An emergency bill that would provide immediate financial relief to struggling redemption centers has been approved by the Maine Legislature and is heading to Governor Mills’ desk.
Redemption center owners and environmental groups were urging lawmakers to quickly pass LD 134 with the two-thirds vote necessary for it to be implemented right away. They will now shift their attention to supporting a companion bill sponsored by Representative Allison Hepler aimed at modernizing the Bottle Bill.
Maine’s Bottle Bill began in 1978 and has become the state’s most effective recycling and litter prevention program. The money redeemed at centers is often used to support local charities.
In an emotional public hearing on LD 134, redemption center owners made clear action is sorely needed. The bill received unanimous bipartisan approval from the Environment & Natural Resources Committee last month.
“The distributors, they raised their prices because of food, fuel, everything went up. We can’t, and you’re the ones who can help us,” said Don Cook who was forced to close his South Portland redemption center last summer.
“I’ve been in business 42 years, and this is the first year that I’ve had to borrow money to keep my doors open,” said Melodie Zale, who owns a redemption center in Wilton.
LD 134 would increase the handling fee paid to local redemption centers, which are the linchpin of the state’s enormously successful and popular Bottle Bill. The fee, which is paid to centers by beverage companies, hasn’t been increased since 2019.
“The reason we need a handling fee increase is in order to support redemption centers statewide. Many have closed over the last year or two by virtue of the fact that costs are spiraling,” said Peter Welch, who owns a redemption center in Portland.
Under the proposal, the handling fee would be set to match inflation and increased from 4.5 cents to 5.5 cents per container redeemed starting on May 1, then 6 cents on September 1.
“Local redemption centers across the state have been losing money, forced to close or work on the margins due to inflation and labor shortages, leaving many Mainers without places to redeem their bottles and cans,” said Sarah Nichols, Sustainable Maine Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “These hard-working local businesses can barely afford to operate and pay their employees because the handling fee has remained stagnant while big beverage companies continue to reap profits.”
Representative Hepler’s bill to modernize the Bottle Bill focuses on streamlining the program for redemption centers by eliminating tedious sorting requirements, reclaiming unclaimed deposits to fund improvements, and encourages waste reduction through reusable containers and increasing the recycling rate. The bill has not been received a formal LD number yet, so a public hearing has not been scheduled.
About Maine’s Bottle Bill:
The Bottle Bill is responsible for recycling more than 40,000 tons of material each year, including all glass containers and more than 60% of all plastics.
More than 1.17 billion beverage containers were sold in Maine in 2021. Here’s what happened to them:
- 50% were hand-sorted and processed by local redemption centers.
- 25% were processed by CLYNK or reverse vending machines.
- 25% were not redeemed. The vast majority of these “unclaimed deposits” are paid back to beverage companies instead of consumers.