of life offenses are one of the classes exempt from the law. In order to be arrested for things like littering or taking a leak (or even a dump) in public, you have to be middle class and capable of showing up in court and paying the fine. Otherwise the cops won’t bother. And not only is there no incentive for them to bother with a filthy derelict, there are major disincentives. For starters, the guy will stink up the officer’s nice police car and maybe throw up in it, or give the officer bedbugs or lice. And if the officer were dumb enough to write a citation, the derelict will most likely never show up, never pay the fine, and the likely result would be that the officer would learn from his superiors (unofficially and off the record, of course) that if he wants to be promoted, he’d best not mess with “the homeless.” Or illegal aliens, and other exempt classes.

That’s the funny thing about the Law of Unintended Consequences: it requires no separate enforcement mechanism.


  1. Eric Scheie »

    13 January 2012 · 5:39 pm

    Thanks so much for the link, and I like your observation.

  2. Roger Green »

    14 January 2012 · 10:57 am

    Even among the states with the nickel deposits, such as NY, there are bottle entrepreneurs, because people put returnables in the recyclables or even in the trash. I wrote about it over 6 years ago: http://www.rogerogreen.com/2005/11/06/bottle-entrepreneurs/

  3. CGHill »

    14 January 2012 · 11:14 am

    Which makes me wonder if there’s a distinct point at which people will actually go to the trouble of returning the containers instead of just pitching them. Fifteen cents? Fifty?

    Maybe we’ll go to the pony-keg model. Hardly any of those get thrown away. Then again, that’s a hell of a lot of $BEVERAGE to buy at one time.

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