September 26, 2009
Okla. lawmaker to propose bottle-deposit program
OKLAHOMA CITY — A state lawmaker hopes to implement a 5-cent beverage container deposit program in Oklahoma as a way to reduce litter and provide an infusion of much-needed cash for the budget.
State Rep. Ryan Kiesel and members of a House committee examined the issue this week at the state Capitol and says he will introduce a bill in the next legislative session.
Kiesel, D-Seminole, said the specifics haven't been worked out, but the plan would require consumers to pay an extra 5 cents for each beverage container they buy, including glass bottles, aluminum cans and plastic water bottles. When consumers return the empty containers to the retailer or redemption centers, they get the deposit refunded.
He said money from unredeemed deposits could generate millions of dollars for state coffers.
"Whether you're looking at the millions saved by reducing litter on our highways, the increase in state revenue without raising taxes, the positive environmental impact or the opportunities for economic growth, a bottle deposit program delivers on all counts," Kiesel said.
Similar bills in recent years have not even been granted hearings in a state with a weak environmental lobby and opposition from a host of interest groups — including distributors, grocers and convenience store operators. They have expressed concern about labor costs, infrastructure needs and the sanitation issue of having used cans and bottles coming back to them.
The Oklahoma Grocers Association and a group representing convenience store operators already have come out against the plan, and the president of the powerful Oklahoma Malt Beverage Association said his group has opposed similar measures in the past.
"We're taking a wait-and-see attitude, but I can tell you in the past, we've been opposed to it," said OMBA President Brett Robinson. "Typically in these situations, the industry will align very quickly and be very involved in how this thing develops."
But a few changes in the political landscape could help Kiesel get some traction on the bill this year. For the first time, a major glass manufacturer — Saint-Gobain Containers in Sapulpa — has come out in favor of the measure. Jim Bologna, the site energy manager at the plant that employs 340 workers, told the panel that because of a limited supply in Oklahoma, his company uses only 15 percent recycled glass. Most of that glass, he said, comes from Iowa, a state with a bottle-deposit program.
Kiesel also said he's found some Republican allies, which would be helpful in moving the bill through the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Ultimately, it could come down to money, said Michael Patton, executive director of the Tulsa-based Metropolitan Environmental Trust, which operates 12 recycling businesses in northeast Oklahoma.
"There's too much money on the table for states to ignore and there are too many jobs that would be created," Patton said.
In Connecticut, a state with about as many residents as Oklahoma, officials anticipate their bottle-deposit law, which was recently expanded to include plastic beverage containers, will generate about $20 million annually in unclaimed deposits, said Chris Phelps, program director for Environment Connecticut.
But the redemption rate in Connecticut is nearly 80 percent, while in Oklahoma those numbers would probably be lower, Patton said. He predicted Oklahoma likely could generate close to $50 million with a similar program.
"We have one of the lowest recycling rates possible," Patton said. "We estimate that the average Oklahoman will purchase 242 water bottles in a year. They'll recycle 22."