A bill that would expand Vermont’s deposit return system to include more container types over the next several years did not get a final vote before the end of the session.
H.158 passed the House 115-29 on March 28 and the Senate 19-11 on May 10, with amendments, but the House did not have the chance to vote on the amended version before the session ended May 12.
Vermont employs a two-year legislative cycle, so the process could resume when the Legislature reconvenes.
The bill would expand the state’s deposit return system to include all beverages except dairy products, plant-based beverages, infant formula, meal replacement drinks and nonalcoholic cider. The current system only covers beer, mineral waters, mixed wine drinks, soda water and carbonated soft drinks – about 46% of all beverages sold, according to Vermont Business Magazine.
The bill would also require the creation of a PRO and increase the state’s redemption center fee from 4 cents to 5 cents.
The Senate added an exemption for retail locations of less than 5,000 square feet, allowing them to refuse to redeem beverage containers; a provision that if the producer responsibility organization (PRO) failed to meet redemption rates, the state could require it to update its plan with additional measures; and a mandate for a report on the current recycling system.
H.158 is supported by organizations such as the Can Manufacturers Institute, partially supported by the American Beverage Association and the Beverage Association of Vermont, and opposed in full by Casella Waste Systems (Casella is one of the biggest haulers and material processors in the Northeast and is based in Vermont).
While no U.S. state has added a completely new bottle bill in over a decade, a number of states with deposit frameworks have looked to add more container types. Expansion efforts have passed in several cases.
Under the H.158 proposal in Vermont, a study would need to be completed by early 2025 on the total system costs and savings associated with expanding the types of covered containers, as well as the impacts of the expansion on MRFs.
The study would also evaluate the costs of operating a redemption center and other alternate points of redemption under a stewardship plan and provide a recommendation on whether the state’s handling fee should be altered. Finally, it would assess the impact of the PRO being authorized to retain 100%, 50% or 0% of the unredeemed deposits.
The expansion would be slated to take effect on Jan. 1, 2027.
H.158 would have given manufacturers until Jan. 1, 2024 to form a PRO (manufacturers and distributors of liquor would be exempt from that requirement). The PRO would need to submit a stewardship plan to the state by Oct. 1, 2024, that lays out how the PRO will provide convenient collection, fair compensation for redemption centers, and consumer education. That plan would also have to outline how the PRO would make use of existing infrastructure.
The bill sets redemption goals of 75% by July 1, 2026; 80% by July 1, 2030; 85% by July 1, 2035 and 90% by July 1, 2040.
If by 2028, the redemption goals have not been met for two consecutive years, the deposit fee would increase by 5 cents.
The Can Manufacturers Institute testified in support of the bill, urging faster implementation of the expansion and calling it “an important step in updating and improving the program to help ensure more beverage cans are collected and not lost to landfill.”
The American Beverage Association and The Beverage Association of Vermont partially supported the bill. In testimony, spokesperson Bree Dietly said, “A system designed for the 1970s beverage market and consumers is understandably due for a tune-up as we stand 50-plus years in the future.”
“While we do not support expansion of Vermont’s bottle bill, we are pleased to see that H.158 incorporates many of the necessary reforms to put the bottle bill on a more stable and sustainable path going forward,” she said.
Dietly said current problems with the system should be fixed before expanding. Those include too much sorting at redemption centers, aging infrastructure and an inefficient, decentralized system. She also opposed the automatic triggering of the deposit increase in 2028, “given the compressed target dates.”
She said a PRO was “the natural next step for Vermont’s program to open up the system to innovation and lay the foundation for expanding the law to include additional containers and to improve its performance.”
Casella Waste Systems opposes the bill. In testimony, Kim Crosby, the company’s director of environmental compliance, said she believes the expansion will increase the cost of recycling to consumers by about 7%, will not help the state achieve recycling goals and will jeopardize infrastructure investments.
Crosby noted that in 2022, Casella processed about 38,000 tons of single-stream recycling in the state. About 659 tons of that was PET, and half went to processors that make beverage containers, specifically plastic water bottles.
Casella also sent 231 tons of aluminum to can manufacturers and 4,975 tons of glass to Strategic Materials in North Carolina to be turned into glass bottles and fiberglass insulation.
“Standard bottle bills and proposed expanded bottle bills threaten the economic viability of recycling facilities because they skim off the most valuable recycling streams,” she said.
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