The governor wants to double down on Connecticut’s beverage-deposit law and hopes to raise the nickel surcharge to 10 cents.

This following article can be found in the February 18th, 2017 edition of the CT Post

The governor wants to double down on Connecticut’s beverage-deposit law.

The return rate of deposit bottles and cans has steadily declined to the point that fewer than half make it back to supermarkets, package stores and redemption centers. But Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wants to raise the nickel surcharge to 10 cents.

It’s not really an environmental initiative, which was the point of the original 1980 law. Now it’s about added revenue from those consumers who don’t retrieve cash for their empty beer, soda and flavored-water bottles. But an increase in the deposit would likely prod people to return empties at a higher rate.

Money accumulated from the unredeemed containers, called escheats, totals $31 million a year in Connecticut. Malloy expects to extract another $12 million annually with the deposit hike; necessary revenue at a time when the projected deficit in the state budget that starts July 1 is $1.7 billion.

“In other states, a 10-cent deposit has led to higher rates of redemption,” said Dennis Schain, communications director for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which handles the escheats. “If such an increase became law in Connecticut, we would expect to see higher rates of redemption — increasing the recycling of glass, plastic, and aluminum. This increased recycling has environmental benefits and would also lead to less contamination of materials in single-steam recycling bins from shattered glass.”

Retailers say that the 2 cents they currently get for each redemption isn’t worth the time and trouble of their employees.

And for consumers, the experience of waiting in line with their empty beer, soda and iced tea containers in smelly recycling rooms may get even worse, if the governor’s proposal passes and fewer folks throw empties into their large containers for municipal pickup along with their cardboard, newspaper, magazines and cat food cans.

Plunging redemption rates

The DEEP reports that the statewide redemption rate, which was about 64 percent in 2009, is now down below 50 percent. But for the latest quarterly report, ending last June 30, the percentage of returned cans and bottles was just over 42 percent, with only 163 million containers returned out of 385.7 million sold during the spring of 2016.

On Friday, Pat Toth, a retired school secretary, recycled her bottles at a Stop & Shop supermarket in Stratford. But doubling the deposit to 10 cents, she said, would end up costing many consumers more money.

“I think (Malloy’s proposal is) a bad thing, because a lot of people will not recycle,” Toth said as she plunked blue beer bottles into the crushers.

After about 20 minutes fighting with the machines, the Stratford resident netted around $12.

Some collectors stand to profit from higher deposits.

Ana Da Silva, 50, a certified nursing assistant from Stratford, said she gathers cans and bottles in her free time and turns them in at least twice a week, netting between $70 and $100 weekly.

“Neighbors and people who know me give me their recycling to make (gas money),” she said. And in the bargain, “I’m cleaning the environment. Plastic takes 200 years to (biodegrade).”

John Slimak, a 23-year-old truck driver from Stratford, said he puts his bottles and cans in a recycling bins rather than redeeming them for cash. But he said a 10-cent deposit might motivate him to drop cash them in.

 Complementary collections

Wayne Pesce, president of the Connecticut Food Association, representing grocers, said that the original law was targeted at litter, but the value of the nickel has fallen during that 37 years and the so-called bottle bill is antiquated.

“I don’t think we’ve thought about it creatively,” Pesce said in a recent interview.

One way to tackle the issue would be to have smaller fees on a larger universe of recyclables.

While the state’s current fiscal problem make the potential phasing out of bottle and can deposits problematic, Pesce believes that environmentalists, regulators, redemption centers and retailers should get together and brainstorm what’s best in the long run.

“I think we need to open up the patient and ask what is best for the state,” he said. “I just don’t believe we have a 21st century model in our state. It’s like an annuity for the state. We think the dime doesn’t make sense because it’s just another tax on consumers.”

Chris Phelps, state director of the nonprofit Environment Connecticut, said he intends to speak in favor of Malloy’s proposed deposit hike when the bill reaches the public hearing stage of the General Assembly session.

“We have long supported the 10-cent increase because it will raise the redemption rate and capture more containers for recycling,” Phelps said. The downside of the equation, he said, dates back to the 2009 expansion of the bottle bill, when accompanying legislation put the escheats into Connecticut’s General Fund and took the money away from the beverage distributors.

“We also believe a portion of the unclaimed that money should actually be used for litter reduction and green promotion,” Phelps said. “It’s still a good thing to do, even if the motivation is about raising money for the General Fund. We’ve always viewed a strong and effective curbside recycling program, combined with redemption, as complementary.”