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OP-ED | Guess Why State Lawmakers Want To Expand the Bottle Law

by | Feb 21, 2014 6:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Opinion, State Budget, Taxes

Even as Gov. Dannel Malloy proposes some election-year generosity by giving us a $55 rebate courtesy of a newly found budget surplus, others are trying mightily to figure out how to take more money out of our wallets.

To wit, a bill that seeks to expand the list of containers subject to a five-cent deposit has cleared the General Assembly’s Environment Committee. Unfortunately, like the ugly legislation that approved Keno, the bill more properly belonged in the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee because I suspect increased tax revenue is what this is mostly about.

Sen. Edward Meyer, the environment panel’s co-chair, and ConnPIRG, a progressive public-interest group, last week presented a petition signed by 4,000 people touting the benefits of expanding the list from beer, soda pop and water to include juices, teas and sports drinks. Indeed, ConnPIRG representative Sean Doyle made it clear that his group would like to see the law cover any type of single-serving beverage, and perhaps even bottles of wine and liquor as well. Oh, and so that the poor don’t feel left out, ConnPIRG also wants to add the deposit to “nips,” those tiny bottles of booze favored by lower-income drinkers.

Now on the one hand, it does make sense to be fair about how we make consumers pay deposits for certain containers. Why pick on Pepsi and Bud drinkers and exempt those who enjoy Poland Spring or Perrier? The legislature solved that inequity by adding water bottles in 2009.

And I’ve often wondered, if we must have this deposit as an incentive to recycle or to deter littering, why other containers are also exempt. In the spirit of fairness, why shouldn’t we add not only wine, but pickle jars and laundry soap jugs as well? How about cereal boxes? Reams of office paper? They’re recyclable and, like bottles and cans, they also often wind up on the side of the road.

The problem with adding more items to the current deposit list is that retailers who must accept the used containers simply don’t want any more than they have now. And they seem unimpressed with ConnPIRG’s idea to boost their handling fee to three and half cents per container. Stan Sorkin, president of the Connecticut Food Association, told Meyer supermarkets currently “lose 2-to-4 cents on every bottle we handle.”

And, Sorkin added, the expansion of the deposits would surely raise prices for consumers. Some of the these proposed new containers might not fit into those grungy self-service machines, which would force retailers to make “major labor investments.”

Walk into any supermarket returnables room and you will see the challenges retailers face. Rows of shoppers feed bottles into noisy machines that crunch the containers into smaller sizes. The machines, which Sorkin charitably says “are difficult to keep clean,” sometimes break down and they must be must be emptied several times a day. The air in the returnables room is a cross between stale beer and flat Mountain Dew. Who knows what kinds of critters lurk behind the machines — or in them?

And if the goal is to encourage recycling, then how much of an incentive is five cents? I’m far from wealthy but I couldn’t be bothered with lugging the cans and bottles back to the store, and feeding them for several minutes into those putrid machines just to reclaim a couple of dollars.

But since I want to do the right thing, I do take them on my weekly trip to the Salisbury-Sharon Transfer Station and dump them along with the rest of my recyclables into the single-stream dumpster.

I’ve been doing that for at least 20 years. How much money have I pissed away? Well, you’d have to ask the state. They’re the ones who keep the deposits on the unreturned bottles and cans. And how much does that amount to each year? I could not find those numbers for Connecticut. But Massachusetts, which has about twice our population and also grabs 100 percent of unclaimed deposits, collected $33.5 million in 2011. For the state of Connecticut’s take, do the math.

Perhaps the best course of action would be to adopt single-stream recycling statewide and repeal the bottle-deposit law entirely, as the Connecticut Food Association has suggested. But if we must expand the law, it would only be fair to give retailers all or part of the loot from the state’s unclaimed deposits to compensate them for the added costs. The state doesn’t want to do that. Instead, ConnPIRG and the lawmakers want to increase the retailers’ handling fees, which are paid by the distributors.

Why? As my mentor always told me, “It’s easy to spend other people’s money.”

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is a former high-school English teacher who was an editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

Paid for by Stevenson4CT, Michele Berardo, Treasurer

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(14) Archived Comments

posted by: art vandelay | February 21, 2014  9:06am

art vandelay

Well said. I agree 100%

posted by: William Jenkins | February 21, 2014  10:25am

“the bill more properly belonged in the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee”

Terry, this bill proposes to change CGS 22a-243.

