By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — A new version of a “bottle bill” would transfer responsibility for redeeming bottles and cans to their producers, help municipalities and reduce litter.
Supporters of House Bill 1636 said it would transfer the cost of disposing of glass and plastic bottles and cans from municipal taxpayers to the producers of the products and begin to address the great need to reduce the amount of trash generated that ends up in landfills and incinerators.
But opponents said it would be counterproductive, drive up the costs of beer and other drinks and provide producers little flexibility in establishing redemption programs.
But the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Sherry Dutzy, D-Nashua, said “you have to start somewhere.”
She said the cost of disposing of trash has been going up and up as tipping fees increase as landfill space becomes more and more scarce.
At one facility the tipping fee went from $30 a ton to $90 a ton and the state is not meeting its recycling goals which were set in 1993, she said.
“We are swimming in trash,” Dutzy said, “and we have to look for a way to control this.”
She said she studied what other states have done and the idea of having producers be responsible organizations is gaining ground.
Maine recently approved a plan to make producers responsible for the cost of handling their products’ packaging and Oregon has long had a similar program, while Michigan has long had a bottle bill for redeeming deposits on bottles and cans.
Dutzy said several other states are contemplating similar bills this year.
Previous bottle bills would have had government agencies running the program, but she said under her bill the producers would be responsible for setting up the program, doing the marketing and an education program with stated goals.
Under the bill, consumers would pay a 10 cent deposit on a bottle or can, which would be reimbursed once it is returned to a redemption center.
The proposal was supported by environmental organizations, and local recycling advocates, but opposed by beer distributors and soft drink companies, the state liquor commission, the Business and Industry Association, and the state’s grocers’ organization.
They claimed the plan would cost cities and towns money, is outdated technology and would tarnish the state’s reputation for cheaper products.
But Dutzy said in states with bottle bills recycling is much higher in the 85 percent range instead of what is recycled in New Hampshire, which is less than half of that percentage.
She said down the road a revised bottle bill would draw new industry to the state.
Glass is heavy and difficult to recycle so it is often crushed and used in road surfaces, Dutzy said, but in Canada it is melted down and reused as glass again, and that is what could happen here if the bill passes.
“This bill can be used as a template to make this reality in New Hampshire,” Dutzy said. “It is a fair bill as everyone must make some concessions: political and economic.”
But House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee chair, Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, said what he cannot get around is the bill will increase the cost of a six-pack by 60 cents.
“There is so much trash out there, yet you are upping the price on people who want to drink liquid,” he said, “and making them pay more money.”
But Dutzy said the only people who will pay more are the ones who choose not to redeem the bottles and instead will raise the tipping fees for disposal at landfills.
“You pay one way or the other,” she said. “Why not reward the people who are responsible to the planet, the environment and the economy?”
There is new technology coming down the road and New Hampshire should be a part of that because it is not now, Dutzy said.
Bree Dietly of Breezeway Consultants of Somerville, Mass., represented the American Beverage Association and the NH Beverage Association in opposing the bill.
He touted the organizations’ work to improve recycling and its work to turn old bottles and cans into new ones.
But Dietly said “we believe this would be an insufficient system in structure, redundant, unrealistic and a bureaucratic system that would affect our companies’ doing business in New Hampshire.”
You cannot simply say put the producers in charge so this is a good bill when it is extremely prescriptive with not a lot of flexibility to work out a system that would be efficient for consumers, he said.
Dietly said his organizations would be willing to discuss better options, but this is not the bill to do that.
Bruce Berk of Pittsfield told the committee, “The approach presented by HB 1636 differs dramatically from past proposals in its comprehensive and contemporary approach.”
He said many things have changed since the 1970s and there is now broad recognition that landfills are not the best answer for the increasing volumes of solid waste being generated today.
The bill was opposed by Scott Schaier of the New Hampshire Independent Beer and Beverage Distributors who said there has been a shift in recent years by emphasizing recycling products by consumer product companies.
He called the New Hampshire proposal an outdated approach that is not necessary or desired by business or consumers.
He said the plan would impact pricing and the state’s reputation as a lower priced market and would reduce cities and towns revenue from recycling the products, although others said it would save municipalities money by reducing the amount of generated waste.
Heidi Trimarco of the Conservation Law Foundation said the bill would increase recycling.
“Bottle Bills incentivize recycling, and this incentive is proven to work,” she said. “States with container deposit laws have almost double the recycling rates for beverage container materials.”
She said increased recycling would decrease litter across New Hampshire’s roadways, parks, rivers and beaches.
But on the other side, Mark Smith of Manchester called the bill another form of taxation. “I am opposed to more taxation in New Hampshire,” he said. “The party that adds more taxation I will vote 100 percent against in all future elections.”
Donald McFarlane of Orange said companies already have incentives to place deposit requirements on their products.
“I have frequently paid, and been refunded for, deposits on milk bottles, growlers, kegs, and so forth, by companies within the state of New Hampshire,” he said. “We do not need the state sticking its nose into this matter, let alone at some significant cost to the taxpayers and consumers. Keep the state’s fingers out of my drinks.”
The bill was one of three the committee heard Tuesday seeking to reduce the waste stream.
Chemically based products like plastics take hundreds of years to break down in the natural environment and House Bill 1207 would prohibit self-serve disposable plastic foodware accessory dispensers, or offering disposable plastic foodware accessories to any customer, except upon customer request.
And House Bill 1649 would prohibit per and polyfluoroalkyl substances in consumer products used for personal, family or household products sold in New Hampshire as well as some commercial products such as carpeting.
The bills will go to subcommittees for review and possible changes.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.