In a move proponents hope will revitalize recycling at a time when the state is facing major decisions about what to do with its waste, Connecticut customers will see the deposit they pay on bottles and cans double in 2024.
The bill doubles the bottle deposit from 5 cents to 10 cents, requires a deposit on more beverages – but not wines and spirits – and increases the handling fee for redemption centers.
The increase represents the first major update to the state’s bottle bill, coming nearly 40 years after bottle redemption was first introduced in Connecticut and after years of stalled attempts. The State House approved the legislation by a vote of 105-42, with four Democrats voting “no” and 15 Republicans voting “yes” – including State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, and State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme. The bill passed the State Senate by a vote of 33-1 on Wednesday.
Proponents hope the bill will incentivize more redemption centers to open, making it easier for people to return their bottles and cans, and with a greater financial incentive. Others questioned whether enough redemption centers would become accessible, since people who can’t return their bottles and cans effectively pay a higher tax.
“If you go on a walk today, you will notice that the vast majority of litter on our streets and our waterways and in our parks are those that don’t have a redeemable value,” said State Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, chair of the Environment Committee.
She said increasing the deposit will lead more people to return their bottles and cans instead of disposing of them as litter or in the trash or single-stream recycling system. While Connecticut customers return about half of their bottles and cans, Michigan – which has a 10 cent deposit – returns closer to 90 percent
Nips, the small, single-serving liquor bottles, are especially ubiquitous as litter, and they would be difficult to collect in the same system as larger bottles, Cohen said.
To address the problem, the bill adds a 5-cent surcharge to nips that will go to the municipality for use in reducing solid waste or litter, she said.
The surcharge is expected to generate about $4.5 million a year for municipalities, which Cohen said could be used to hire recycling coordinators or a street sweeper to clean up litter.
Council of Small Towns Executive Director Betsy Gara praised the increased funding to help towns to combat litter, and also said it would help increase the value of recyclables by producing a cleaner stream.
“In the past, recycled materials were a big revenue generator for towns,” Gara said. “Unfortunately, due in large part to China’s decision to no longer accept recyclables from the U.S., towns are now facing significant costs in managing recyclables.”
During the Senate debate, Cohen said that municipalities are losing money as trash piles up, and redemption centers where people go to get their nickel deposit back are falling by the wayside. Statewide there are 18 redemption centers, of which two are temporarily closed. While there are redemption centers located in grocery and liquor stores, they are limited to redeeming only the brands they sell.
Doubling the deposit without increasing the number of redemption centers in the state is effectively imposing a tax on people who don’t have one nearby, state Rep. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield, said during the House debate. While he agreed the bill made positive and needed changes to the system, the increased cost to consumers was a concern.
Particularly in the state’s urban centers, there are few redemption centers and few supermarkets that provide “reverse vending machines” to collect bottles and cans, he said. For someone who buys a 12-pack of soda for their family at the grocery store, increasing the deposit to 10 cents is effectively a 60-cent tax increase on every 12-pack if they can’t return the cans, he said.
“Every cent counts,” Harding said. “There are many households in this state where individuals sit down and do their monthly budget, and it comes down to that one cent.”
State Rep. Mike Demicco, D-Farmington, said increasing the handling fee paid to redemption centers would increase the number of facilities in all areas of the state. He said that when New York increased the handling fees, they saw between 300 and 400 new centers open.
“I won’t say we’ll have 400 new redemption centers, but I think that bodes well for Connecticut,” he said.
State Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, said the failures of the bottle bill in its current form are shouldered by municipal taxpayers in the form of waste hauling fees. When the MIRA trash-burning plant in Hartford shuts down, municipalities will be faced with paying to ship their waste several states away, or recycling more of it, she said.
“Waste haulers would be very happy to keep collecting per ton of waste, as they are now, but your municipal taxpayers will not be happy when they see the price increase,” Mushinsky said.
Detractors of the bill also said the bill doesn’t return enough of the uncollected bottle deposits back to the beverage distributors. Harding said the industry suffers from a lack of financial resources and returning some of the funds could help distributors become more efficient.
Currently, all of the uncollected deposits go to the state general fund. The bill will begin to return a significant amount of the funds to distributors in 2024, but Harding said it would be better to put more money back into the industry, rather than the state’s general fund.
“We’re setting policy going into the future that would still continue to provide escheat money – the unredeemed cans and bottles – to be placed simply into the general fund and go towards causes that have nothing to do with environmental issues, and frankly have nothing to do with the bottle bill itself,” Harding said.
State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said that she didn’t think the bill was perfect, but was a good start, and acknowledged the “Herculean effort” it took to finally get the bill to a vote.
“Hopefully we will become a state that is not sending some of our recyclables to landfills, which is the absolute worst thing we can be doing, and we can get back to the mode where glass and plastics have value and can be recycled properly,” she said.