Malloy wants doubled bottle deposit to pour cash into state

This article was published on: 02/20/17 11:06 PM by Mike Minarsky

08bottles.spanThe governor wants to double down on Connecticut’s beverage deposit law.

The return rate of deposit bottles and cans has steadily declined to the point that fewer than half make it back to supermarkets, package stores and redemption centers. But Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wants to raise the nickel surcharge to 10 cents.

It’s not really an environmental initiative, which was the point of the original 1980 law. Now it’s about added revenue from those consumers who don’t retrieve cash for their empty beer, soda and flavored-water bottles. But an increase in the deposit would likely prod people to return empties at a higher rate.

Jackie Worney said she’d be happy if the surcharge increased to 10 cents. The Norwich woman was busy Monday morning depositing bottles and cans at the Starrwood Market in Taftville.

“It helps on gas,” Worney said.

John Hernandez, the store’s night manager, said the collection bins there are emptied five or six times per day. “It’s pretty intense here. It’s like this all the time,” he said as four people unloaded their recyclables.

Money accumulated from the non-redeemed containers, called escheats, totals $31 million a year in Connecticut. Malloy expects to extract another $12 million annually with the deposit hike; necessary revenue at a time when the projected deficit in the state budget that starts July 1 is $1.7 billion.

“In other states, a 10 cent deposit has led to higher rates of redemption,” said Dennis Schain, communications director for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which handles the escheats. “If such an increase became law in Connecticut, we would expect to see higher rates of redemption — increasing the recycling of glass, plastic and aluminum. This increased recycling has environmental benefits and would also lead to less contamination of materials in single-steam recycling bins from shattered glass.”

Retailers say the 2 cents they get now for each redemption isn’t worth the time and trouble of their employees.

And for consumers, the experience of waiting in line with their empty beer, soda and iced tea containers in smelly recycling rooms may get even worse if the governor’s proposal passes and fewer folks throw empties into their large containers for municipal pickup along with their cardboard, newspaper, magazines and cat food cans.

Norwich resident Marvin Serruto said he’s against increasing the surcharge for the sake of hiking it.

“It doesn’t appear as though it’s going to do anything. It’s kind of like a waste of money,” he said. “I think we have a good program, let’s stick with it if it’s not broken.”

Plunging rates

The DEEP reports the statewide redemption rate, which was about 64 percent in 2009, is now down below 50 percent. But for the latest quarterly report, ending last June 30, the percentage of returned cans and bottles was just over 42 percent, with only 163 million containers returned out of 385.7 million sold during spring 2016.

On Friday, Pat Toth, a retired school secretary, recycled her bottles at a Stop & Shop supermarket in Stratford. But doubling the deposit to 10 cents, she said, would end up costing many consumers more money.

“I think (Malloy’s proposal is) a bad thing, because a lot of people will not recycle,” Toth said as she plunked blue beer bottles into the crushers.

After about 20 minutes fighting with the machines, the Stratford resident netted about $12.

Some collectors stand to profit from higher deposits.

Ana Da Silva, 50, a certified nursing assistant from Stratford, said she gathers cans and bottles in her free time and turns them in at least twice a week, netting between $70 and $100 weekly. “Neighbors and people who know me give me their recycling to make (gas money),” she said. And in the bargain, “I’m cleaning the environment. Plastic takes 200 years to (biodegrade).”

John Slimak, a 23-year-old truck driver from Stratford, said he puts his bottles and cans in a recycling bins rather than redeeming them for cash. But he said a 10-cent deposit might motivate him to cash them in.

Wayne Pesce, president of the Connecticut Food Association which represents grocers, said the original law was targeted at litter, but the value of the nickel has fallen during that 37 years and the so-called bottle bill is antiquated.

“I don’t think we’ve thought about it creatively,” Pesce said.

One way to tackle the issue would be to have smaller fees on a larger universe of recyclables.

While the state’s fiscal problem makes the potential phasing out of bottle and can deposits problematic, Pesce believes environmentalists, regulators, redemption centers and retailers should get together and brainstorm what’s best in the long run.

“I think we need to open up the patient and ask what is best for the state,” he said. “I just don’t believe we have a 21st century model in our state. It’s like an annuity for the state. We think the dime doesn’t make sense because it’s just another tax on consumers.”Chris Phelps, state director of the nonprofit Environment Connecticut, said he intends to speak in favor of Malloy’s proposed deposit hike when the bill reaches the public hearing stage of the General Assembly session.

States with container-deposit laws include California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. Deposit amounts range from 2 cents in Oregon for reusable containers, to 15 cents in Maine for wine and spirits containers.

“We have long supported the 10-cent increase because it will raise the redemption rate and capture more containers for recycling,” Phelps said. The downside of the equation, he said, dates back to the 2009 expansion of the bottle bill, when accompanying legislation put the escheats into Connecticut’s General Fund and took the money away from the beverage distributors.

“We also believe a portion of the unclaimed money should actually be used for litter reduction and green promotion,” Phelps said. “It’s still a good thing to do, even if the motivation is about raising money for the General Fund. We’ve always viewed a strong and effective curbside recycling program, combined with redemption, as complementary”

Source: Ken Dixon 2/20/17

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