Towards a better Bottle Bill

Mike Yantachka

by Rep. Mike Yantachka

Back in 1971 there was a lot of concern about littering Vermont’s highways and byways. A major component of the litter was discarded beverage bottles that were tossed from moving cars. Governor Deane C. Davis and the legislature addressed the problem by passing the “Bottle Bill” in 1972 which established a five-cent refundable deposit on bottles and eventually cans. This system has worked effectively ever since to promote recycling of these items. According to the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), more than 80% of returnable bottles and cans are redeemed today. However, 45 years later, beverage container recycling is still a subject in the legislature.

Here’s how the system currently works. The beverage industry manages the deposit system. Consumers pay the retailer a five-cent deposit that they get back when the container is redeemed. The beverage distributor(s) then pay the redemption location 8.5 cents per container. The deposits for the 15% of containers that are never redeemed are retained by the distributors to the tune of about $2M per year. The distributors also recycle the aluminum, plastic, and glass for their value as raw materials. While aluminum and plastic are valuable materials, it costs money to collect, transport, and recycle the glass.

There are currently two bills that have been introduced this year dealing with beverage containers, H.67 and H.173. H.67 would extend the current deposit system to water bottles and all other beverage containers except for milk and milk substitutes, and it would require the unclaimed deposits to be remitted to the state to support our solid waste system. Wine and liquor as well as uncarbonated beverages would be included.

On the other hand H.173, which I introduced, takes a different approach. I proposed H.173 primarily for discussion purposes to reexamine our 45-year-old bottle recycling strategy. The committee process of the Vermont legislature allows for a pretty detailed examination of proposals with an opportunity to hear from many perspectives. Because Act 148 of 2012 mandates recycling throughout Vermont, H.173 would eliminate the deposit system entirely and place a five-cent nonrefundable fee on all glass beverage containers. My reasoning is fourfold:

1. Since the valuable aluminum and plastic are diverted from our solid waste stream by the deposit system, a significant revenue source for our solid waste districts is eliminated.

2. Glass recycling already imposes a loss on our solid waste districts because the value of the glass is lower than the cost of collecting, transporting, and processing it.

3. The extra 3.5 cents that the beverage distributors pay the redemption centers as well as the cost to handle and transport the containers is built into the price of the beverage. This additional cost is somewhat mitigated by the $2M left with the beverage distributors. This complex handling system would be simplified by my bill.

4. The five-cent fee on glass containers in H.173 would be remitted directly from the retailer to the state’s Solid Waste Assistance Fund which supports certain programs of the solid waste districts. This would also eliminate the middleman, the distributors, from the recycling stream.

Both bills are in the House Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee, which will consider their merits based on testimony from solid waste districts, the beverage industry, environmental organizations such as VPIRG, and groups that rely on the deposit system for fundraising. With changing times, the greater acceptance of recycling, and the positive effects of Act 148, I think it is worth revisiting the strategy for recycling beverage containers. I will support either bill or a hybrid that the Committee might approve.

I encourage you to let me know your concerns and opinions. I can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com), and you can find this article and past articles at my website: www.MikeYantachka.com.

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