Senator Carson, 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 (NRCM). I appreciate this opportunity to support LD 1628, which would implement the Department of Environmental Protection’s recommendations regarding the state’s container redemption laws as included in the Department’s annual report on the state’s product stewardship programs.
NRCM has been a dedicated advocate of the Bottle Bill since its passage in 1976, and we have continued to both celebrate and defend it at the Legislature since it was enacted 40 years ago. Today more than ever, the Bottle Bill plays a vital role in the recycling industry, which now relies almost exclusively on a clean, quality commodities market. The beverage container deposit program not only provides a very clean source of recyclable aluminum, plastic, and glass, but it also greatly reduces roadside litter, saves our municipalities hundreds of thousands of dollars, serves as a source of funds for hundreds of charities throughout the state, and creates jobs. It is by far our state’s most successful recycling program with an estimated return rate of between 75-87%—far outpacing the statewide recycling rate which was 36.79 % in 2016, and now presumed to be declining.
Specific reasons why NRCM supports LD 1628:
Mandatory commingling could lead to system efficiencies. LD 1628 clarifies the requirements for qualified commingling agreements under the law, provides for the creation of an additional commingling group to be operated by a third party or stewardship organization, and requires all initiators of deposit to enter into a commingling agreement within the next four years. NRCM believes that more collaboration is needed between beverage producers to streamline collection (reduced sorts) and pick-up of containers from redemption centers (reduced trucks on the road). Based on review of redemption programs in other jurisdictions, we believe that our program could be safeguarded from future attacks by members of the beverage industry if there was more collaboration between initiators of deposit (beverage producers), like through a third party stewardship organization.
Reporting requirements could provide data needed to evaluate the program and make informed decisions regarding any changes. Without performance data, it is difficult to make informed policy changes or to evaluate the program in general. LD 1628 proposes a simple way to get this data: there would be annual reporting requirements by all initiators of deposit (so we know what is being sold into the state) and also reporting by all pick-up agents (so we will know what is being redeemed). This data could also help the state determine what the volume of unclaimed deposits is, which are now merely best guess. NRCM believes that unclaimed deposits should be used to fund program management and efficiency upgrades.
Suggested Amendment: Establish a “Technology Fund” using all or a portion of unclaimed deposits. Redemption centers currently operate on very slim profit margins and many do not have funds to invest in technological upgrades such as reverse-vending-machines. Technological improvements could reduce the operating costs of a redemption center, address material storage, reduce transportation costs, ensure timely and accurate payments, and maintain material quality. A fund could be established by accruing all or a portion of unclaimed deposits. NRCM believes that all unclaimed deposits, not just those that are not part of a commingling agreement, should be used by the State to administer and improve the container redemption program.
Ultimately, NRCM would like to see more containers added to the Bottle Bill and also preserve or enhance the incentive to recycle beverage containers through the redemption program. Further, we want to make sure that it is easy for consumers and all stakeholders to participate in the program so that it can continue to be successful. We support this bill because it could improve data collection and efficiency in collections while still maintaining convenience and incentives for consumers to redeem their beverage containers through the program.
Thank you for your time and your consideration of these comments. I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.
 Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability Report No. SR-BOTTLE-17, May 2018.