[an error occurred while processing this directive]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]

January 30, 2011

Burlington Free Press

Vermont's bottle bill, once first in the nation, now facing serious effort at repeal

Harry Wooster, 79, of Shelburne has worked as a bottle sorter at Jiffy Mart in Hinesburg for 18 years. He sorts bottles and cans Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon.

LYNN MONTY, Free Press

Harry Wooster, 79, of Shelburne has worked as a bottle sorter at Jiffy Mart in Hinesburg for 18 years. He sorts bottles and cans Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon.

HINESBURG - Most days Harry Wooster, 79, of Shelburne endures the constant clinking of glass against glass in his job as a bottle sorter at Jiffy Mart in Hinesburg. For the past 18 years, customers have met him behind the store for a friendly visit and to claim a deposit on empty beverage containers.

A law commonly known as the bottle bill was passed in Vermont in 1972 in an effort to conserve energy, reduce litter, increase recycling and create jobs by requiring customers to pay an extra 5 cents per bottle or can of certain drinks they purchase and then return those empties to a redemption center to receive the nickel back.

Startling images of floating bottles and cans in open seas have led people to heed the call of redemption. Its put a few extra dollars in their pockets, to boot.

In all, at a typical weeks end, Wooster has sorted about 95 cases of bottles and cans. When the beverage company picks them up, Jiffy Mart earns an extra handling fee of 3.5 cents per beverage container. Thats about $195 a week, just about what Wooster makes in his part-time job.

Wooster is one of the many cogs in the bottle-redemption machine in the state.

Beverage companies operate and fund Vermonts redemption program, which collects thousands of bottles and cans a year and hands over credits a nickel at a time. This has created a culture of redemption across Vermont for people of all walks of life - from the homeless who collect stray bottles and cans as their chief source of income to schoolchildren who knock on doors to gather beverage containers to raise money for class trips and scholarships.

It all adds up to much-needed money and fewer bottles and cans entering landfills each year.

Now, competing legislative proposals either to support bottle redemption or to do away with it are clashing in the state Legislature. Two bills were introduced earlier this month to beef up the bottle bill: S.21 and H.74 are companion Senate and House measures designed to expand the bill. If passed, these measures would require the bottle bill to include wine and all carbonated and noncarbonated drink containers, and to force beverage companies to use the money from unclaimed deposits to support environmental programs.

Meanwhile, competing legislation proposed by beverage companies would ask lawmakers to repeal the bottle bill and instead require solid-waste producers to pay for and implement a program to collect, recycle and dispose of various types of waste.

But if there's one thing Wooster is certain of, its that repeal is never going to happen.

To redeem or recycle

Recycling, Wooster says, is too much of a way of life in Vermont for the repeal effort to succeed. The program has been around so long, it's become ingrained in the culture.

Beverage companies sell drinks to stores at wholesale prices and add a 5 cent deposit per bottle or can. Stores sell the beverage at its retail price with an added 5 cent deposit.

Customers can choose to bring the empty beverage containers back to a redemption center and receive 5 cents each. The beverage company picks up the empties and pays the redemption center 5 cents per container with an additional handling fee of 4 cents for each container sorted by brand and 3.5 cents for containers mixed with various brands.

For bottles that are not redeemed, the beverage company gets to keep any unclaimed deposits and, of course, doesn't have to pay those handling fees.

Unclaimed deposits in Vermont are estimated at $2 million annually, said Charity Carbine-March, environmental health advocate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

Beverage containers designed for one-time use result in 40 to 60 percent of litter in Vermont landfills, Carbine-March said.

The first bottle bill in Vermont passed in 1953 and was the first in the country. That bill banned the sale of beer in non-refillable bottles. The law expired four years later after strong lobbying from the beer industry. The same lobbying exists today.

Carbine-March said beverage companies hire lobbyists to work toward getting the bottle bill repealed, because it's a producer- responsibility law, meaning it's organized and financed by beverage producers.

Beverage producers are working to introduce a bill that is, in essence, a curbside recycling bill, designed to provide curbside recycling service to Vermonters — while replacing the bottle redemption program — because it would cost less, Carbine-March said.

