Christine Stuart photo

Now that the state will be collecting the nickel deposits from all the unclaimed soda and beer cans, a number of lawmakers think it’s time to expand the so-called bottle bill to include non-carbonated drinks like water and juice.

“We have the best chance of moving forward in a bipartisan way to get this done,” Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said Monday. “It is good for the environment and it is good for the state budget.”

The Container Recycling Institute of Glastonbury has estimated that adding just water bottles to Connecticut’s existing 5-cent bottle deposit law would bring $12.1 million in new revenue to the state annually. It is estimated that the unclaimed soda and beer cans amount to about $28 million a year.

“Simply put the bottle bill has worked,” Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, said. “States with bottle bills have a higher recycling rate than states without bottle bills. That’s about all the evidence I need.”

“This is our moment for the bottle bill,” Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, said.

In addition to adding water, tea, and juice bottles to the mix, Meyer said both pieces of legislation include provisions for increasing the deposit from 5-cents to 10-cents and increasing the handling center fee from 1.5 cents to 3 cents per bottle. One bill pertains solely to water bottles, while the other bill addresses all other non-carbonated drink bottles.

Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford, who joked that he’s been around longer than the bill, said House leadership “does have a kinder view of this bill now.” Roy said former Speaker of the House James Amann worked hard to get the bill to the point where he could do something with it and then it was withdrawn.

For years lawmakers have been unsuccessful in finding enough political will to claim the nickels from the unredeemed bottle deposits. Some have speculated that it was due in part to the influence of lobbyists, who before campaign finance reform played a big part in helping get lawmakers re-elected.

When asked if that’s what had changed, Williams said, “I hadn’t thought about connecting those two issues.”

“I would like to think that we’re taking a more serious look at this and by the way we have passed this a number of times in the Senate,” Williams said. “I think that the arguments over the years have had an effect.”