- Maine Gov. Janet Mills has signed a law updating the state bottle bill to rework funding for the program, ease sorting requirements for redemption centers and promote reuse strategies.
- LD 1909 ends a requirement for redemption centers to sort containers by brand and funnels unredeemed fees into bottle bill improvements instead of allowing them to go to beverage companies. A “commingling collective” of brands will organize container collection and other tasks
- The law also promotes the use of reusable and refillable containers, including through grants for developing washing facilities or doing outreach and education around the benefits of refillable containers.
Supporters see the updates in LD 1909 as a win for redemption centers, which are a key aspect of Maine’s bottle bill but have been struggling with rising operating and labor costs. More than 50 redemption centers have closed since 2020.
The law comes shortly after Maine enacted a separate emergency bottle bill update in May meant to prevent more centers from closing by raising the handling fee to 5.5 cents, a 1-cent increase from when the fee was last raised in 2020. The handling fee will increase to 6 cents per container on Sept. 1.
It allows employees to sort by material type like plastic, glass, steel and aluminum starting in 2025 instead of requiring redemption centers to sort containers by brand.
It’s a move supporters say saves time and will be easier on redemption center employees, particularly when it comes to training. The Natural Resources Council of Maine, a supporter of the bill, said redemption center workers were sometimes sorting containers into between 300 to 600 different bins.
The new policy also funnels proceeds from unredeemed deposits into bottle bill improvements. When beverage companies are allowed to keep unredeemed deposits, they’re incentivized to recycle less, said Nora Bosworth, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, in written testimony. “If redemption rates falter, they are rewarded,” she said. “The reallocation of unclaimed consumer deposits will ensure that the bottle return system thrives in the long-term and brings us that much closer to a circular economy.”
Cheryl Timberlake of the Maine Beer & Wine Distributors Association testified that many distributors oppose the fee increases and programs established in LD 1909, particularly the measure that no longer allows beverage companies to keep unclaimed deposits. “The program is complex and costly for all parties, especially beverage entities, and the unclaimed deposits provide some financial relief,” she said.
Under the new law, a “commingling cooperative” of brand owners will need to collectively organize container collection as well as share cost and collection data with each other. That part of the law is something MBWD does support, saying it will help reduce the bottle bill system’s “complexity and cost.”
The cooperative will also be required to make an annual payment of $1 million to a special Cost and Carbon Efficient Technology Fund meant to pay for sorting technology and other improvements, including reuse and refill strategies. An annual fee of $600,000 to the Department of Environmental Protection is meant to offset administration costs.
The law also calls for a third-party study to determine if it’s feasible for 5% or 10% of beverage containers marketed in the state to eventually be reusable or refillable. The study, due by July 15, 2026, would also detail what types of investments or infrastructure could help achieve that goal.
MBWD and other distributors such as Central Distributors, which describes itself as the largest in the state, had thrown their support behind a similar but competing bill, LD 1910. It would have also called for redemption centers to sort by material type except CLYNK, the state’s bag drop program. That bill called for decreasing the handling fee down to 5 cents by 2024.
No waste or recycling companies are on the record as testifying for or against the bill.