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Sen. Christine Cohen, co-chair of the Environment Committee (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — The co-chairs of the legislature’s Environment Committee are urging their colleagues to pass legislation that increases the bottle deposit fee from a nickel to a dime.

The legislation would also expand the current bottle bill, which is focused on mostly carbonated beverages and water to include juices, teas, and sports or energy drinks effective July 1, 2020. According to the Container Recycling Institute it’s estimated that approximately $340 million in new beverage containers per year would be covered.

CLICK TO VOTE ON HB 7294: An Act Concerning Bottle Redemption In The State

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The Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee has until Thursday, May 2 to forward the bill to the House in order to keep it alive.

“It increases redemption rates. It increases recycling rates and gets the trash out of the blue bins,” Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, said. “And actually recycles these bottles and cans.”

The bill, which increases the fee from a nickel to a dime, would also increase the amount of money redemption centers receive and lower the amount of money the state keeps from the unclaimed bottle deposits. The bill also allows distributors to keep 20 percent of the unclaimed bottle deposits.

The goal of the legislation is to get residents to redeem 90 percent of the containers that have a deposit on them.

Rep. Michael Demicco, D-Farmington, said the bottle bill is over 40 years old in the state of Connecticut and, like anything else, “it needs to be modernized, upgraded, tweaked a little bit.”

“The goal is to increase the amount of recovered and recycled materials,” Demicco said.

He said they are trying to increase the value of the products that are recycled because putting them in the blue bin degrades the value of the recyclables.

Jennifer Heaton-Jones, executive director of the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority, said she doesn’t buy the argument that the current bottle return process takes away from curbside recycling.

“Most single-stream beverages are consumed on the go, which means one-third of all soft drinks are consumed away from home,” Heaton-Jones said. “We need to incentivize consumers to return and recycle the material and prevent them from throwing it away.”

She said that’s why the increase from a nickel to a dime is so important.

Additionally, she said she would like to expand the bill to include wine and spirit containers, but that’s not a part of HB 7294, which lawmakers are hoping to get through the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee and to the floor of the House for a vote.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

“It is high time that the state addresses this issue,” Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker said.

The problem is “far bigger than the 169 towns to solve. It’s not something we can fix on our own,” Knickerbocker said. “Since China has stopped accepting recyclable materials from the United States, and since the glass contamination issue has gotten so big, what used to be a revenue stream for many communities has now turned into a cost.”

He said Waterbury, which used to realize $15,000 in revenue from selling recycled materials through the system, is now spending $330,000 from the taxpayers. In Fairfield, $50,000 in revenue is now a $500,000 cost.

But the legislation has some powerful opposition.

Ross Hollander, chairman and CEO of Hartford Distributors, testified against the legislation. He said even though it would allow wholesalers to retain 20 percent of the funds collected, “we still respectfully believe that the large increase in the handling fee will hurt sales.”

He said it will increase the cost of a case of beer by at least a $1.

“Connecticut consumers can easily buy beer in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York; and these increases in container deposits and handling fees will certainly push more consumers across the borders,” Hollander testified.

Wayne Pesce, president of the Connecticut Food Association, said the last expansion of Connecticut’s bottle bill in 2009 didn’t increase the number of containers redeemed.

In 2009, Connecticut expanded the bottle bill to include water bottles, but in 2013 the total number of containers redeemed in Connecticut was actually 21 percent lower than it was in 2009, according to Pesce, and our state has the lowest redemption rate of any of the 10 deposit states at 49 percent.

Pesce said the current system is broken and the proposed legislation doesn’t fix it.

“The windfall in unclaimed deposits for the state comes at the expense of residents who are really paying a tax, not a deposit on soft drinks,” Pesce said.