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April 5, 2011

The Times Record

Leave the bottle bill alone

Implemented in 1976, Maine’s bottle bill has successfully accomplished what it set out to do.

Roadsides that once were littered with tossed soda bottles and beer cans were cleaned up. The recycling rate for returnables is estimated at between 85 percent and 95 percent. The habit of recycling beverage bottles and cans helped spur recycling on a wider scale throughout Maine.

So why, then, are there so many bills before the Republican-led Legislature to weaken a law that has been so successful and enjoys widespread support?

Not surprisingly, the answer is the same as in 1979 when a referendum to repeal the bottle bill law was soundly defeated, with 85 percent of Maine voters opposed: Now, as then, the beverage industry finds it a burden.

“The beverage industry is essentially trying to chip away at the bottle bill, piece by piece,” Matt Prindiville of the Natural Resources Council of Maine told Bangor Daily News reporter Abigail Curtis  in her March 31 story about the various proposals before the Legislature. “Ultimately, they would like a full repeal of the bottle bill, as they have sought in other states. This is our state’s most successful recycling program. We don’t want to see the beverage industry chip away at it.”

With annual bottled beverage sales in Maine pegged by the State Planning Office at almost 1 billion, this is obviously a high-stakes battle.

For the beverage industry, if one or more of the five bills related to the bottle bill is adopted, the benefit will be the inevitable shift of its recycling costs onto municipalities and consumers. For the rest of us the beverage industry’s “benefit” will be paid for at the “cost” of increased municipal recycling fees and lost jobs at redemption centers that will have to lay off workers or possibly close due to a reduced volume in bottle and can returns.

The five bills are coming up for a public hearing at 9 a.m. on April 15 in Room 216 of the Cross Office Building in Augusta. The Maine Beverage Association, according to the Bangor Daily News, is in favor of all five of the proposed changes.

Obviously, citizens who feel Maine’s bottle bill works just fine and don’t want to see it weakened should attend that public hearing, if they can. We don’t want lawmakers  to hear only the beverage industry’s perspective and assume it’s OK to tinker with our 35-year-old law.

Among those proposed bills is LD 1324, An Act to Create Consistency and Fairness in Maine’s Bottle Bill, sponsored by Rep. Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham. It would exempt any beverage container larger than 28 ounces from Maine’s bottle-deposit recycling law — essentially all 32-ounce, 1-liter, 2-liter, wine and most liquor and large beer containers. Those containers represent up to 20 percent of what’s recycled under our present bottle bill.

Exempting these larger containers would simply shift the redemption costs now incurred by the beverage companies to towns and taxpayers, who would now be picking up the tab to recycle them through municipal programs. How many of those containers will end up in the trash or on the roadside is anyone’s guess.

And what about all the various community fund-raising projects that collect our returnables to redeem  for cash?  How many of the 1,300 people now employed at bottle redemption centers across the state would lose their jobs if our bottle bill law is weakened?

It’s hard to see the public benefit of changing a law that has widespread public support and is doing its job in keeping our roadsides clean and recycling consumer products that can and should be recycled at the highest possible rate. The bottle bill already is achieving up to a 95 percent recycling rate.

Why jeopardize that success?


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