A bipartisan bill to modernize Maine’s popular beverage container redemption program was passed unanimously by the Environment and Natural Resources Committee yesterday. The vote came on the same day the Bottle Bill celebrated its 45th anniversary as the state’s most effective litter prevention and recycling program.
“Maine’s Bottle Bill is a big part of our culture and environmental ethic. Hundreds of Mainers have built their lives and small businesses around bottle redemption,” said Sarah Nichols, Sustainable Maine Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “This legislation will ensure that the Bottle Bill remains resilient well into the future so we can reduce litter and protect this critical recycling program.”
LD 1909, sponsored by Rep. Allison Hepler of Woolwich, aims to bring the Bottle Bill into this century by better preparing the state to handle the large amount of redeemables that are processed every year. Nichols and Hepler spent the past year listening to the experiences of redemption center owners to craft the legislation, and then worked with beverage manufacturers and distributors to develop compromise language.
“From the time I first spoke with redemption center owners in my district, it became clear we needed to upgrade this beloved environmental program to make it work better for everyone,” said Representative Hepler. “This has been a collective effort between DEP, redemption centers, NRCM, Clynk, beverage companies and distributors, Maine’s craft brewers, Rep Crockett, recyclers, and many more. As we met and learned from each other, we built consensus and compromise that will ultimately make the Bottle Bill more effective.”
The bill will:
- 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.
- Create a new “commingling cooperative” to guarantee timely pick-up of and payment for redeemed beverage containers by beverage manufacturers.
- Redirect the deposits paid by consumers who never redeemed their containers to support sorely needed improvements that 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.
The Bottle Bill began in 1978 and today 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 $2 million in donations resulting from bottle and can redemption, have been made to local charities. But inefficiencies in the decades-old program, combined with inflation and other stresses were forcing many redemption centers to close and leading to bags of redeemables stacked outside others.
An emergency law passed earlier this year provided emergency relief to redemption centers by increasing the handling fee paid to redemption centers. LD 1909 will provide the longer term structural changes to keep the program intact.