Duggan: Bottle bill upgrade | Perspective

Our most successful recycling program — known as the bottle bill — is long overdue for an upgrade. For years, we’ve mostly relied on single-stream recycling programs that allow people to toss all of their recyclables into one bin. Although this seems like a convenient solution, the real story is about 25% of what we toss in those bins ends up in a landfill because it is too contaminated to go anywhere else or is not recyclable in the first instance. Even if these materials are recycled, the quality of the material produced is often poor because of contamination.

The good news is there is an easy solution that will create green jobs, reduce climate pollution, and keep more trash out of landfills: update the state’s existing bottle bill.

Vermont’s container deposit law has been a critical part of our state’s recycling system for nearly five decades and produces recycling rates of 75% or greater, even when the national recycling rates have plummeted. Here’s how it works: Vermonters pay an extra nickel for every bottle or can of beer or soda purchased and get the money back when they return the empty container. And the program produces a steady stream of uncontaminated recyclable material that can be truly recycled, which results in fewer new plastic, aluminum and glass containers that create toxic and climate pollution at every stage of their lifecycle.

On top of the environmental benefits, the bottle bill also provides economic benefits for Vermonters by creating green jobs at redemption centers, processing facilities and manufacturing centers. On average, container deposit systems create between 11 and 38 times more jobs than curbside recycling. Additionally, all of the money generated from unclaimed deposits — estimated to be worth over $2 million annually — is put into the Vermont Clean Water Fund for clean water improvement projects.

While the program has been successful, the bottle bill has not kept up with changing market trends and inflation.

When the bill was enacted in 1972, non-carbonated single-serve beverages did not exist. The times have changed and now bottled water, iced tea and sports drinks line the shelves of supermarkets. Vermont’s bottle bill only applies to carbonated drinks and only captures 46% of all beverages sold in the state. A 2018 estimate found the state is missing out on capturing about 20,000 tons of glass, plastic and aluminum that must be managed through costly single-stream recycling, or trash pickup and landfilling. Expanding the bill to include these non-carbonated beverage containers will add an estimated 397 million additional containers recycled each year.

Additionally, inflation has rendered the current nickel deposit less effective at…

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