Albert Karimov via shutterstock

HARTFORD, CT — Several bills this year are aimed at improving or abolishing Connecticut’s decades old bottle bill.

Connecticut is one of 11 states that are “bottle bill” states where consumers can get back the small deposit they pay on bottles and cans at the time of purchase. It initially started in 1980 as an environmental initiative to get the empty containers off the streets.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed doubling down on the bottle bill by increasing the deposit on a can from a nickel to a dime. The idea is that an increase in the deposit would encourage people to return empties at a higher rate. Malloy estimates the proposal would bring in an additional $12 million to the state from those unclaimed bottles and cans that end up in single-stream recycling containers.

The legislature’s Environment Committee heard about two other proposals Monday.

One bill would create a 4 cent bottle recycling fee in lieu of a bottle deposit fee. Another would increase the handling fee for bottle redemption centers.

Many of those who support keeping the bottle bill in place and oppose the idea of a 4 cent bottle deposit, include two Connecticut companies that manufacture the reverse vending machines and owners of redemption centers. 

Rick Ross of Redemption Centers of America in West Haven said if they decide to go with a recycling fee and eliminate the bottle bill then recycling will go to less than half of its current rate and streets, parks, waterways and landfills will fill up with beverage containers. Also the entire industry built around the bottle bill will collapse.

Lou Burch, program coordinator for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the bottle deposit law has been a “proven effective way of getting these containers out of our waste stream.”

He said the bottle deposit guarantees that these bottles will be collected when they end up in the environment.

Redemption rates show Connecticut’s rates have dropped off from 57 percent in 2013, 53 percent in 2014 and 51 percent in 2015. Redemption rates were higher before 2009 before water bottles were added to the deposit system, according to the Container Recycling Institute.

The Bristol Resource and Recovery Board, which represents 14 cities and towns, said they don’t support a 4 cent fee because they’re told that there is no viable market for glass and “there is a cost to dispose of this material when collected with single stream recyclables.”

Curt Bucey, executive vice president of Strategic Materials, which has a location in South Windsor, said curbside recycling “will force municipalities to absorb the extra costs needed to sustain glass recycling.”

He said they pay for deposit glass, but charge for curbside single stream glass “due to the high levels of contamination.”

Delaware, according to Lynn Bragg of the Glass Packaging Institute, is the only state to ever repeal its bottle bill program and replace it with a 4 cent tax per bottle at the point of purchase.

“Delaware’s efforts have not met expectations over the past four years,” Bragg said in written testimony. “Revenue from the beverage tax in Delaware was designated to establish residential curbside recycling programs, but actual revenue has been much lower than anticipated. Revenue of $22 million was predicted to result from Delaware’s beverage tax, however only $14 million was received. Of that, only $8 million was given out in grants. This past July, the remaining $5 million collected from the tax was sent back to the state’s General Fund, effectively terminating the grant and recycling assistance program.”

Another bill calls for distributors to increase the handling fee it shares with redemption centers.

The legislation would increase the money for redemption centers to 2.5 cents for beer or malt beverage containers and 3 cents for water and soft drinks. Currently, redemption centers receive 1.5 cents for beer and malt beverage containers and 2 cents for water and soft drinks.

Companies like CocaCola oppose the increase and the bottle bill in general.

“We see the bottle bill as a grossly inefficient method of collecting a very small slice of the total recycling opportunity,” Mike Elmer, director of capabilities for the CocaCola Bottling Company of Northern New England, said in written testimony. “Further, bottle/can redemption inhibits the ability of Connecticut towns to improve local recycling of all materials by depriving them of the tens of millions of dollars in scrap revenue, and sending the message that some plastic, glass and aluminum should be recycled differently from other plastic glass and aluminum. This is not making recycling easy.”

Amanda and Mike Pianka, who used to run a redemption center in Wallingford, said CocaCola essentially put them out of business because they wanted them to sort and store all of the Coca-Cola products their center received.

Mr. Pianka said he didn’t think that was necessary since the reverse vending machines were doing an accurate count. They also didn’t have the space in order to accommodate the distributor.

They had little time to decide whether to stop accepting Coca-Cola products at the center or shut down. They opted to shutter their doors on Feb. 13. They were at the Capitol Monday advocating for an increase in the handling fee.