The Clean Water Blog

Kramer Newman

$8 million to stop Kramer and Newman!!

In a very memorable episode of Seinfeld, Kramer and Newman take off in Newman’s mail truck loaded down with empty pop cans to return in Michigan for a tidy profit of 10 cents per can. The scheme was hatched in Jerry’s apartment, and their initial run was to be a sort of test to see whether or not a massive operation of muling pop cans into Michigan to defraud our bottle bill program was feasible.

Thirty years later, a group of lawmakers want to stop this kind of fraud – unfortunately, they have also developed their own Kramer and Newman like scheme to raid the Bottle Bill.  The bottle bill works like this – you pay a 10 cent deposit on each can or bottle of a carbonated beverage you buy, then return the can or bottle and get your dime back. Simple enough. But not everyone returns the bottle. So what happens to the money that goes unclaimed from cans and bottles that aren’t returned? That money is called the bottle bill “escheats” and is split -- 25%  reimburses grocers and others who participate in the bottle bill program, and 75% goes toward state programs. 80% of the money that goes to the state supports Michigan’s contaminated site cleanup program. We need those funds – Michigan has more than 24,000 contaminated sites. Bottle Bill funding is critical to addressing these sites so we can avoid situations like the green ooze leaking out of 696 and potential nuclear waste falling into the Detroit River that we’ve seen in the last two months alone.

A bill has already passed the Michigan House Regulatory Reform Committee to change the bottle bill escheat allocations. Under the new bill, only 40% of escheats would go to the state, and only 25% of that would go to the contaminated site program. This would be a cut of $21 million to a crucial, and already under-funded cleanup program. Why? To stop future Kramers and Newmans. If this bill passes a larger percentage of the escheats would go to police agencies for bottle bill fraud enforcement. But here’s the thing -- No one really knows how much bottle bill fraud actually happens, especially considering the fact that when cans and bottles are returned by machine, the bar codes prevent fraud from occurring to begin with. However, this new bill would put as much as $8 million annually towards investigating and preventing schemes such as the one proposed by Kramer and Newman from ever taking place.

I think we can handle the likes of Kramer and Newman without stripping critical funding from cleaning up contaminated sites and water bodies. Take action here to tell your lawmakers to vote NO on this new harebrained scheme.