Posted by the Connecticut Post, January 26, 2009
HARTFORD -- The nickel deposit on cans and bottles would increase to 10 cents under legislation that would expand the recycling law to include water and sports drinks.
But industry officials warned that such a cost hike would result in a huge wave of illegal containers purchased in neighboring states and result in higher consumer prices.
Legislative leaders predicted Monday that some kind of widening of the law will finally occur this year because one of the chief opponents, former Speaker of the House James A. Amann, has left the General Assembly.
"I do believe that the House does have a kinder view of this bill now," said. Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford, co-chairman of the Environment Committee. "As much as I love the previous speaker --he's my mentor out of Milford -- he was one of the people who did not like this bill, overall." Proposals to include water bottles, sports, drinks and iced teas in recent years have passed the Senate, but died awaiting action on the House calendar.
"He worked very, very hard to get to a point where he could do something with it, then withdrew," Roy recalled of Amann, a Milford Democrat who plans next month to announce his candidacy for governor in 2010.
In a joint morning news conference, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said that this year's two major bills on expanding the recycling law -- one adding only water bottles and the other waters, sports drinks and teas -- would both include 10-cent deposits and 3-percent charges for handling fees at redemption locations.
There have not been concerted attempts to increase the nickel deposit amount since the 1978 bill that created deposits.
Brian J. Flaherty, a former Connecticut lawmaker who is director of public affairs for Nestle Waters North America Inc., said Monday that doubling the nickel deposit would attract fraudulent returns from consumers in neighboring states. "I'd be worried about a huge influx of all covered beverages from other states," Flaherty said in a phone interview.
Flaherty said the industry would support legislation to include non-carbonated beverages if there was also an effort to increase curbside recycling.
"Putting on a deposit makes it more likely to recycle, but the current proposed legislation doesn't reflect how we're recycling today," Flaherty said. "We stand ready to work with the governor and the Legislature."
Stan Sorkin, executive director of the Connecticut Food Association, which represents supermarkets, said Monday that doubling the nickel deposit would raise retail prices while the economy is on the skids.
And including non-carbonated beverages in the deposit law would shift unacceptable expenses on retailers who are already inundated with returned containers that cost them between 4 and 6 cents per bottle.
"You'd become a garbage dump for stuff that is best recycled curbside," Sorkin said. "We feel it's the wrong time to have people laying out money in today's economic crisis and add to the cost of food."
Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said expanding the law to include waters and other non-carbonated beverages that have become popular since the 1978 enabling legislation, will increase the amount the state recycles.
Currently, 70 percent of soda and beer bottles and cans are redeemed for the nickel deposit, resulting in about $24 million in unclaimed deposits, called escheats, which distributors have kept.
The General Assembly this month, however, approved legislation that will revert the escheats back to the state. "That money belongs to the people of the state of Connecticut, not the distributors," McKinney said.
An increase to 10 cents could result in an 80-percent return rate or higher, Williams told reporters in the Legislative Office Building.
"We believe that in this year, in this session, we have the best chance of moving forward in a bipartisan way to get this done," Williams said, adding that the state law has probably kept a billion cans and bottles out of the waste stream during its 31 years.
Williams estimated that even without raising the deposit from 5 cents, expanding the law to include waters, teas and sports drinks, the state would get "a minimum" of $12 million a year in additional state revenue from unclaimed deposits.
"In this budget-deficit year, every dollar, obviously, counts," Williams said.
McKinney said that over the years, the so-called bottle bill has worked as an anti-litter effort and as a recycling measure. It makes sense to increase the pool of deposit containers, he said.
"I always kind of look at my three kids and try to figure out if what we're doing up here makes sense and when you pose to them the question as to why the 20-ounce Coca Cola has a 5 cent redemption on it and the 20-ounce Dasani water sold by Coca Cola does not, they kind of look at you like you're funny," McKinney said.
Martin Mador, state legislative political chairman for the Sierra Club, said that in Michigan, a 10-cent deposit has resulted in a 90-percent return rate. He predicted that Connecticut can increase redemption recycling by 40 percent by expanding the container pool to include non-carbonated drinks and waters.
"We know this works," he said. "It's not a fee. It's not a mandate. It's not a charge. It's not a surcharge. It's a refundable deposit."
Roy said the Environment Committee will schedule hearings before crafting legislation for presentation to the House and Senate.
Williams noted that New York and Massachusetts are considering changes to their beverage-deposit laws that should be watched by Connecticut lawmakers.