Title 22a in the Connecticut General Statutes is called “Environmental Protection” therefore the Environment Committee is the proper committee to raise this proposal.

posted by: Noteworthy | February 21, 2014  11:01am

Agree - it belongs in revenue and taxes - because that’s all this is. More taxes. Environment? That fig leaf isn’t large enough to cover a pebble.

posted by: mmal231294 | February 21, 2014  1:11pm

Oh this is so me! I drink a decent amount of Bud Lite, and throw every damn can away. I simply refuse to be forced by the Govt to recycle. They can make it 10 cents a can, don’t care. Its MY trash, if you wanna pick thru it to reclaim various recyclables feel free. But I will not be forced, ever.

posted by: art vandelay | February 21, 2014  2:37pm

art vandelay

I understand your point of view, but all you’re doing is giving the state more money to spend.  You’re playing right into their hands.

posted by: LongJohn47 | February 21, 2014  6:21pm

Hey, I like the idea of extending the deposit to anything recyclable and bumping up the fee.  Conservative economists have long ago convinced me that incentives work—both positive and negative. 

That still gives mmal that choice s/he wants while meeting the public policy goal of increased recycling.  What’s not to like?

posted by: art vandelay | February 21, 2014  7:46pm

art vandelay

I totally disagree.  Connecticut went to great lengths establishing curbside recycling.  There is no need for deposits since theoretically all recyclable cans & bottles should be deposited in the weekly recycling container.  Deposits are just another tax on the citizens of Connecticut.  To expand this concept further, Connecticut no longer needs emissions tests.  The auto industry through the EPA has strict emission standards on automobiles as they leave the factory.  The emissions tests are just another form of taxation.  It too should be abolished.  There is no need for it especially when 96% of all cars pass.

posted by: dano860 | February 21, 2014  11:07pm

Bill, glad to see you in here lurking about. How’s Chaplin these days?
No matter who puts this revenue enhancer forward it is still nothing more than another regressive tax placed upon the people of Ct.
Terry one item I will disagree with is the assigning the “nips” to the lower-income citizens. They are favored by a great many people. Ask any package store owner in a rural area who buys them, it isn’t just the lower-income person. I do agree with the premise of the story though, it is a money grabbing, burden imposing law that works in the States favor. Also it doesn’t affect anyone that doesn’t partake of anything that comes in a deposit container. We donate the few we generate to the local high school for their graduation night.
One more reason to stock up when you travel to or through any other State.
You are onto something with the single stream idea. Go to williwaste.com and look at items that can be co-mingled.

posted by: SocialButterfly | February 22, 2014  4:22pm

@mmall231294:  If someone goes through your recyclables in Naugatuck—they are subject to a town ordinance fine of $100.

posted by: William Jenkins | February 23, 2014  3:54pm

Numerous studies show that states that collect deposits on cans, bottles, etc. have better recycling programs and less garbage and trash floating around.  So if the goal is to clean the environment then expanding the bottle bill works toward that goal.  If the goal is to make life easier for people then you’d be against charging deposits on cans and bottles.  Charging a deposit is not a “tax” so that’s a hollow argument.
Personally, I don’t like having to pay a deposit and the inconvenience associated with getting my deposit back however my guess is I’m in the minority of the people in Connecticut.

posted by: SocialButterfly | February 23, 2014  6:37pm

We have much too many laws on the books.  The bottle law an auto emissions law are two of them. To expand the bottle law is another bad law venture. We need a new governor and general assembly to lead us to solving our fiscally incompetent direction—not to hide our failure to do so with new laws. Let’s start cleaning up the multitude of lawful restraints we have on both business and taxpayers who pay for this wasted lawful spending—that leave us with at least a $1 billion dollar deficit at the end of the fiscal year. Why do we allow our elected politicians to continue with this fiasco? We are already over-governed end and overtaxed. Give the state residents a break by freeing us from some of this legally incompetent legislation on the books—and not put more legal restraints on our citizens.

posted by: abg | February 24, 2014  3:02pm

The 11 states that have container redemption laws recycle between 61% and 90% of aluminum and glass bottles, which are high-value recyclables. In Michigan where they have a 10 cent deposit the return rate is over 95%. Contrast to the overall recycling rate in Connecticut, which is below 30%. If there is there another public policy that has a comparable success rate, I don’t know what it is. Of course it would be better to earmark the unredeemed deposits collected by the state for recycling education and keep it out of the general fund. Or we could partially replace the bottle bill with a soda tax—how would Mr. Cowgill feel about that?

posted by: SocialButterfly | February 24, 2014  4:46pm

The courts have created the problem of “same sex marriages,” and they are not going to fix it with more laws. They are going to make it worse.

posted by: LongJohn47 | February 24, 2014  8:37pm

abg—thanks for the data.  Stan thinks we have too many laws, whatever that means.  I think that effective government starts with incentives that persuade people to do the right thing. 

It’s hard to imagine that some people would prefer to foul the environment just to make a political point, but then there’s mmal who won’t “be forced, ever”, so go figure.

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