About a year ago I moved back to my home state of Michigan to be closer to family while I battle The Big C (cancer, not career failure).
It’s been 14 years since I moved away from the mitten. I moved away right after high school and have had the privilege, white and otherwise, to live in numerous states in the union. None of which subscribed to the philosophy of bottle deposits with as much ferocity as Michigan. Having witnessed what it’s like on the outside, I feel a burden to share this reason I feel no one should live in Michigan.
1. Bottle Deposits and HPV
No other state has a bottle deposit as high as Michigan. Ten cents. A few other places charge five cents, Maine, I think (does anyone even still live in Maine? And if they do, do they have access to grocery stores or do they just forage?), possibly California, Canada has one but who cares. American-speaking, all other states in the red, white and blue mathematically only care about cans being recycled half as much as Michigan. And in every other normal state with no deposit, you just pitch the cans in with your cereal boxes and Starbucks lids, set it outside in a bin once a week, and that’s where the story ends.
While living in Japan, I used to have to stand on my empty beer cans every morning and try not to twist an ankle flattening each and every one of them (there were a lot). Then I’d put them in a clear recycling bag before leaving the bag in front of my apartment building along with the others’. I did this religiously not because I watched An Inconvenient Truth too many times, but because I knew from experience that an uncrushed aluminum can in my recycling bag, taking up all that limited Japanese real estate, would land me a death threat-y note TO MY BOSS from one of my sweet old lady neighbors. They take trash and recycling seriously out there in the land of the rising sun. This was a chore, but it was fine with me, and the reason I was okay with it was because I could remember growing up in Michigan.
Growing up in Michigan you have to clean and sort your cans and bottles before returning them to the grocery store. You could imagine how someone like me who rarely cleans and sorts her own clothes could find this a huge chore. Next, you have to dedicate a special area in your home just for storing a truck-load of sticky cans that smell like your dad’s skunk piss beer.
Once that area gets filled up, after a few weeks or months, you take a special trip to the grocery store. You have to frame it as a special trip in your mind, one that you must mentally, physically, and emotionally prepare for because you will be at the store for a looooooong time. No matter what you try to tell yourself, it is not going to be a quick trip.
You arrive at the store and load your cart up with cans, either saying “fucking asshole” repeatedly because the cans already spilled everywhere and there’s old beer stuck to your knuckles, or you’re congratulating yourself for not spilling the cans yet. Once in the store, you head straight for the bottle returns, you resist putting anything in your cart till you’re done because if you do you run the risk of splashing your food with God knows whose saliva. At last you arrive, the cans have been piling up for a while now and it’s been on your mind, but you’ve made it to the dreaded bottle return cave. You are prepared, you hold your breath, lift your chin and march in.
You head over to the machine with the least amount of brown syrup dripping from it, there’s a bunch of bananas in your cart because you are weak, your flip flops adhere to the floor, doing less flipping and more flopping. One sticks completely to the floor and before you know what’s happening you’re stepping out of it and, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” your bare foot is touching the AIDS-coated floor of the bottle return cave.
You disassociate the rest of your body from your now HIV positive foot, put your shoe back on and saddle up to a can machine. You pull cans out and start putting them one-by-one onto the conveyor belt like a factory worker. Meanwhile whatever fluid/spittle/hepatitis is leftover in the cans is dripping down your arms and to the floor where it mixes with the AIDS-coating and splashes onto your legs. Also, you are most definitely saying words like “fucking asshole” under your breath, partly at yourself for not emptying the cans better and partly at Michigan for being a cunt to its citizens.
Finished with the cans, you still have one random glass bottle lurking in a brown puddle at the bottom of your plastic grocery bag. You have no idea where the bottle came from, it looks like a knockoff Corona and you assume your brother snuck it into your can recycling area one night when you weren’t looking. But ten cents is a lot of money, so you bring it to the glass recycling machine.
At this point you are beyond covered in tiny splashes of HPV, herpies and tuberculosis, and you are so desensitized you don’t mind as much when the stupid not-even-Corona bottle gets you with some of that brown puddle it came from. You put the glass bottle on the conveyor belt and one second later red lights flash and an alarm buzzes like a mass shooter is tearing through the building and filling people with bullets. The machine can’t accept your bottle because it’s too shitty and off-brand to have a bottle return code. You try once more, knowing even computers can make mistakes, and it’s like Columbine all over again.
FINE! you say, giving up, and throw the bottle in the trash along with your empty disgusting grocery bags and last shred of dignity.
At the end of it all you get a ticket for $2.30, and considering what a degrading amount of money that is, not even enough for another case of La Croix, decide next time to avoid the rigmarole and shove all the cans down the coinstar change counter and see what happens then.
Anyways. Thanks for reading. This has been my warning to everyone outside of Michigan, take it from me, the struggle is real, your life will never be the same. Don’t live here.