Senator Saviello, Representative Welsh, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, my name is Sarah Lakeman and I am the Sustainable Maine Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I appreciate this opportunity to testify in opposition to LD 1204.
NRCM agrees that policy changes could help get Maine beyond our stagnant 40% recycling rate, but we believe that LD 1204 is the wrong way to go about it. Our state’s bottle redemption program isn’t just Maine’s biggest recycling success story—it’s a part of our culture. Many of our municipalities rely on the bottle redemption program to help them manage their MSW, and hundreds of Mainers have built their lives and businesses around the existing bottle redemption law. Any changes made to this program would have serious consequences for Maine’s residents and municipalities.
This Committee has rejected proposed legislative rollbacks to Maine’s bottle redemption program in the past, and we urge you to reject this proposal as well. The biggest difference this time around is that LD 1204 presents a potentially enticing concept of a new recycling fund—but there are other, better ways that Maine could boost recycling and composting than by what is proposed in this bill.
NRCM is opposed LD 1204 for the following reasons:
This would be a great deal for bottle companies but a bad deal for Maine. If LD 1204 were to pass as written, bottling companies would save about $6.8 million over the next six years, and then over a million dollars a year in perpetuity. In exchange, they offer Maine only $2.2 million over the next 6 years—then nothing. Of additional concern, Maine would lose approximately $950K during that period due to a reduction in label registration fees and unclaimed deposits that currently go toward supporting program administration and Maine’s general fund. Taking these losses into account, Maine would net only about $1.3 million while bottling companies save five times that much, and then millions more into the future.
Maine municipalities would lose about $13.7 million over the next six years. Part of the reason why lawmakers instituted the bottle bill back in 1976 (and part of the reason why beverage companies have been unsuccessful at tampering with the law since) is because the program reduces costs for towns and taxpayers for litter and container collection, transportation, and recycling. It’s currently more cost-effective for beverage companies to handle and market these materials than it is to use municipal recycling systems. LD 1204 would add an annual $2.3 million price tag to municipalities who would have to assume the responsibility of collection, transportation, and disposal of the larger beverage containers that would be removed from Maine’s bottle redemption program. (See CRI financial analysis).
Maine’s redemption centers would be significantly impacted. This bill would reduce the volume of bottles—and revenue from handling fees—coming into Maine’s redemption centers by anywhere from 6.3% to 14%. Some of Maine’s redemption centers currently operate on only a very small profit margin, so taking out even a small fraction of these bottles could cause a significant adverse impact to their bottom line. In response, redemption centers might have to cut staff to make up for the revenue shortfall, or in some cases the very smallest centers may have to shut down. The redemption centers and staff that remain also would also be on the frontlines explaining to the public the confusing changes made to the program dealing with the newly exempted bottles that people bring in and don’t know what to do with.
The proposed Recycling Public Advisory Council in LD 1204 has serious flaws. NRCM believes that that the advisory council proposed in the bill is unnecessary because DEP staff could administer grants and loans without advice from people who aren’t recycling or composting experts. The make-up of this council is strongly biased in the favor of the beverage industry, and every appointment is made by the governor. The council would have no real authority, but would have immense responsibility, such as: reviewing all applications and making recommendations to DEP on the selection of awardees; providing annual assessments and recommendations to the Legislature regarding the fund; initiating and conducting costly public outreach and education programs; and being responsible for educating the public about the proposed rollback of the bottle bill. There is no mention in LD 1204 of how this enormous effort and responsibility would be funded (aside from mileage reimbursement).
There are alternative funding mechanisms and policy options that make more sense. Right now, the State accumulates about $1.8 million a year from unclaimed deposits; NRCM urges the committee to consider dedicating a portion of that money to be used for grants that would provide for outreach, education, and technical assistance to municipalities to increase recycling and composting. Considering that the State would lose approximately $150,000 annually anyways if LD 1204 were adopted (through fewer unclaimed deposits and label registrations), it makes even more sense to use unclaimed deposits as a funding source. I’ve attached to my testimony an 8-year history of the unclaimed deposits accrued to the State.
Another potential way to fund these efforts would be through the concept provided in LD 947, which would remove exemptions from existing waste handling fees for landfilled waste. This method would have a significantly lower financial impact on Maine municipalities than would LD 1204, while also providing an incentive to landfill less waste and increase fairness among those who already are paying waste handling fees.
In summary, LD 1204 is a bad deal for Maine. The costs of this proposal far outweigh any benefits, and alternative-funding sources would be far preferable to unraveling one of the most successful waste and litter reduction programs in our State’s history. NRCM urges the committee to reject the attack on Maine’s bottle bill that is at the heart of LD 1204. If the committee is interested in supporting grants aimed at improving Maine’s recycling and composting rates, that’s fine, but the approach in this bill is the wrong way to do it. Thank you for your consideration of these comments. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.
 According to CRI’s financial analysis: bottle companies would save $1.14 million a year; $371K would go into the fund each year for six years; and the State would lose $44,561 in label registration fees and $108,000 in unclaimed deposits annually.
 CRI estimates that bottles that are 32 ounces and greater make up about 6.3% of the total bottles sold; but some redemption centers state that those containers make up about 14% of their total revenue.