Texas lawmakers heard proposed legislation Tuesday that could create the first bottle bill in the Gulf States. It’s the third time the Lone Star State’s legislature has considered proposals to create such a deposit-refund infrastructure since 2011.
Members of the House Environmental Regulation Committee heard testimony for and against Bill 2425, which was introduced by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, in early March. The committee took no action and tabled the bill.
Proponents, namely Texans for Clean Water, say such a bottle bill is the most effective way to decrease the volume of aluminum, glass and plastic beverage containers littering waterways, roadways and public areas, or buried in landfills throughout the state. The system aims to leverage financial incentives—5 to 10 cents per container—and create jobs while promoting a free market approach to recycle the maximum number of beverage containers.
“Passing a bottle bill in Texas is a challenge. It’s a Republican state and very much a conservative state. When people hear bottle bill they just think of the traditional bottle bill and say ‘No,’” says Richard Abramowitz, a consultant for Texans for Clean Water, the collective force behind the bottle bill effort. “This bill is unlike any other bottle bill in the country. For example, there is no retailer take back or distributor take back requirement. It creates a free market for the creation of redemption centers. And it’s a program that will be run by a nonprofit consortium with industry involved.”
Opponents say the bill would effectively become a “tax” in rural areas where recycling is sparse. They say efforts to create a system dedicated only to beverage containers is unsustainable and would undermine current recycling efforts, particularly among municipalities that have already invested in curbside collection infrastructure.
Kevin S. Dietly, principal at Northbridge Environmental, based in Westford, Mass., testified Tuesday on behalf of the Texas Beverage Association and the American Beverage Association.
“TBA and ABA oppose HB 2425 because it is the wrong approach to addressing the important issue of how to improve recycling in Texas,” Dietly said in an email before his testimony. “This proposal would require the establishment of a costly, duplicative system across Texas to recycle only beverage containers. Establishing such a system would compete with and undermine existing recycling infrastructure and lead to a number of unintended consequences including higher prices, widespread fraud, and adverse impacts on business in border areas of the state.”
According to Texans for Clean Water, the state currently recycles 24 percent of containers sold. It offers this example: In 2010, 17.5 billion beverage containers were sold but only 5.2 billion were recycled. The 12 billion bottles that weren’t recycled represented. More than $2.9 billion worth in recyclable scrap from empty containers was either littered, buried or burned. That's a loss of nearly 65 percent of potential revenues from empty containers.
“The bill is not meant to compete with curbside, it’s meant to complement existing recycling programs in that it creates the collection mechanism, and once material is collected it’s owned by people who collect it,” Abramowitz says. “A lot of beverages are consumed away from home so this would help capture those containers both at commercial establishments and at multi-family establishments. There is a lot of opportunity to capture additional material that is just not covered by curbside programs or drop off.”
Dietly agrees that Texas—and the country at large—must do a better job of recycling and it starts with improving access.
“Many who have trash service do not have recycling collection and they should – parallel access to recycling is a critical feature we have long supported and that is found in the progressive legislation enacted in recent years in Delaware where universal recycling access replaced that state’s deposit law,” he said.
The passage of the bottle bill would create small businesses and as many as 15,000 direct and indirect jobs, Abramowitz says.
Overall, 10 states have bottle bills in the U.S. and most have been around since the 1970’s and 80’s.