A bill doubling the bottle bill deposit from a nickel to a dime and expanding its coverage to containers for drinking water, sports drinks and other non-dairy beverages has been endorsed by a House committee.
The Vermont House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee voted 8-3 to approve the change on Friday, with Reps. Nelson Brownell and Seth Bongartz both voting yes. Voting no were Reps. Paul Lefebvre, I-Essex-Caledonia-Orleans: Harvey Smith, R-Addison 5; and Thomas Terenzini, R-Rutland 4.
The bill, H. 175, would expand the universe of containers requiring deposits to water bottles, wine bottles, and containers for all noncarbonated and carbonated drinks. Milk — dairy and otherwise — would be excluded. Liquor and wine bottles would require a deposit.
“We all know a lot of plastic water bottles end up in the trash. That won’t be the case. People will pay attention,” Bongartz, D-Bennington 4, said of the proposed changes and how they will affect the waste stream.
Bongartz said the bill changed very little between its introduction and the committee vote, with the only change being the effective date being moved from July of this year to July 2022.
“It took a while for us to sort through the weeds on this,” Bongartz said Tuesday of the committee process on the bill. What seemed to clarify matters for fellow members, he said, was the realization that there’s a market for deposit returns because they are cleaner than containers that enter the recycling stream at large. That improves the odds that they’ll be recycled as bottles, rather than turned into polyester fabric — or not recycled at all.
“The thing about containers that come in through the redemption system is everybody wants them. They’re clean, not contaminated ... there’s a demand for those,” Bongartz said.
The plastic returned via deposit “actually gets remade into bottles as opposed to ending up as part of sofas. Instead of one use you get multiple uses,” Bongartz said. “Also there’s a lot less energy required to reuse plastics than to produce them from scratch.”
In written testimony, supporters including the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) said expanding the bottle bill would improve recycling rates, diverting more containers away from landfills, and help prevent litter.
Also testifying for the bill was Alyssa Hill, an eighth-grade student at Williston Central School, who said promoting recycling would help reduce the demand for new plastic — an industry that relies upon fossil fuels that are contributing to climate change.
“This bottle bill is expected to increase the number of plastic containers turned into new plastic containers by 397 million. That’s almost 400 million plastic containers that don’t need to be manufactured, almost half a billion containers that will no longer be able to release poisons into the communities surrounding them,” Hill said.
Opposition included the Vermont Wholesale Beverage Association, which testified through lobbyist Clare Buckley that the system is “antiquated, inefficient and costly for Vermonters” and is “plagued with operational issues” including fraud — notably along the New Hampshire border, where Granite State residents who paid no deposit on their bottles and cans bring them across the Connecticut River for redemption.
“Increasing the bottle deposit from 5 to 10 cents on all beverages subject to the bottle bill ... would significantly increase the price Vermonters pay for beer and soda at the cash register (a total of $2.40 per case for just deposits) sending more Vermonters along the border to [New Hampshire] without a bottle bill and [New York and Massachusetts] with a 5-cent deposit,” Buckley said.
The organization instead supported H. 14, a bill requiring the Secretary of Natural Resources to study the effectiveness of the bottle bill. Buckley said the state needs “real time data on the costs and environmental impacts of the existing bottle bill law” to make a decision.