EDITORIALS

Downsizing Maine’s bottle redemption program would be a recycling disaster

Posted March 15, 2017, at 7:24 p.m.
Last modified March 16, 2017, at 6:46 a.m.

Two years ago, Maine lawmakers were asked to scale back the state’s nearly four-decade-old beverage bottle redemption program. Wisely, they chose not to.

This year in the Maine Legislature, lawmakers face the same choice.

LD 683 proposes to remove containers 46 ounces and larger from the state’s bottle redemption program. That means when a customer buys a two-liter bottle of soda, a larger container of juice or a 1.5-liter bottle of wine, he would no longer have to pay a five- or 15-cent deposit at the register. It also means he wouldn’t be able to return that bottle to a redemption center and collect his deposit.

The legislation is virtually identical to the legislation that lawmakers rejected two years ago. Today, the circumstances surrounding it are no different. This is still an unworthy idea that lawmakers should reject.

Maine’s bottle redemption program is one of the most comprehensive and successful bottle redemption programs in the nation. Maine recycles more beverage containers per capita than any other state through a program that has been in place since 1978. The prospect of earning back the 5- or 15-cent deposit acts as a powerful incentive to keep litter off the roadside and to recycle. Mainers redeem 80 to 90 percent of the 950 million beverage containers they buy each year that are covered by the state’s bottle bill.

Meanwhile, despite a state law that would have Mainers recycle 50 percent of their waste by 2021 (the target year was previously 2009), the state has struggled to reach even 40 percent. The state’s recycling rate in 2015, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, was just 37 percent.

Under LD 683, 7.3 percent of the approximately 950 million beverage containers purchased in Maine each year would no longer be covered by the deposit and redemption program, according to an estimate prepared for the Maine Beverage Association in 2015. Customers could still recycle them, but the reality is that many of those bottles would end up at incinerators and in the state’s landfills. Removing larger bottles from the bottle redemption program means more than 69 million beverage containers would move from a waste system with a 90 percent recycling rate to one with a 37 percent recycling rate instead.

The beverage container redemption program established by Maine law seeks not only to cut down on litter, but also on the amount of solid waste that ends up in landfills. Transferring 69 million beverage containers from a highly successful recycling program to one with only marginal success is no way to cut down on solid waste.

Currently, Maine’s beverage distributors pay redemption centers 3.5 to 4 cents per bottle to collect beverage containers, and they’re responsible for transporting them to recycling centers. Under LD 683, the distributors would no longer have that responsibility for larger beverage containers.

But they wouldn’t be completely off the hook.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel, would require that distributors pay a half-cent per bottle into a two-year-old fund that’s set up to issue grants to towns and cities so they can divert more of their residents’ solid waste from landfills and cut back on their waste disposal costs in the process. The grants would provide funds to help towns and cities start up composting programs, perhaps, or to make their recycling programs more effective.

The grant program currently has no dedicated funding source, and LD 683 would provide $347,000 annually, according to the Maine Beverage Association’s 2015 estimates.

But a half-cent per bottle is much less than 3.5 to 4 cents per bottle, meaning beverage distributors would see their environmental stewardship costs and responsibilities drop significantly under this legislation. Plus, they would be responsible for the half-cent-per-bottle costs only until Dec. 1, 2022, under the legislation.

For nearly four decades, Maine’s beverage distributors have successfully prevented a large portion of their products from ending up in the landfill, and Maine residents have been committed to helping. There’s no reason to let up on this commitment now.

 

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