Beverage distributors propose an end to bottle bill

Bobby Martino

Bobby Martino does the multi-bottle sort at M&M Beverage and Redemption Center. Photo by Bryan Pfeiffer

Vermont beverage distributors have an alternative to the state’s bottle bill and they are prepared to pay for it, an industry lobbyist told lawmakers Friday.

The proposal would replace public trash receptacles with public recycling bins. In exchange, distributors want to do away with the state’s bottle deposit law, which environmental groups praise as one of Vermont’s most successful recycling programs.

Andrew MacLean, a lobbyist representing the Beverage Association of Vermont, said distributors are willing to pay for the lion’s share of the proposed program, which would replace what he calls an “extremely expensive” bottle bill.

“We recognized that if we are ever to get out from underneath this system, we have to propose to you a system that’s better environmentally. We have to invest – not only propose it – we have to put our own money into it,” MacLean told the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

Vermont distributors pay millions of dollars in handling fees to collect their returnable cans and bottles from redemption centers, which they say is an unnecessary step in the recycling chain but is required under the bottle bill.

The committee is drafting a solid waste bill, S.208, which is designed to send money to solid waste districts in preparation for deadlines associated with the state’s looming universal recycling law. In 2015, recyclables will be banned from landfills.

Under the draft legislation, the bottle bill – the state’s beverage container redemption law – liquor and large containers would be banned from the program. Now the omnibus solid waste bill has become a platform to debate the cost and benefits of a program originally designed for litter control.

Kevin Dietly, a consultant from Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants based in Massachusetts, pointed to a 2013 legislative report that shows the bottle bill costs individual Vermonters and the state $12 million each year.

Dietly, who studies redemption programs across the country, said it does not make sense to create a comprehensive recycling program with a bottle bill.

“It’s time to get rid of it,” he told the committee.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group and other environmental organizations support the bottle bill. The groups say the amount of materials recycled under the bottle bill more than doubles the state’s 35 percent diversion rate, which is the amount of material kept out of landfills.

An estimated 80 percent of the containers under the bill are recycled and reused, says Lauren Hierl, an environmental health advocate for VPIRG. She said the distributors’ proposal does not go far enough to replace the bottle bill.

“Doing some public space bins and litter cleanup is a far cry from what we achieve through the bottle bill, which is a very impressive recycling rate,” she said. “I mean it seems backward to say, ‘OK, we’ll just litter more but we’ll put more money into picking it up.’”

The legislative report says glass bottles can be worth about $20 per ton through the program.

Sen. Anthony Pollina. VTD/Josh Larkin

Sen. Anthony Pollina. Photo by Josh Larkin/VTDigger

Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D/W-Washington, sponsored S.65 last year, which would expand the state’s bottle bill to include more containers.

Pollina says the bottle bill is one of the state’s most effective and popular environmental laws.

“What we should be talking about is not chipping away at it. I think we should be talking about expanding it,” he said.

He said the state could raise about $2 million if it were to reclaim the 5-cent deposits that beverage distributors keep when consumers don’t redeem the bottles. Also, he said there are a lot of people who rely on the bottle bill for their jobs in redemption centers.

“There are not complaints about how the bottle bill works. That’s what’s so ironic about it for me. There are just constant attempts to do away with the bottle bill. If you want to do away with a law, find a law that doesn’t work,” Pollina said.

John Herrick

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