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Source: Hartford Courant

Editorial: Keep Connecticut's Bottle Deposit

Posted: May 17, 2017
Originally Published: May 17, 2017

A bill that would eliminate the refundable 5-cent deposit on bottles and replace it with a 4-cent per bottle tax is bad policy that will hurt the environment, the consumer and the state of Connecticut.

The main argument in favor of Senate Bill 996 is convenience. With the ease of single-stream recycling in so many communities, why not just toss the bottle in the blue bin and skip the nickel?

There are many good reasons why not. But the most surprising might be this: Single-stream recycling, while convenient, is imperfect. It does not completely separate the different sorts of containers for recycling. The glass and plastic and other materials are "contaminated" by each other, in industry lingo, and the slightly mixed trash is far less useful as recyclable material than containers that come through the deposit system, already separated into plastic, glass and aluminum.

"Glass is our worst enemy," said Jennifer Heaton-Jones, executive director of the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority. It breaks and shatters as it goes through the single-stream process, reducing the amount of glass and other material that can be recycled.

The nonprofit Container Recycling Institute estimates that plastic from curbside recycling sells for $180 per ton, while the much cleaner plastic that comes from the deposit program sells for $300 per ton. Curbside glass, according to the CRI, actually costs money to recycle, but clean glass taken through the deposit program has value.

It's not only about contamination in the single-stream system. Bottles and cans that are brought or purchased outside of the home are a big concern, said Louis Burch of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. At home, at least there is the likelihood that recyclable bottles will go into the blue recycling bins, he said. But when people take a bottle of water in the car, or when they buy a bottle of soda at the convenience store, they have no incentive to recycle without the bottle deposit system, and that Diet Coke bottle would be more likely wind up in some store's trash bin, never to be recycled.

Also, states with bottle deposits have much higher recycling rates than those that don't. Connecticut is one of only 10 states with such a deposit law. The CRI estimates that states with bottle deposits recycle at more than double the rates of non-deposit states. Michigan requires a deposit of 10 cents per container. Maine's 5-cent deposit exempts only dairy products, while wine and liquor cans and bottles require a 15-cent deposit. Clearly, the deposit is an incentive to recycle.

There's also the issue of money for the state.

Not all of the redeemable bottles and cans sold in Connecticut are actually redeemed. In 2015, only about half were returned for their nickels. That meant a bonus of $31.4 million for state coffers. Under the proposed bill, half of the 4-cent fee would go to the state, an estimated $28.6 million per year, with most of the balance going to waste haulers and municipalities that might not be required to recycle the containers they collect. So replacing the bottle deposit system with a tax could actually cost the state money — and harm the environment.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy earlier this year proposed increasing the deposit from 5 cents to 10 cents, partly because — in addition to the environmental benefits — it could mean increased revenue to the state in the form of unredeemed deposits. It's a good idea.

The other option is to expand the bottle deposit law to noncarbonated beverages such as energy drinks — even to wine and liquor bottles. Such an approach could substantially reduce the amount of litter, provide cleaner material to recyclers, support recycling industry jobs and add to the state's revenue.

The bottle deposit program is good for the state and good for the environment. Senate Bill 996 should go into the bin and not be recycled next year.

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