Potential Maryland bottle bill faces persistent opposition

Potential Maryland bottle bill faces persistent opposition

By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling

A bill that would establish a beverage container deposit program in Maryland had its first legislative hearing, revealing that despite some proposed changes to the legislation it's still opposed by a key stakeholder.

House Delegate Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat and sponsor of the legislation, kicked off the March 8 hearing of the House of Delegates Environmental Matters Committee on the bill by recalling how she and her friends would collect redeemable bottles on Friday nights to buy beer when she was younger. Citing statistics that of the 4 billion beverages sold in Maryland each year only 1 billion of their containers are recycled, McIntosh said that recovering more of these containers for recycling would create jobs.

"Globally, something is happening with recycling," she said. "All of a sudden many countries, China [and] others, are waking up to the fact that what we throw away in landfill is jobs." The bill is similar to other container deposit systems, attaching a nickel deposit on containers for beer, wine, spirits, soft drinks, juice, tea, water and other common beverage containers. However, it's differs from others by requiring counties to run redemption centers where consumers can cash in their deposit.

The Maryland Association of Counties (MAC), an organization representing county governments, has expressed misgivings about this provision of the bill. Specifically, MAC is concerned about the new responsibilities the bill would assign to county governments, and the association worries that a bottle bill would take valuable material out of single-stream and drop-off recycling programs throughout the state.

McIntosh has offered some amendments to the bill, one of which would help counties with upfront startup costs. Another would change how handling fees are paid out. Under the amendment, a three-cent per-container fee would be paid to redemption centers with a zero to 45 percent redemption rate. The handling fee would go down to 1.5 cents per container for a 60 to 75 percent redemption rate. Legislative staff would not provide Plastics Recycling Update with the precise language of the amendments.

"We amended it, by the way, so that the model worked as well as it could in a rural county as it could in an urban county," she said.

At the hearing, Michael Sanderson, the executive director of MAC, told the committee that the changes to the bill might make the arrangement more workable, "but it almost certainly can't work everywhere."

"Our fiscal concerns get even more acute with the revised version of the bill," Sanderson told Plastics Recycling Update in a follow-up conversation.

He says it would be difficult enough to operate a redemption center on a three-cent handling fee, and reducing it to one cent would be even less feasible.

Candace Donohue, government relations director for the Maryland Municipal League, also expressed concerns at the hearing that a bottle bill would adversely affect recycling programs run by municipalities.

"We feel this is a bill that would potentially go backwards with our efforts to recycle in the state," she told the committee.

Dan Nees, a senior research associate at the Environmental Finances Center at the University of Maryland, said he did a study a year ago on the prospects of a bottle bill in the state that examined its potential to reduce litter, increase recycling and create jobs, as well as what the potential costs might be to communities. He said the study concluded that a bottle bill will reduce litter, create jobs and its costs are manageable.

Lynn Bragg, the president of the Glass Packaging Institute, told the committee she supports the bill and it would help the glass container industry meet its goal to use 50 percent recycled content in their products. "But successfully reaching that goal is largely dependent on the strength of the recovery systems that generate the recycled materials purchased by our industry," she added.

"This committee has heard fears that a container deposit law would harm curbside recycling programs and municipalities, and this couldn't be further from the truth," Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute, told the committee.

She argued that removing glass and plastic from single-stream recycling collection via a bottle bill can make processing the materials easier.

Collins got into a tense exchange with one delegate after calling the arguments being advanced by bottle bill opponents "mostly hooey." She also argued with another delegate from Harford County, who worried that a bottle bill would deprive the local incinerator of feedstock. Collins pointed out that aluminum and glass do not make good incinerator feedstock and are better off being recycled.

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