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April 15, 2011

Maine Public Broadcasting Network

Proposed Bottle Bill Changes Draw Overflow Crowd to Maine State House

In the 30-plus years since it was passed, Maine's bottle redemption law has created a cottage industry of centers, where Mainers go to drop off containers to get a deposit back. Bottle drives have become a big part of fundraising in the community. So it wasn't a surprise when so many people showed up to weigh in on bills to change the law that an overflow room was needed.

In the 30-plus years since it was passed, Maine's bottle redemption law has created a cottage industry of centers, where Mainers go to drop off containers to get a deposit back. Bottle drives have become a big part of fundraising in the community. So it wasn't a surprise when so many people showed up to weigh in on bills to change the law that an overflow room was needed.

Prompting hours of discussion was a proposal to exempt larger containers, such as wine bottles, from the law, also known as the bottle bill. "If this is allowed to go forth, this is going to be the beginning of the undoing of a really good bottle bill. It's been working well," said Wendy Baron, who owns Bangor Redemption, one of about 800-plus licensed redemption centers in Maine.

Baron says that exempting wine bottles means they will wind up on the side of the road, unrecycled--defeating the original purpose of the redemption law. And taking wine bottles out of the mix means lost revenue for her business. "We happen to have 18 people that work at our redemption center. I have 18 people that I have to worry about keeping employed. I can't even give them insurance."

As part of state law, redemption centers collect the bottles for pick-up by the beverage distributors. The more containers the centers collect, the more in "handling fees" they make. But the beverage industry, which is required by law to process the bottles, says that exempting wine bottles from the redemption law is actually better for the environment.

"Large containers represent nine pecent of the total containres redeemed but require 45 percent of the total space on our trucks to bring them back to our facilities to process," said Dave Dumont, Coca-Cola's manager in Maine who also serves as president of the Maine Beverage Association.

"Due to their size, larger containers drive the frequency at which distributors need to pick up at redemption centers, but they also drive the frequency at which homeowners have to bring their containers to redemption centers, which, again, creates a large carbon footprint."

Mike Barrio is operations manager for Central Distributors in Lewiston. He notes that of the 10 states with bottle redemption laws, only two now include wine bottles. "It's Maine and Iowa. There's a reason for this, and that is that wine bottles are large and they're cumbersome and they're made of heavy glass, and therefore they're not bottle bill friendly, and, again, not found on roadsides with other common litter," he said.

Those that work in municipal recycling say they recognize the efficiencies created for the beverage industry by exempting larger containers, but worry about the impact on their communities.

Kevin Roche is with EcoMaine, the waste management and recycling company owned by more than 20 Maine communities. "If you just dump the wine bottles on the municipalities, it's going to be a loss for the munipalities because we're going to end up have higher costs assiociated with processing a material that doesn't have any value."

As opposed to aluminum, which is the only recyclable material that costs less to collect than to sell, according to Matt Prindeville of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. No wonder, he says, the bill to exempt wine bottles "is basically structured to leave the profitable containers with the industry, while having the costly containers go out to the towns."

Prindiville says that taking wine bottles out would lower the recycling rate and lead to more landfilling. Right now, Maine's bottle redemption law has led to a 90 percent recycling rate.

But the beverage industry attributes as much as 20 percent of that to bottles purchased from states without a bottle bill, namely neighboring New Hampshire. Several people were indicted earlier this year for allegedly attempting bottle redemption fraud.

"Containers that were purchased somewhere else that were coming back into the system is a cost to the Maine consumer," Dumont said. "So our concern is, how do you police that?"

Their answer is a bill called, "An Act to Reduce Fraud in Bottle Deposit Redemption." It would make it possible to bring a civil action against someone who tries to redeem more than 48 beverage containers not purchased in Maine.

http://www.mpbn.net/News/MaineNewsArchive/tabid/181/ctl/ViewItem/mid/3475/ItemId/16021/Default.aspx


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