Business & Economy

Coca-Cola officials claim bottle bill adds unneeded cost to recycling effort

Ray Dube, sustainability manager for Coca Cola of Northern New England, showcases the company’s recycling program during a presentation Thursday in Colchester. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger
Ray Dube, sustainability manager for Coca Cola of Northern New England, showcases the company’s recycling program during a presentation Thursday in Colchester. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

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.

David Larose, Vermont and New York state manager for Coca Cola of Northern New England, toured the company's Colchester facility Thursday during an Expo in which the company showcased its latest recycling program. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger
David Larose, Vermont and New York state manager for Coca Cola of Northern New England, toured the company’s Colchester facility Thursday during an Expo in which the company showcased its latest recycling program. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

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.

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  • Dennis Shanley

    Way back in the early 1970’s I was driving an MBG. My constant companion was Lucas, the Prince of Darkness. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time hitching rides in those days. I vividly remember one day thumbing on 104 traveling from St. A to Jeff. It was about 8 months after the bottle bill went into effect and something was gnawing at my mind as I trudged along. Suddenly the light bulb (incandescent at that time)in my head lit up, all the beer cans (steel at that time) in the ditch were rusty. Very few deposit cans remained, less littering and more gleaning had dramatically reduced roadside litter. THE BOTTLE BILL WAS WORKING!! Even today, Green Up volunteers will tell you that the volume of exempt beverage containers collected greatly exceeds the amount of deposit covered containers. In my mind the greatest failures of the bottle bill in 2013 is (1)that the 1972 Legislature never anticipated the broad spectrum of bottled beverages (often packed in indestructible plastic)available today as compared what was on the market in 1972 (can anyone explain logically why beer containers require a deposit why hard cider containers do not?)
    and (2) why we are still collecting a 1972 nickle deposit? The legislature’s intent in 1972 was to create a great enough incentive that most citizens would return their beverage containers or that gleaners would be sufficiently incentivized to do their work on most of Vermont’s highways. The problem is that the 1972 nickle is now worth well less than three cents in 2013. In order to maintain the Legislature’s intent the basic deposit should be raised to 10 cents in today’s dollars. This “tune-up” would cost Vermonters nothing if they faithfully recycled, would benefit scouts and other community groups and would further the incentive to gleaners, especially if coupled with an expansion of the definition of covered beverages. Overall a win, win, win or Vermont.

    It is scandalous that Mr. David Larose and Mr. Ray Dube of Coca Cola and other beverage distributors are lobbying the Legislature in an attempt to destroy Vermont’s Bottle Bill, a law that has worked for over 40 years in helping make our state one of the most attractive in the nation for both residents and tourists alike. Ain’t broke, tune it up but don’t break it. Its high time to keep the damned lobbyists from enticing the Legislators to violate both their own. oath of office and their Freeman’s Oath

    Shame on Coca Cola and other beverage distributors who want to gut our bottle bill and pass what should be a part of their cost of doing business on to ALL Vermonters, be they consumers of their product or not!

    • Fred woogmaster

      Very well stated, Mr. Shanley. I agree.

      • kathy boyle

        Very well said. It is always about the money. Coca Cola just doesn’t want the expense or headache. Well, too bad. And I also agree that they should raise the deposit, and include ALL beverages in plastic and cans. There are other beneficiaries of the bottle bill besides a more attractive state. Your local bottle redemption center is one of them, as well as, their employees (just ask my teenage son!). When MY father was a boy he collected bottles in MA. They were a nickel then! This was in the 30’and 40’s. It was the only way he could afford the “little luxuries”, like movies and candy. Try to go to the movies on bottle deposit money today!

    • kate griffin

      If a third of the bottlers volume is pet bottles and selling at $.24/lb. then the balance of your volume is mostly aluminum which sells for nearly $.75/lb. which is 3 times as much money and three times more volume. By my calculation you make money on the returned deposits!
      Who keeps the deposits that are not paid out?
      At 75% return , who keeps the 25% of all the nickels collected , the bottler!

  • Wayne Andrews

    Dennis: I agree with the original concept of the nickel return but that was in an era when recycling was in its infancy. Hopefully through education we know better today. However there are those that still discard their waste onto the roads and that is what we should be dealing with.
    With Act 148?? going into effect one portion is in July 2014 recycling is mandatory. (yes another law) Why is it we still need Coke or others to do Vermonts bidding for them?
    How about the stores charging the nickel or dime per canister, send that money to the State, in turn send those $$$ to the recycling centers and allow the recycling centers to pay back the nickel or dime to the consumer and take the Cokes of this world out of the equation. Whatever is not redeemed would mean $$$$ in the State budget.

  • Elisabeth Hebert

    Why am I not surprised that this greedy company has only it’s profit in mind and gives a hoot about the public good as Dennis Shanley describes it?
    To the Legislature: please do not away with the bottle- bill!

