Senator Saviello, Representative Tucker, 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 1703.
NRCM has had a long history working to support and defend our state’s successful bottle redemption program, going back to when the bill was initially introduced in the Maine Legislature in 1976 and enacted in November 1978. We find that this proposal to lower the redemption value of wine and spirits would weaken the program, and we are not convinced that it is needed to solve any problems. There are several good reasons to oppose this bill:
Maine’s bottle redemption program is one of the strongest in the country: There are ten states with bottle deposit legislation in the US: Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Michigan, Iowa, Oregon, California, and Hawaii. Each of these programs are structured and managed differently, so it’s difficult to compare them. But, the programs in Maine and Vermont are practically identical, and arguably the country’s most successful, because of our inclusion of so many containers and the higher deposit on wine and spirits. Further, nine out of ten Canadian provinces have a bottle redemption program, most with split redemption structures and larger containers being redeemed for as high as 35 cents. Our split redemption system, with a higher fee on wine and spirits containers, is not unique and has become institutionalized in Maine over the past 28 years. We see no reason to tinker with a program that is working well.
Maine’s charities have the most to lose with this proposal: Many Maine charities—animal shelters, public health organization, schools, scouting groups, and sports teams—rely on bottle drives to raise funds and operate on tiny budgets. For example, the SPCA of Hancock County has received more than $26,000 through the Clynk Community Cash Program for their Cans for Kibble campaign. Brunswick’s Coastal Humane Society has raised $4,700 through Clynk’s program; Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary has raised $10,000; and Veterans with No Boundaries– $3,372. Charities like these would get a third of what they are used to for wine and spirits—so they could lose hundreds if not thousands of dollars if LD 1703 were passed.
If this is about the addition of nips, then it makes more sense to increase the deposit on nips to 15 cents. As the title of the bill suggests, this proposal seems to come as a response to the addition of 50ml containers (nips) to the program through legislation last year. Beginning January 2019, these small containers will be redeemed for five cents, rather than fifteen cents like the rest of the wine and spirits containers. The addition of nips at five cents has created a false sense of inequity, but NRCM does not see it that way. If the sponsor of LD 1703 would like to create the same deposit for all spirits, it would make much more sense to increase the outlier to fifteen cents rather than lower the existing norm to match the outlier. The nips containers haven’t yet been relabeled or added to the program so this change, if any were actually needed, would not be disruptive. If passed as is, then LD 1703 would likely be disruptive and costly because it would require relabeling of all wine and spirits sold in the state, re-programming of all cash registers, re-training of store and redemption center staff, as well as a public education campaign: all pain for no gain.
Reducing the incentive could lead to lower redemption rates: NRCM believes that the stronger the incentive to redeem the containers, the higher the redemption rate will be. No other state has lowered the redemption value of beverage containers in their programs, and just last year Oregon increased their bottle redemption rate from five cents to ten cents to boost redemption rates. Certainly, some people still may return them to redemption centers, if this bill was to pass, but others may not. Redemption centers make money from the number of containers that come into the facility, so we would not want to risk lower redemption rates, which would harm so many small businesses throughout Maine.
If there are changes to the Bottle Bill, then they should be based on evidence of an actual problem. Time and time again the Legislature has heard and rejected proposals to weaken our Bottle Bill, and we urge you to reject his one as well. I appreciate your time, and would be happy to answer any questions you may have.