Beverage industry to test state's 35-year-old bottle law

AUGUSTA — In 1976, Maine became one of the first states to adopt a bottle bill. The pioneering legislation was designed to clean up roadsides of discarded cans and bottles and to promote recycling, which at the time, was scrambling for a foothold in American culture. 

Thirty-five years later, Maine is one of 10 states with a redemption law. Maine's is also one of the most successful, boasting a 90 percent recycling rate, according to state data.

The beverage industry, backed by large corporations such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi Co., has traditionally opposed the law, arguing that it's costly and adds handling fees and unnecessary transportation costs that get passed on to the consumer as a hidden tax.

In 1979, the industry attempted to repeal Maine's bottle bill. Eighty-five percent of voters rejected the effort.

This year, armed with new arguments and a sympathetic Republican Legislature,  environmentalists fear the industry is again targeting the law. The beverage lobby says it's not interested in a full repeal, simply changes that deal with lowering handling costs and alleged redemption fraud.

Five bill requests dealing with the bottle bill have been submitted this session. Matt Prindiville, with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said his group plans to fight four of them, including one that seeks an outright repeal of the law.

That request is sponsored by Sen. Thomas Martin, R-Benton, but it hasn't yet cleared the Revisor's Office. Martin couldn't be reached for comment.

Even if Martin presses the legislation, Prindiville isn't sure that's where the real battle will take place. He said lobbying efforts will likely go to bills such as one proposed by Rep. Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham, who is sponsoring legislation that would exempt bottles and cans larger than 16 ounces from the redemption law. Larger bottles, she said, would simply be recycled with other plastics.

Prescott said her bill was designed to create consistency in the redemption law while lowering handling and transportation costs for distributors. She said the increase in single-stream recycling made it unlikely that larger bottles would end up on the side of the road.

"What I’d like to see is everything is 5 cents," she said. "I don’t want to put the small redemption centers out of business. That's not the intent here. But there's a lot of room taken up by these giant containers. There's a lot of storage cost for the redemption center."

The containers and handling costs are at the heart of the industry's argument to change the law. 

According to news reports, Newell Augur, a lobbyist for the Maine Beverage Association, has said the industry pays about 4 cents per bottle in handling fees that cost the industry about $30 million a year.

Augur said it made more sense to follow the lead of states that have swapped out bottle bills for statewide single-stream recycling programs.

Prindiville acknowledged that container, handling and transportation costs are problems for distributors. However, he believes the task of storing and shipping bulky containers full of bottles and cans is a technical issue that could be solved without going to the extremes of the pending legislation.

Prindiville said Prescott's bill to redeem only 16-ounce bottles overlooks 20-ounce soda bottles that are commonly sold in vending machines and 1-liter bottles typically sold by water companies.

In addition, Prindiville said tossing bottles and cans into a statewide single-stream recycling program wouldn't achieve the same recycling rate as the bottle bill.

Single-stream recycling doesn't drive up recycling rates, he said. Curbside pickup does. In rural Maine, he said, curbside pickup isn't possible.

According to bottlebill.org, Canadian provinces have combined recycling and redemption programs so that most bottles and cans are collected with other recyclables. In New Brunswick, about 55 percent of residents have curbside recycling; in that same province, the redemption rate is about 75 percent.

In contrast, about 78 percent of Ontario residents have access to curbside pickup. The average redemption rate in 2007 and 2008 was 80 percent, but 94 percent for the items that are picked up curbside.

Prindiville said bills like Prescott's are ultimately designed to "chip away" at the redemption law. Proposals like that of Sen. Chris Rector, R-Thomaston, were more constructive, Prindiville said.

Rector's bill, LD 728, would change the redemption-law requirement to reduce the number of trips a distributor has to make to pick up items.

Nonetheless, Prindiville expects an uphill climb against the other bottle bill proposals, which will be backed by a beverage lobby that may be seeking a return on investment from the 2010 election.

The Maine Beverage Association donated to both parties, but most of its contributions, about $16,875, went to Republican candidates or political action committees.

The American Beverage Association, backed by Coke and Pepsi, gave $104,000 to the Republican Governors Association Maine PAC.

Dan Demeritt, spokesman for Gov. Paul LePage, said the administration hadn't yet taken a position on the bottle bill proposals.

smistler@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Anna Cyr's picture

Looking a little deeper

The money the beverage industry is looking to save is in the salaries they pay to employees who pick up the redemps, sort and process the returnables. One area the Sun Journal clearly did not consider when writing the article is how many jobs this will affect. We are talking THOUSANDS! From the people that own the redemption centers to the people that work at them, to the people that pick up the redemption centers to the processors in the "beverage industry" employ. How about the supplies companies that the redemp purchase hundreds of dollars worth of bags each week. This boils down the loss of a lot of jobs which is something Maine can not afford!

Cry me a river "beverage industry" about how much this cost, put one less commercial in the super bowl next year....

Ryan Robbins's picture

WHY CHANGE SOMTHINK THATS WORKS !!!

Thirty-five years later, Maine is one of 10 states with a redemption law. Maine's is also one of the most successful, boasting a 90 percent recycling rate, according to state data...

Says it all, why would we want to change when we have a 90 % success rate so big business can save 30 million and do what no talk of creating jobs with it just the fact that the redemption center would close so they would gain 30 million and put people out of work .............. SOUNDS LIKE A WIN WIN TO ME NOTTTTTTTTTTTTTT....................................

Why do you think they are not all over the side of the road like in state that don't offer the redemption cause people look for them to get money might not be much but to some its just enough to help.... and do tell me the the state that don't offer it do have bottles all over the sides of the roads cause I have seen it fisrt hand ....these guy need to be working on getting jobs not stupid laws like this maybe Coca-Cola and Pepsi Co need to put the affet in creating jobs not funding lobbyist......

LUCIEN DOUCET, JR.'s picture

Get rid of this outdated law.

Today we need to get rid of this outdated law, and put the emphasis on recycling, like most other states do. Here are a few reasons why.

1. It is very unhealthy to have all these dirty bottles and cans hanging around at stores where food is stored. It draws bugs and smells. This I have heard from store owners. The same health hazard goes for home storage of these cans and bottles. This is evident when you ever walk into some of these recycle stores and see how bad they smell.

2. The state is loosing money, as people from neighboring states bringing bottles purchased in neighboring states, into Maine to cash them in. Many times I have seen articles in this paper about this issue.

3. In a time of money conservation, not having to administrate this program would save money.

More emphasis is needed on home trash pickup and recycling.

 's picture

its nothing to pepsi and coke

what's $30 million dollars to the beverage industry? if you divide the number of bottles of beverages sold last year into that, it's less than 1/10 of a penny per bottle. what a snowjob. they just want to whine about it. and, in a time of high unemployment and a time when even the gov sez he wants to be business friendly, why would he want to put all the redemption centers out of business. doesn't sound too friendly to me. besides, who, except pepsi and coke are really worried about a tiny loss in their profits anyway.
why don't our elected representatives who say they're going to make important changes stop worrying about huge profitable corporations and whoopie pies and get down to the business of making life better for the people of Maine. With all the budget, job, poverty, environment and health problems there are to solve, we need to stop wasting time with peripheral stuff. didn't our gov. say "It's about the people". Well, here's his chance to prove it by keeping people in the redemption business, not bowing to huge profitable corporations who wouldn't use $30 million profit to create a single job in this state and not spending time screwing with a system that works.

 's picture

Leave it alone

I think just about everyone has gotten used to returning their bottles. We need to show these companies that they do not control things here in Maine with their money to politicians. We like having a clean state, thank you.

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