  • Mike Kerin

    Corporate greed! That is the only reason Coke wants the bottle bill overturned. This law “bottle bill” works! Don’t fix what isn’t broken!

  • Wayne Andrews

    For all the perfectionists in this world what is going to happen to the district recyclers budgets when the “extra” dime levy” takes away from their respective revenues? Its those non returnables which yields the districts a profit.
    Would we think the same of metals at transfer stations?

  • Rob Simoneau

    “We are not in the recycling business, we are in the beverage business, Larose said.” Yes you are in the recycling business. In Europe and other parts of the world the company who product products must, yes must, take their back. The simple logic is that if you produce the product you have the technology for its proper recycling. From a life cycle point of view this is important since the more plastic bottles we recycle the less oil we have to drill; plastics are made from hydrocarbons, eliminating the resulting pollution and energy that was need to replace the bottle. Recycling reduced demand for oil, anti-inflation, creates far less pollution, green, than was need to make the original plastic. Better bottle design would make it easier to recycle the entire bottle. In Germany the entire cap comes off, a small detail, but just recycling caps as an enterprise can make money. Finally we need to stop using the term waste. These are extremely precious and valuable raw materials that if handled properly saves us all money, less inflation, reduced pollution and the demand for oil and helps keeps our environment clean.

    I guess even Coco-Cola executive do not understand basic unit cost analysis. If you recycle, your packaging cost will be stabilized minimizing price pressure from inflation. The price for recycling bottles should be put at 10 cents not the current 5 cents.

  • David Ellenbogen

    If Coke is so dedicated to recycling, why did they as a corporation vote against a shareholder proposition about 10 years ago to increase the percentage of recycled plastic in its bottles to a mere 30%? It’s all about money for Coke (like most large corporations), and it’s their poor luck that bottles are one of the only items where the disposal cost of the packaging is not left for society to pick up on its own dime.

  • mike johnson

    Coke’s dedication to recycling is only a facade. They want to promote recycling, but rarely do very little to actually ensure that their containers get recycled. In fact, they buy up material from the very bottle bill states they condemn just to boost their recycling numbers. If it wasn’t for the deposit systems, recycling rates of PET and for aluminum cans would be dismal.

  • Connie Godin

    Keep and expand the bottle bill, sick of the water and ice tea bottle garbage all over the side of the roads and in town and everywhere.

  • Bradford Morgan

    Wow! Not one right wing nut standing up for Coke. Keep it up, it works and extend the program to every bottle.

  • Coke just wants to save money. They have never really cared about the environment nor anyone’s health. That isn’t their fault. Corporations today falsely focus on maximizing profits to hell with anything else. It is up to the people to have them behave a certain way in their communities through laws and regulations. If it was up to Coke they would be fine if we just tossed the bottles roadside and left them there forever.

  • Marty Manahan

    I think a main point that seems to be miising is what the bottle bill does for our economy. How many people pick up bottles and return them to supplement their income? How many “bottle drives” are there for community programs such as boy scouts, youth sports programs, community projects? What about the number of school kids that are employed in redemption centers at your local convenience stores. if the bottle bill goes away so does all of the above.

  • Mike Elmer

    Beverage companies lose $$ on the Aluminum & plastic they sell. The handling fee wipes out any profit from those materials. Many would say, so what?

    Waste companies & towns would make money by selling all of that scrap — it can help fuel more efficient curbside programs that collect ALL categories of recycling materials, public space bins & collection routines etc…whatever an individual community needs to make a step change in its diversion. That is where the real recycling can have a positive impact in reducing landfills.

  • Maureen Beach

    This bottle bill ultimately amounts to a tax on hard-working Vermonters, many of whom are already struggling to make ends’ meet or are living on a fixed income. Such policies are regressive and can also be harmful to small businesses and the jobs they provide.

  • Steven Wolk

    I must assume, as in any business, that distributors such as Coke would have the cost of redemption figured into the cost of their product. Hmm, let me think, oh yeah they do. When a store pays for the product coming in they have to pay the deposit. It is passed on from distributor to store to consumer. That is the simple version of any business. So how is it the distributors can claim it costs them money?! The bottle bill works. It has the best rate of recycling. I dare to say, that if there was a way to figure out how to incentify other products, not only beverage containers, but soup cans and paper products, etc. more people would recycle. As in anything if an incentive is offered people pay attention, thus the meaning of the word, incentive. Look it up David Larose. Im sure if you think about it you get an incentive to go to work each day. Its called a paycheck. That’s why most of us do what we do because of incentives. Its a pretty simple concept that even my 11 year old understands.
    I hope the VT. legislature makes the right decision and expands on an already working system.
    I could go on and on about this subject. Maybe someone in the legislature should ask Vermonters what they want. Isn’t that how its supposed to work. A government for the people by the people.