January 26, 2009

Two bills add water bottles and more; increased revenue, cleaner streets

HARTFORD – The leaders of the state Senate and the Environment Committee today unveiled a plan to substantially expand Connecticut’s decades-old bottle bill in a manner which will both protect and enhance the state’s environmental quality while simultaneously expanding its revenue base.

The Environment Committee has raised two new bottle bills: a so-called “regular” bill (SB 662) which applies to water bottles only, and an “expanded” bill (SB 661) which applies to most all non-carbonated beverages (except milk), such as water, sports drinks, bottled coffees and teas, and fruit drinks.

Both bills are awaiting a public hearing before the Environment Committee.

While exact revenue estimates have not yet been determined, the Container Recycling Institute of Glastonbury, CT has estimated that adding water bottles to Connecticut’s existing 5-cent bottle deposit law would bring $12.1 million in new revenue to the state annually. Also, the non-partisan state Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated that under last year’s similar bill (sSB 357), municipalities would save up to $400,000 in Connecticut Resource Recovery Authority (CRRA) tipping fees in 2010, since there would be less curbside recycling to haul away and less “tonnage” for towns to pay for.

“While this is not a new proposal, I believe there is a new sense of urgency for an expanded bottle bill that will improve Connecticut’s environment and its budget,” Senate President Donald E. Williams, Jr. (D-Brooklyn) said. “Sometimes a crisis can provide an opportunity – and that’s exactly what this is. I look forward to working with our Republican colleagues in the legislature to get this important bill passed into law.”

“Connecticut’s original redemption policy never anticipated the explosion in consumption of bottled water, teas and sports drinks that the industry has experienced over the past several years,’’ Senate Minority Leader John McKinney (R-Southport), a Ranking Member of the Environment Committee, said. “It is past time for a common-sense expansion of our bottle bill and since water and other single-serve beverages are often packaged in the same containers as carbonated beverages, the infrastructure is already in place to make this change.”

“This is the year for water bottles and teas and sports drinks to be added to the list of redeemable
containers here in Connecticut,” Sen. Ed Meyer (D-Guilford), the Senate Chairman of the Environment Committee, said. “It’s good for the environment not just because it removes trash from our rivers and roadsides, but because it extends the life of our landfills, saves cities and towns money in trash-tipping fees, and puts glass and plastic back to use as recycled consumer goods. Connecticut has been a national leader in this regard and now it’s time to lead the way once again with an expanded bottle bill.”

“I think we have a unique opportunity to add water bottles to the mix,” Rep. Richard Roy (D-Milford), the House Chairman of the Environment Committee, said. “The biggest problem is that these bottles are being used by more and more people, but without an incentive to bring these bottles home or to a store for redemption, they are becoming litter along roadways, in parks and on beaches.”

Connecticut’s bottle bill was enacted by the legislature in April 1978 and implemented on January 1, 1980. In its first 25 years, it is estimated that Connecticut has prevented 20 billion bottles and cans from ending up as litter, and has saved more than 1.3 million tons of otherwise recyclable material from being tossed onto streets and into streams, buried in landfills, or incinerated.

The proposed “expanded” bill specifically defines a “non-carbonated beverage” as water and other noncarbonated, nonalcoholic and nondairy drinks in liquid form intended for human consumption, but excluding liquid in syrup or concentrated form, a minor flavoring ingredient in food or drink, a seafood, meat or vegetable broth soup, or soy milk or rice milk.

Both proposed bills apply only to carbonated beverages of 2 liters or less in size, and to noncarbonated beverages of 20 ounces or less in size. Both bills also contain provisions for:
• increasing the per-bottle deposit from 5 cents to 10 cents;
• increasing the redemption center handling fee to 3 cents per container;
• requiring redemption centers that are established or expanded after October 1, 2009 to locate those centers near the main entrance of the business.

Connecticut is one of 11 states in the country with a bottle redemption law; those laws vary from 5 cents to 15 cents per container, depending on the size and type. For example, Michigan charges 10 cents for all containers; Maine and Vermont charge 15 cents on liquor containers and 5 cents on all others; and California charges 10 cents on containers greater than 24 ounces and 5 cents on smaller ones. Most all of these 11 states charge redemption for beer, carbonated soft drinks and mineral water, but some states also impose a redemption fee on coffee and tea (Hawaii) or on all beverages except dairy products and unprocessed cider (Maine). Effective January 1 of this year, Oregon expanded its nearly 40-year-old bottle redemption law to include bottled water.

Ten other states are currently considering instituting their own bottle redemption laws, including Arizona, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

Under the proposed bills, Connecticut will significantly increase the per-container handling fee paid to redemption centers from 1.5 cents for beer and 2 cents for all other beverages, to 3 cents for all beverages. If approved, Connecticut would pay one of the highest handling fees in the nation, behind Maine and Vermont (3.5 cents) but well ahead of others, which range from 1 cent to 2.25 cents per container, or even none at all (Michigan and Oregon.)