Lawmakers Spike Proposal to Exempt Large Containers from Bottle Bill

Mar 16, 2017

For the third time in six years, state lawmakers are poised to defeat a bill designed to exempt large containers from Maine’s landmark bottle law. The Environmental and Natural Resources Committee voted 8-0 Thursday to kill a bill that would exempt containers larger than 46 ounces from the law.

Pete Didisheim of the Natural Resources Council of Maine says the bill is the latest attempt by the beverage industry to erode a bottle law that has encouraged Mainers to recycle empty beverage containers.

“There have been multiple attempts by the bottling industry to begin the unraveling of our bottle bill and they’ve been doing that since the beginning,” he says.

Newell Augur, representing the Maine Beverage Association, says the bottle law is outdated and costly.

“Recycling is completely different now then when the bottle bill first started. When the bottle bill first started no one knew what single-stream recycling was,” he says.

By exempting large containers from the deposit, Augur says the bill would divert more money to towns to beef up their recycling capacity.

Supporters of the bottle law countered that bottle law would mean job losses for the redemption centers that currently accept returned containers. Additionally, the Natural Resources Council of Maine says the bottle law has led to approximately 90 percent of cans and bottles being recycled, which they say is more than double the rate of other recyclable materials.

The Maine Municipal Association also opposed the bill, arguing that it would increase the volume of waste and recycling for municipalities. The MMA also argued that while the bill would divert money to offset the increased costs and encourage updated recycling programs, the funding would be temporary and end after five years.

The bottle bill, passed in 1976, allows Mainers to return empty beverage containers to redemption centers for 5 cents or 15 cents apiece. According the beverage association, the large beverage containers make up about 6 percent of the containers currently subject to deposit, or handling fee.

Five members of the environmental committee were absent for the vote. The proposal could face additional votes in the House and Senate, but the lopsided committee vote increases its chances for defeat.