Will a bigger bottle deposit incentivize recycling?

Published: Mar. 29, 2021 at 6:19 PM EDT
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WAITSFIELD, Vt. (WCAX) - A plan to expand Vermont’s bottle bill would mean paying more in deposits and getting more back at the redemption center. It’s an effort to boost recycling. But for some, it’s a tough bill to swallow.

Right now, there are two separate recycling systems in Vermont-- the blue curbside bins and redemption centers where you put a can inside and get 5 cents back. A new bill working its way through the Legislature would double that to 10 cents. Wine bottles would be included, too.

Supporters say Vermont’s bottle bill hasn’t been updated in nearly 50 years and it would give more people a reason to cash in at redemption centers.

“A benefit to consumers is a lower carbon footprint because of this whole system of a circular economy of turning the wine bottles and the plastic bottles into new bottles,” said Rep. Jim McCullough, D-Williston.

The expansion would rake in an estimated $1.5 million in state revenue.

A recent poll shows some 83% of Vermonters support expanding the bottle bill to other containers.

Advocates say how many times a bottle or can gets recycled depends on where it goes.

“The bottles and cans that go through the bottle redemption centers are more likely to get turned into bottles and cans as opposed to our single-stream recycling that get used maybe one more time,” said Lauren Hierl of Vermont Conservation Voters.

However, some oppose the measure, saying it will put an unnecessary burden on distributors retailers and consumers.

Todd Bouton at Farrell Distributing in South Burlington says he’ll have to manually place thousands of labels on wine bottles, a labor cost that will make its way to consumers.

“Us as a wholesaler, we’re less concerned about the impact on us but more concerned about our customers and the consumers of Vermont because at the end of the day, that’s what makes us successful is selling that product through that system and that’s going to undermine that system,” Bouton said.

Beverages are distributed from Farrell to stores across Vermont, including Mehuron’s Supermarket in Waitsfield. Owner Tom Mehuron has a redemption machine out front but he says he just doesn’t have the space to act as a full-blown recycling center.

“Every single new type of container you put through there has to be registered with the company we rent the machine from, so it’s impossible to keep up with all of the new products,” Mehuron said.

And an expansion of the bottle bill is complicated in border towns where some are concerned about potential fraud where people can cash in out-of-state cans in Vermont.

Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, says he’s opposed to the expansion but advocates and supporters hope it can cross the finish line either way.

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