State lawmakers are considering updating or replacing the state’s “bottle bill,” which has directed how Connecticut has recycled its bottles since 1980.
Three different bills in the General Assembly would either update Connecticut’s current deposit-based recycling system or replace it with an upfront recycling fee that consumers pay when they purchase a beverage container that falls under the bill. In a deposit-based system, the state charges a fee on bottles or other containers when they are purchased and then returns that deposit when the vessel is recycled.
The proposed pieces of legislation, two of which are in the Senate and one of which is in the House, were voted out of the joint Environment Committee on March 22 and will soon proceed to the Senate and House floors. Gov. Dannel Malloy has also proposed an update to the current system, calling for increasing the deposit on bottles from five to 10 cents.
According to Richard Price — a press assistant to Rep. Mike Demicco, D-Farmington, who is one of the chairs of the Environment Committee — the two Senate bills, SB 995 and 996, are in opposition to each other.
“[Rep. Demicco] doesn’t see much compromise on these things,” he said. “If you repeal the ‘bottle bill,’ you’re basically just asking individuals to recycle.”
The House bill, HR 5618, is also in opposition to SB 996, as it seeks to modernize the “bottle bill,” not replace it.
In an interview, Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, told Fox CT that HR 5618, which she is co-sponsoring, would increase the handling fee paid by beverage distributors to handling facilities. She said bottle companies and grocers have pushed for replacing the bottle bill with SB 996, which would replace the deposit system with a four-cent fee paid by consumers.
“What the beverage industry has done is write a bill that shifts the responsibility from them onto the local taxpayer and the local consumer,” she told Fox CT. “Right now, the containers are worth five cents, so if somebody litters them in the parks or beaches or roads, someone else will pick them up and redeem them, and then the material is recycled and made into something new.”
Many environmental groups have also voiced skepticism about SB 996, saying that replacing the deposit with a recycling fee would take away the incentive for people to collect litter.
In a public hearing, Connecticut Program Coordinator for Citizens Campaign for the Environment Louis Burch said replacing the bottle bill would also result in a decrease in revenue going to the state.
“The unclaimed nickels from the ‘bottle bill’ go directly to the public fund, to the tune of about $25 to 30 million annually,” he said at the hearing. “Stripping away the deposit and replacing it with a fee that is being earmarked for recycling programs will result in the state missing out on tens of millions of dollars of much-needed revenue every year.”
However, those opposed to the current system argue that it is outdated and ineffective.
At the same public hearing, a representative of Waterford Coca-Cola, Mike Elmer, called the bottle bill “grossly inefficient” and called for more modern solutions.
“We are committed to responsible recycling, but we see a better way,” he said in his testimony. “We are willing to, and hope to play a role in the transition from the current system to a comprehensive solution that increases recycling of all materials.”
President of the Teamsters Local 1035 Christopher Roos spoke against the bottle bill at the public hearing, saying increasing the handling fee or deposit amount would hurt the 550 union employees he represents.
Roos said he does not support the four-cent recycling fee that SB 996 proposes as an alternative to the bottle bill because it could also negatively impact workers.
“I am not convinced that any of these proposals actually address environmental challenges in a positive way,” he said at the hearing. “I am convinced, however, that if approved, they would make for higher business costs that could lead to fewer jobs for my members.”
According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Connecticut is one of 11 states with a bottle bill.