Maine’s most effective recycling and litter reduction program just got a major upgrade! Two new laws passed this year make long awaited upgrades to the Bottle Bill that will help keep local redemption centers and make sure Mainers are able to redeem their bottles and cans well into the future.
During the summer of 2022 our aging Bottle Bill program was beginning to unravel. Redemption centers were being forced to close, scale back hours, or run at a deficit because their revenue couldn’t keep up with rising costs due to inflation. This not only threatened jobs and livelihoods, but Mainers were finding it increasingly difficult to redeem their containers, which put the entire program in a vulnerable position.
Emergency Relief for Redemption Centers
The challenges facing local redemption centers were truly an emergency that required swift action from lawmakers.
The first new law, LD 134, received unanimous, bipartisan support from the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and was passed by the full Legislature to go into effect immediately upon the Governor’s signature in May 2023.
This bill increased the statutorily set handling fee paid to redemption centers by beverage manufacturers from 4.5 cents per container, up to 5.5. cents in May, and then up to 6 cents in September. The change infuses upwards of $13 million into Maine’s more than 300 local redemption centers.
The handling fee is different from the deposit amount that consumers are paid back when they redeem containers. It’s the only way that the redemption centers make money from the Bottle Bill. For each container they redeem to consumers, they get reimbursed the deposit amount, along with an additional handling fee for the work they do to collect the containers and return them to the manufacturers for recycling.
LD 134 was necessary to provide immediate relief to redemption centers and their employees while lawmakers worked to modernize the entire program to reduce costs and increase its effectiveness.
Modernizing the Bottle Bill to Make it More Effective for the Future
NRCM joined forces with Representative Allison Hepler of Woolwich to forge a path for upgrades to the Bottle Bill that lawmakers and other stakeholders —like local beverage businesses — could support. We worked for that mission for many months to understand how this complex program works and what was at stake for the many stakeholders that have built their businesses around the program for the past 45 years.
The result was LD 1909, An Act to Modernize Maine’s Bottle Bill Program, sponsored by Rep. Hepler.
The Bottle Bill program is important for the environment, municipalities, redemption centers, recyclers, beverage distributors and manufacturers and technology companies alike. Everyone came together with the common goal of maintaining a successful program into the future, and thoughtfully, artfully, and patiently worked out disagreements on policy approaches.
After many long days of facility tours and meetings over the fall, winter, and spring, we arrived at a solution that earned unanimous support of the committee on the 45th anniversary of the implementation of the Bottle Bill, and subsequent smooth passage of the bill in the House and Senate. This would not have been possible without the all the time given and compromises made between all the parties involved, in a truly remarkable policy negotiation.
Aside from keeping redemption centers open and able to employ the people who make it possible for you to redeem your bottles and cans, here’s what the new law will do:
- Streamline the program for hard-working redemption centers by eliminating the tedious brand-level sorting and shifting to sorting by material type—plastic, glass, steel, and aluminum. Say goodbye to those nostalgic days of watching in awe while redemption center workers toss your containers into a sea of bins (anywhere between 300 and 600!). Sorts will settle somewhere in the range of 30 bins and make it much easier for redemption centers to train employees and do their accounting.
- Create a new “commingling cooperative” to guarantee timely pick-up of and payment for redeemed beverage containers by beverage manufacturers. To be able to sort by brand at redemption centers, all the brand owners have to come together to share costs and data with each other. This new organization will further streamline the system, reducing overall costs and better coordinating pick-up and processing, as well as provide valuable data for the State and lawmakers to evaluate the program. And for consumers, there will be a new website with information and locations about where you can redeem your containers.
- Redirect the deposits paid by consumers who never redeemed their containers to support sorely needed improvements. Did you know that right now, most of the deposits you paid and never redeemed were kept by the beverage manufacturers themselves? This change will require all unclaimed deposits to be accounted for separately in a special fund that will be used exclusively for supporting the bottle bill program. Money available will increase consumer convenience, reduce trucks on the road, and invest in new programs that would promote a shift away from some disposable containers toward more reusable options.
- Since we know you’re wondering whether the 5- or 15-cent deposit amounts will change, the answer is no (or more like not yet!). There were many discussions about whether the deposit amount should change at this time and ultimately lawmakers decided to wait. A uniform deposit is the eventual goal, to further reduce sorts and make everything simpler, but time will tell what that amount should be and how we will make the transition. In the meantime, you may notice that your bottles and cans may say “ME RV” or something to that effect, so that when the time comes to change the deposit amount, it won’t involve reprinting the labels.
NRCM is extremely proud of the work done by all to keep this important program going strong, and we will continue to advocate for smooth implementation of the changes.
How You Can Support the Bottle Bill
We urge you to support Maine’s Bottle Bill by ALWAYS redeeming your containers at your local redemption center! You get your money back (or it’s a great way to donate to your favorite charity), redemption centers get money, municipalities reduce costs, and all the plastic, glass, aluminum, and steel stays clean and sorted and is highly likely to be recycled into a new container and conserve our natural resources.
Cheers to that!
—Sarah Nichols, NRCM Sustainable Maine Director