Beverage industry lobbyist Andrew MacLean of MacLean, Meehan and Rice, who represents local beverage distributors, said the bottle bill is responsible for keeping only 3 percent of waste out of the waste stream. A bill he expects to be introduced this year, MacLean said, would create better ways to recycle all materials that enter the waste stream, not just select bottles and cans. A similar measure was introduced last year but not approved.

"This bill is an effort to greatly expand recycling in Vermont, and it's modeled after successful programs in Canada and Europe. It would be the first of its kind in the U.S.," MacLean said.

"The bottle bill is an extremely expensive way to handle a very small portion of material."

VPIRG supports the concept of a producer-financed curbside recycling system.

"The fundamental difference between our position and that of the beverage industry is that we don't see this as an ‘either-or' scenario — either we have the bottle bill or we have a curbside recycling program," Carbine said. "In fact, bottle bills and curbside recycling programs are complementary, since each system brings different benefits to the table."

The Chittenden Solid Waste District receives bottles and cans for recycling, but they are mixed with all other recycling, said the agency's waste-reduction coordinator, Michele Morris. In 2010, CSWD processed 6,538 tons of glass and 69 tons of aluminum, that was then re-used for construction materials and in asphalt paving.

Bottles brought to CSWD cannot be recycled into new bottles, because the waste district does not require separation of the glass colors, and some become broken and intermingled during the sorting process. Even if CSWD did keep them separate, it is not economically or environmentally feasible to ship heavy material to distant markets where it could be processed into new glass bottles, Morris said.

CSWD does have collection barrels at the drop-off centers for bottle bill containers that are redeemed, just enough to buy dog biscuits and lollipops for CSWD customers.

"Bottle bills out-perform curbside recycling and drop-off collection programs and are more efficient ways to recycle," Carbine-March said.

Her point is that bottles and cans placed in blue bins for curbside recycling often end up in landfills instead of being made into more bottles, because they are taken to a recycling center such as CSWD and not to a redemption center.

Civic duty

Ken Cudney of Hinesburg brings his son Sawyer, 2, to the town's Jiffy Mart to return bottles and cans about every two months. On a recent trip, Cudney redeemed $5.90 worth of beverage containers (that works out to 118 containers).

Sawyer was looking forward to getting sweet treats in the store with the money.

"Reduce, reuse, recycle — right?" Cudney said.

The Cudney family tries to limit its use of containers and won't buy any that are non-redeemable. "We try not to waste too much and to be smart about it," he said. "We do what we can to reduce our carbon footprint." Carbine-March said an estimated 85 percent of redeemable beverage containers are returned in Vermont and are made back into bottles and cans because of the bottle bill.

In states that have no bottle bill, only about 24 percent of glass and aluminum beverage containers become new containers, she said.

"A financial incentive increases the rate of recycling, and the higher collection rate reduces litter," she said.

An estimated 98 percent of glass collected from beverage container deposit programs are made into bottles again, creating a closed-loop recycling system in which bottles can be made and remade continuously, she said.

Only 11 states have laws requiring a refundable deposit on beverage containers: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachu-setts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont.

MacLean disagreed that a financial incentive is necessary to encourage recycling.

"There is going to be a tipping point quite soon where people will be recycling materials not because of any 5 cent redemption refund, but because of an understanding of the value of natural resources," he said. "People understand that we are going to need all of these natural resources moving forward.

This new bill will fold this expensive system into a new bill that is more convenient and cost-effective for everyone."

Bottle drives

Bottle drives used to be the highlight of Wooster's week, but they have become few and farther between now, he said.

"The amount of money these kids could make in a day was something else," he said.

Williston Central School seventh grader Emma Jennings, 13, participates in bottle drives at her school every year to raise money for scholarships for class trips. She said the group effort is inspiring and she feels good about helping the environment.

Last year she hit the jackpot.

"We go door to door and ask for bottles and cans, and one family had their entire garage filled," Emma said. "I think they had been collecting for, like, ever.

You couldn't even see the ceiling."

Her class worked hard that day, but Jennings said it was well worth the effort — because about $800 worth of bottles and cans were redeemed to support their class trip to Washington, D.C., in June. Next month she'll be knocking on doors again to collect the empties accumulated in homes on Super Bowl Sunday, also to help pay for the trip.

Williston Central School has been dedicated to bottle drives for about 15 years.

