Expanded Vt. bottle bill passes preliminary Senate vote

Published: May. 10, 2023 at 6:18 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont’s decades-old bottle deposit law is about to get a big makeover. The Senate Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would expand the types of beverage containers consumers will pay a deposit upfront and need to return for a refund.

The bill, which has been years in the works, would expand the cash refund to containers such as juice, wine, and sports drinks. It’s a move supporters say will make the state’s recycling system easier to understand.

“Understandably, they can’t figure out why craft beer, but not craft cider; liquor, but not wine; seltzer, but not water,” said Sen. Becca White, D-Windsor County.

Vermont has two different recycling waste streams -- the state’s redemption centers, where you can get a nickel refund for certain beverage containers, and the curbside bins, where other cans and bottles go.

Polling conducted by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group shows some 83% of Vermonters support expanding the bottle bill to more containers. “Vermonters are going to be getting what they want and they are going to have more convenient access to do it. There will be more redemption centers across the state, especially in high-density areas like Montpelier and Burlington,” said VPIRG’s Marcie Gallagher.

But some critics are asking what if you live further afield and have to commute to a redemption center and wait your turn in line? “What does it cost? How much carbon are you wasting by doing it? And what is the value of Vermonters’ time?” said Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin County.

Still, others stress that while they aren’t against expanding recycling, they worry about the unintended consequences of possibly driving business in the Upper Valley over the border to New Hampshire, which doesn’t have a bottle bill. “I think we will change behavior in certain parts of the state, and what that behavior will be is where they go to purchase,” said Sen. Jane Kitchell, D-Caledonia County.

The expansion would not take effect until 2027. In the meantime, the bill also commissions a study to explore the details of how exactly the expansion would affect overall recycling rates including the impact on consumers and how the state would build more recycling centers.

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, is concerned the state is still moving too fast. “We truly have the cart before the horse. Shouldn’t we do the systems analysis before we take up a bill?” he asked.

The Senate voted 19 to 11. It is due for a third reading Thursday. While it adds a bunch of new beverages to the redemption list, it keeps the refund amount at a nickel.

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