MONTPELIER -- An environmental consultant previously hired by the state has suggested placing a "broad-based fee" on plastic packaging materials sold in Vermont to support the state's transition to new recycling program.
DSM Environmental Services, an environmental consulting group that wrote two reports guiding policy aimed at preparing for a transition to a new recycling system, told lawmakers they could raise millions by requiring manufacturers to pay a fee on plastic packaging materials.
"Without some type of a broad based fee on packaging in general we are missing a real opportunity," Ted Siegler, the principal for the consulting group, told lawmakers on Friday. "And I think that's an area where Vermont really could take the next step. Which is to say relatively small fees, I'm talking less than a penny per package."
Lawmakers passed Act 148 in 2012, which will ban new materials from the state's landfill over the next several years, including recyclables, food scraps and yard debris. The Senate last month passed a bill designed to raise money for small private haulers so they invest in the necessary equipment to pick up new materials.
Included in the bill is an increase to the state's franchise tax - a fee placed of haulers to dump materials in the landfill, which would be raised from $6 per ton to $7. The fee increase received some push-back in the Senate and has seen little traction in the House.
The House Natural Resources and Energy Committee took up the legislation this week.
Siegler told the committee increasing the franchise tax could encourage haulers to bring their trash to other states where they would pay less. In place of the tax, he said the state should consider more sustainable revenue sources, such as a fee on packaging.
"You're starting to achieve a sustainable funding source and you're starting to be able to go after food waste, the infrastructure that you need, and plastic packaging infrastructure that we don't have that we really need," he said. "So I throw that out as an alternative to a surcharge."
Committee Chair Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, said he does not support the increase to the franchise tax. He wants to know how existing revenue is spent and what the costs of the proposed program are before increasing the tax.
"What this bill seems to be saying is that 'we know we have to do all of these things, but let's collect the money now,'" he said.
He said the fee on packaging will not be included in the bill but could be discussed next session.
The bill sets up a pilot program to recycle construction and demolition debris - which accounts for about 15 percent of the state's industrial waste stream by weight, according to a 2013 legislative report - to learn how to keep these materials out of the landfill.
The committee has not decided whether to keep the pilot program in the bill.
The Senate cut a proposal that would have required towns to join one of the state's solid waste districts - organizations that oversee regional recycling programs - in order to qualify for state funds.
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns opposed requiring towns to join districts, and said some towns that operate independently can better save costs on their own. The bill sets up a working group to review these local waste management plans.
The House committee will host a summit inviting all the solid waste districts, alliances and towns on how they manage their current solid waste plans. The conference is designed to better understand how different areas of the state manage waste
"It creates realities for us," Klein said. "We're going to hear from them, they're going to tell us what they're doing well, what their problems are, what their unique circumstances are (because) we haven't really heard that firsthand."