Parent volunteer Tracey Barth said bottle drives account for a quarter of the money needed for end of year trips to Washington, Boston and New York.

Eighth grader Kate Barland, 13, said, "We need the bottle bill because not only are we raising money for our trips, we are doing something good for the environment."

Jiffy Mart Store Manager Kristi Brown, 36, of Hinesburg said bottle drives take a lot of coordination and planning, and not many are organized anymore. About a decade ago, Boy Scouts would redeem about $1,000 for trips and charity. She also had more help back then.

Brown said Wooster is her only sorter, and she just can't find anyone else who wants the job. She would like to have the redemption center open 40 hours per week, but it's difficult to find anyone who will stay for long.

"Bottle bills out-perform curbside recycling and drop-off collection programs and are more efficient ways to recycle," Carbine-March said.

Her point is that bottles and cans placed in blue bins for curbside recycling often end up in landfills instead of being made into more bottles, because they are taken to a recycling center such as CSWD and not to a redemption center.

Civic duty

Ken Cudney of Hinesburg brings his son Sawyer, 2, to the town's Jiffy Mart to return bottles and cans about every two months. On a recent trip, Cudney redeemed $5.90 worth of beverage containers (that works out to 118 containers).

Sawyer was looking forward to getting sweet treats in the store with the money.

"Reduce, reuse, recycle — right?" Cudney said.

The Cudney family tries to limit its use of containers and won't buy any that are non-redeemable. "We try not to waste too much and to be smart about it," he said. "We do what we can to reduce our carbon footprint." Carbine-March said an estimated 85 percent of redeemable beverage containers are returned in Vermont and are made back into bottles and cans because of the bottle bill.

In states that have no bottle bill, only about 24 percent of glass and aluminum beverage containers become new containers, she said.

"A financial incentive increases the rate of recycling, and the higher collection rate reduces litter," she said.

An estimated 98 percent of glass collected from beverage container deposit programs are made into bottles again, creating a closed-loop recycling system in which bottles can be made and remade continuously, she said.

Only 11 states have laws requiring a refundable deposit on beverage containers: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachu-setts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont.

MacLean disagreed that a financial incentive is necessary to encourage recycling.

"There is going to be a tipping point quite soon where people will be recycling materials not because of any 5 cent redemption refund, but because of an understanding of the value of natural resources," he said. "People understand that we are going to need all of these natural resources moving forward.

Wooster said the job keeps him young and gets him out of the house. He retired from Digital Equipment Corporation in 1992 and has been sorting bottles to keep busy for the past 18 years.

"It's a dirty job, but that doesn't matter," he said with a laugh. "It gets me away from my wife. I stay because of the people.

There are a lot of regulars, and I meet new people all the time."

New ways to redeem

At Lantman's grocery store in Hinesburg, assistant manager Bryce Busier, 32, said that about two years ago the market installed vending machines that accept cans and bottles — and took the place of sorters like Wooster, saving time and space, but the money earned is about the same.

A Connecticut company called Tomra provides the machines and picks up the recycled bottles at Lantman's and throughout Vermont once a week.

Tomra Vice President Chuck Riegle said there are a few hundred of these machines throughout the state. They were designed about 10 years ago to offer consumers an automated process to get money back for redeemable bottles. The aluminum and glass eventually will be made into more cans and bottles.

If Vermont's bottle bill is replaced with another law making bottle redemption obsolete, Riegle said, Tomra would go out of business. They have about 20 employees in Vermont.

"Tomra is the leader in this kind of recycling," he said. "Everyone is trying to make the recycling process better, but to think that these bottles and cans are somehow going to magically be recycled without redemption is ridiculous.

We have an excellent system, and our goal is to be as efficient as possible."

Having the machines gives people more time to bring in redeemable cans, and the amount redeemed has not changed with the new machines; the process is cleaner, too, because it is contained within the machine, Busier said.

These bottle redemption machines accept the bottles and cans one container at a time to be scanned for its UPC code; if it is a redeemable container, the customer is paid accordingly, no sorter needed.

http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20110130/LIVING09/101300310/Vermont-s-bottle-bill-once-first-in-the-nation-now-facing-serious-effort-at-repeal


[an error occurred while processing this directive]