May 17, 2010

Plastics News

Delaware replaces bottle deposits with controversial recycling fee

DOVER, DEL. (May 17, 3:10 p.m. ET) -- Delaware has repealed its 28-year-old bottle bill that required a 5-cent deposit on plastic and glass soft drink and beer bottles and replaced it with a controversial 4-cent non-refundable recycling fee.

“We are extremely disappointed they chose to repeal their law, rather than enforce it,” said Susan Collins, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute, based in Culver City, Calif. “This is really anathema to our approach. We support extended producer responsibility where producers and consumers pay for the life cycle costs of the packaging.”

The other 10 states in the U.S. with bottle deposit bills have bottle recycling rates that exceed 70 percent. But Delaware officials testified during their legislative battle that the state’s bottle recycling rate was only 12 percent because many retailers refused to accept returned bottles.

The bill, which the Legislature approved May 11, establishes a 4-cent per container recycling fee, starting Dec. 1. It is designed to provide start-up funds to help waste-haulers start single-stream curbside recycling.

The bill mandates that all municipal and private waste haulers provide such curbside recycling pickup for single-family homes starting Sept. 15, 2011, for multi-family residences starting Jan. 1, 2013, and for commercial sites by 2014.

The fee is scheduled for sunset Dec. 1, 2014 or after $22 million is raised.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell supports the bill and is expected to sign it into law. However, several Republican legislators have said they would challenge the law in court, as the tax amounts to a new fee. According to state law, bills that mandate new fees need a 75 percent majority to pass, which the bill did not receive.

Collins said the repeal of the Delaware bottle bill, while certainly unwelcome, won’t have much effect on the national bottle recycling rate.

Delaware has less than 900,000 people and its now-repealed bottle bill only covered 19 percent of beverages sold in Delaware, Collins said. “The impact to the national recycling rate is likely to be less than one-tenth of 1 percent.”

Conversely, the addition of water bottles to the Connecticut and New York bottle bills last year could increase the amount of beverage containers recycled nationwide by 2 percentage points if the bottles added to those deposit laws are recycled at the same recycling rate as in other bottle bill states, she said.

“This is a pretty unusual approach,” Collins said of the Delaware bill. “This tax places a burden on consumers only and has them paying for curbside, apartment and even commercial recycling. Consumers will be subsidizing the producers and that is unfair.”

The Delaware law goes against recent trends, as a number of states are now looking at expanding bottles or at extended producer responsibility laws to reduce waste and advance recycling.

In addition, retailers and brand owners have been embarking on a number of initiatives in the past few months to advance consumer recycling.

Target Corp., for example, unrolled recycling bins for plastic bags, beverage cans and bottles, and mobile phones and MP3 players at its more than 1,700 stores in the U.S. in April.

And PepsiCo announced on Earth Day, April 22, that it plans to place as many as 3,000 recycling kiosks — called Dream Machines — at gas stations, stadiums, grocery stores, and public parks to make it more convenient for consumers to recycle. The machines scans bar codes from returned containers and prints out a receipt with rewards points good for travel, movie tickets or coupons for Pepsi products.

Moreover, in the last two years, Coca-Cola Co. has partnered with colleges for recycling at football games, NASCAR for event recycling at their races, and financially supports a bin grant programs to help schools, communities and others purchase recycling bins.

But Collins said a lot more effort needs to be done to increase bottle recycling as more than 130 billion bottles and cans are thrown away annually.

The Pepsi Dream Machine is helpful, she said, but it won’t advance bottle recycling to any great degree.

“Even if Pepsi reaches their goal of recycling 400 million bottles annually, that would be two-tenths of 1 percent of containers,” she said. “It is unfortunately to see so much spent on advertising and initiatives that don’t move the ball downfield. They could do more if they make a commitment to recycle all the bottles and cans they sell.”

Scott Mouw, recycling director for the state of North Carolina, agrees that the Pepsi initiative will only advance the number of bottles slightly. But he said that it will have significant value in terms of how it will change consumer’s perception of recycling.

“The real benefit of the program is that it will do a lot to change the public perception of recycling,” said Mouw. “It is a positive reward program that can engage the public and change the mindset of the public toward recycling because they will see that Pepsi is actively engaged.”

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