Sen. Christine Cohen and Rep. Joe Gresko, co-chairs of the Environment Committee (Christine Stuart photo)

The Senate took action Wednesday on a bill that will change Connecticut’s decades-old nickel deposit law and increase it to 10 cents. It would also expand it to juice, tea, water and sports drinks. 

The Senate passed the bill 33-1.

“We have municipalities that used to benefit from selling their recycling the things that are in the blue bin. No more. That is not happening any longer. Now municipalities are actually paying to get rid of their recycling,” Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, says. 

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose

Cohen, who co-chairs the Environment Committee, says the legislation will increase the amount of money redemption centers get and encourage people to redeem the containers, instead of throwing them into the recycling bins at their homes. 

“Our redemption rates are slipping as we watch trash pile up,” Cohen said during the debate on the Senate floor. “Municipalities are losing money and the redemption centers where we go to collect our nickel back — these businesses are really falling by the wayside.” 

She said it’s because Connecticut has not updated its bottle bill in four decades. Cohen said when they started the bottle system, it predated today’s array of bottled non-carbonated beverages like juice, tea, bottled water and sports drinks. 

“If we can get these materials out of the blue bin and redeemed as they should be so that consumers are redeeming their nickels and perhaps dimes eventually that we can get the burden off the back of our municipalities,” Cohen said 

Cohen says the legislation was bipartisan. 

The state of Connecticut receives about $30 to $40 million in unclaimed bottle deposits per year. The money goes into the general fund since a 2009 when the state was facing a budget deficit and decided to keep the money, instead of sharing it with distributors. 

Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, said that fact should be an indication that the “bottle bill” isn’t working and hasn’t worked in some time. 

“This is not my model,” Miner said. “I would have been slower to increase the handling fees.” 

Miner said they want more bottles to be recycled so that “we’re not incinerating plastic bottles.” 

He said he wouldn’t have put the 10 cents in the bill either. 

“This isn’t a deposit in the community I live in, this is a tax,” Miner said, recalling testimony from a woman who lived in Hartford. 

He voted in favor of the bill. 

The bill would return some of the unclaimed bottle deposits to the distributors. It also increases the amount redemption centers receive for the cans and bottles they process. 

Not everyone agrees that’s a good idea. 

“If you take away the valuable commodities that are funding the program you’re still left to manage the other commodities that don’t have the value,” Steven Changaris, vice president of the National Waste and Recycling Association, says.

Changaris says the legislation will end up costing municipalities more. 

“We can get the material to market and the markets are rebounding,” Changaris said. 

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora says the changes in the legislation will only increase the cost to consumers. 

“Since we now have single stream, one really questions the need for an antiquated bottle deposit system that’s only going to hurt our industry and it’s going to make products less affordable for residents in Connecticut,” Candelora says.  

What the bill does not contain was a much-desired way to return or redeem the small liquor bottles called, “nips.” There’s no machine that will accept the various sized bottles.  

“The 50 milliliter bottles have become a problem — a litter problem,” Larry Cafero, executive director of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Connecticut, said. 

Cafero says the industry of distributors, retailers and liquor suppliers wanted to come up with a solution. The bill allows them to add a nickel surcharge to the cost of each nip. The stores will give the money to cities and towns where the nip was sold, but there’s no requirement for the stores to take the nips back. 

Cafero said the cities and towns can use the money to help clean up the nips which are littered near where they are purchased. 

“We here in Connecticut sell 90 million nips a year,” Cafero said. . 

Environmentalists were disappointed, but understand there’s no redemption machines to take them back. They would have to find a way to return and recycle them when there’s no technology that exists.

“The message was we would not be able to get this passed with bipartisan support with the deposit on nips,” Lou Burch, an organizer with the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said.  

Burch added: “We started this session out wanting to do something really meaningful on the issue of liquor nips, but once again, the beer and liquor lobby are very influential.” 

Cafero took exception to Burch’s comments. He said they came up with a solution because they recognized that nips are a problem.