COLCHESTER — Regional Coca-Cola officials said Thursday that the state’s bottle deposit law is increasing the cost of recycling programs that provide waste material to local businesses.
The requirement in Vermont’s current Beverage Container Law, or “bottle bill,” that beverage companies pick up their containers from redemption centers adds an unnecessary expense to the company’s recycling programs, said David Larose, Vermont and New York state manager for Coca-Cola of Northern New England (CCNNE).
The company presented its latest program during a recycling expo at the CCNNE facilities in Colchester on Thursday.
Ray Dube, sustainability manager for CCNNE, said No. 1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles can be turned into a polyester fiber used in Nike and New Balance sneakers, Vermont Teddy Bear animals and The North Face jackets.
However, even though CCNNE recycles about 6.5 million plastic bottles in a given year, this is not enough to supply the growing demand for the material, Dube said.
“These companies are desperate for material,” Dube said. “If we want to keep them here, we have to supply them with this material.”
The company does not make any money from the program, Dube said, but is looking to reduce the amount it costs to redeem the plastic and send processed material to companies that reuse it for their products.
Under the deposit-redemption system outlined in the bottle bill, the company has to pay handling fees to retrieve their containers from redemption centers. According to the law, companies pay a handling fee of 3.5 or 4 cents per bottle.
Supporters of the bottle bill say the 5-cent refundable deposit is an incentive for people to return the containers and that the rate of recycling is much higher for items with a deposit than for those without a deposit.
Larose said the handling fee is an unnecessary cost that his company has to pass on to other Vermont businesses. Larose wants the plastic to go directly to processing facilities instead of lugging it around.
“We are not in the recycling business, we are in the beverage business,” Larose said.
This means sending the plastic through a traditional recycling system rather than depositing them at redemption centers, as the bill encourages with a cash refund on plastic, glass and aluminum cans.
The handling fee for a 750-pound bale of plastic bottles is $510 at 4 cents a bottle, Larose said. To reclaim the bale, the company gets 24.3 cents per pound, or $182.25, he said.
This totals a loss of $328 on the bottles’ value that could otherwise go directly to waste processing companies, such as Casella Waste Systems, if these bottles were simply recycled, Larose said. Waste facilities could then use the money to expand their facilities’ capabilities to recycle other materials and increase the waste diversion rate in the state, he said. The diversion rate is the amount of material that does not go into a landfill.
The deposit incentive
Lauren Hierl, an environmental health advocate for Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), an environmental advocacy organization that supports the bottle bill, said the deposit-redemption system reduces waste.
“I don’t think anybody questions the environmental benefits of the bottle bill,” she said.
Hierl said the the bottle return rate under the program is about 75 percent. For traditional, curbside recycling where the plastic goes into a blue box and then is sent to a recycling facility, the diversion rate is about 35 percent, she said.
She said beverage companies should pay a fee to collect their bottles as an incentive to reduce the amount of waste they produce. The principle of “extended producer responsibility,” which means producers account for the long-term impact of their products, is a strategic component of the bill, she said.
There are currently two bills in the Natural Resources and Energy Committee designed to expand Vermont’s bottle redemption program to include all recyclable beverage containers, except those containing milk, H.495 and H.375.
Only carbonated drinks and liquor are redeemable under present law, which was originally passed in 1972 to address littering.
Rep. Tim Jerman, D-Essex Junction, a member of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said the committee is studying the benefits of the bottle bill.
The goal of the law is to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills, he said. He said the issue is urgent because the state has just one working landfill, located in Coventry.