What are the hopes for a Maryland bottle bill?

What are the hopes for a Maryland bottle bill?

By Jake Thomas, Resource Recycling

Prospects for a bottle bill in Maryland are getting cloudier, as two key associations are expressing concerns about legislation that would create a beverage container deposit system in the state.

The legislation, unveiled last month, has elements similar to bottle bills in other states, attaching a nickel deposit to many common beverage containers. However, it is very different in other regards, containing a provision that makes counties responsible for redemption centers, which they can operate directly or contract out.

Recycle for Real, the website set up to support the legislation, argues that counties will benefit from being able to keep unredeemed deposits. However, this measure hasn’t earned the support of the state’s county governments.

"There are so many unanswered questions for us," says Robin Clark, policy analyst for the Maryland Association of Counties (MAC), which represents the state's 23 county governments, who adds that the legislation would put the state's counties in a whole new line of business of running redemption centers.

Michael Sanderson, the executive director of MAC, says that Maryland has enacted a "sizable" number of recycling mandates, and counties have made significant investments in programs aimed at recovering recyclables. He says counties have made big investments in single-stream collection systems in particular, and a bottle bill would remove valuable material from them, weakening their economic viability.

Although state lawmakers reached out to MAC early on, Sanderson says there are enough problems with the bill that prevent his organization from supporting it.

"We have invested a great deal of taxpayer money to make [existing programs work]," he says. "Something like a bottle bill would really undermine everything we've done on that front."

Sanderson says that the big problem MAC has with the proposed bottle bill is its requirement that counties operate redemption centers, which will require finding a building, hiring and paying staff, getting insurance and then hoping the business model works out. He says that some more "sparse" areas of the state might not generate enough volume of material to be viable. Although the legislation gives counties the option to contract a private company to run the redemption center, Sanderson says that if the business model isn't workable, it will attract few takers.

When asked if there any changes to the legislation that would cause MAC to shift its stance, Sanderson says that it's too speculative to say if it would ever support a bottle bill.

"There's only so much imagination you can have about how the bill would be written differently," he says.

Peter Houstle, the executive director of the Maryland Recycling Network (MRN), says that while his group is in favor of initiatives intended to improve recycling, it is leaning against this bill.

"We think there are some aspects of this bill that in terms or the goal are very admirable, but there are other aspects of the bill that are problematic," he says. "And the way the bill is structured is it will cannibalize other parts of the recycling infrastructure."

Houstle says that single-stream collection is a big part of Maryland's recycling infrastructure, and MRN shares MAC's concern that a bottle bill would undercut these programs by removing valuable material, such as aluminum, from them. MRN, says Houstle, wants a robust examination of this potential problem before the bill moves forward. Houstle also adds that each county has their own recycling collection programs in place, so it's difficult to tell how a bottle bill will affect each.

With Maryland bordering states that don't have container deposit programs, the issue of fraud needs to be accounted for, says Houstle. He also says that setting up the redemption centers will require a significant initial investment, which is a challenge in times of lean budgets.

Despite his concerns with the legislation, Houstle stressed that he wants to work with lawmakers.

"When everyone says you're either for or against it, it pushes people into a corner," he says.

Calls to the sponsor of the bill — House Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore — were not returned by press time.

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