Vermont Senator Packages Bottle Bill

The beverage container industry soon could be responsible for increasing bottle and can recycling, if Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., gets his way. Jeffords introduced legislation in April that would require manufacturers to develop a 10-cent refundable container deposit system to help reach an 80 percent national recycling rate.

The bill is the most effective way to achieve higher recovery rates, according to Jeffords and the Container Recycling Institute (CRI), Arlington, Va., GrassRoots Recycling Network (GRRN), Athens, Ga., and other environmental groups in favor of a deposit system.

If achieved, the 80 percent rate would be well-above the conflicting current estimated recycling rates — 41 percent by CRI and 55 percent by the National Soft Drink Association (NSDA).

According to CRI, soft drink container waste doubled from 18 billion units in 1992 to 36 billion units in 2000, and the aluminum can recycling rate declined from 56 percent in 1995 to about 55.4 percent in 2000. The American Plastics Council, Arlington, Va., has reported that the U.S. recycling rate for plastic soft drink containers declined from 50 percent in 1994 to 36 percent in 2002, while the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), Charlotte, N.C., has reported that the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottle recycling rate has dropped from 40 percent in 1995 to about 23 percent in 2000.

“The difference with this bill is that it isn't a command-and-control bill like previous ones,” says CRI Executive Director Pat Franklin. “The bill doesn't mandate a specific method to develop the system.”

Not so, says Drew Davis, vice president of federal affairs for the NSDA, which represents the beverage container industry. “They claim that it is up to the industry, but the plan must include a 10-cent deposit, so it's still a deposit system,” he says.

Nevertheless, Franklin says the 10 states with bottle deposit laws — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont — recycle more bottles and cans than the other 40 states combined.

Both CRI and GRRN cite the results of a study conducted by Atlanta-based Businesses and Environmentalists Allied for Recycling (BEAR), that show deposit systems historically create the highest recycling levels.

Davis, on the other hand, is not sure bottle bills are successful. “California, Maine and New York are required to report redemption rates annually,” he says, “and the numbers have been decreasing every year for the past five years because people are opting for the convenience of curbside recycling programs over the monetary value of deposits.”

The beverage container industry has been fighting bottle bills for the past 30 years, citing cost as a disincentive while favoring community recycling programs.

Nevertheless, the BEAR report led GRRN and CRI to file shareholder resolutions with Atlanta-based Coca Cola Co. and New York-based PepsiCo Inc., demanding that they establish a container recycling strategy. Neither resolution passed, but since they were filed, Pepsi has agreed to begin using recycled plastic in its bottles this year, with a goal of using 10 percent by 2005. Coke also will increase the recycled content in its PET plastic beverage containers to 10 percent by 2005.

Jeffords' bill currently sits in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. He has introduced similar legislation in the past, Franklin says, but there is a stronger chance that it will pass this time because Jeffords chairs the committee.

Meantime, Hawaii is trying to become the 11th state to adopt a bottle bill. On April 30, the state legislature passed a measure calling for a refundable five-cent deposit on beverage containers and a 1.5-cent per container charge to fund local recycling efforts. At press time, Gov. Ben Cayetano was expected to sign the measure, which would go into effect in 2005.