- Redemption centers in Maine will now receive an extra cent for each container they handle after Gov. Janet Mills signed emergency legislation into law on Friday.
- Effective May 1, the handling fee is now 5.5 cents, up a penny from when the fee was last increased in 2020, according to the bill. The handling fee will again increase to 6 cents per container on Sept. 1.
- Redemption centers and environmental groups said the update was urgently needed to keep more locations from closing, but brands like BlueTriton, Coca-Cola Beverages Northeast and some distributors said the increase was unfair to their businesses. Stakeholders are now turning their attention to two competing bills meant to further modernize the state’s 45-year-old bottle bill.
Redemption centers are a key part of Maine’s bottle bill, but numerous closures over the last few years prompted the state legislature to quickly pass the bill to prevent further damage. There are about 321 redemption centers in the state and more than 50 have closed since 2020, Maine Public reported.
“It was truly an emergency,” said Sarah Nichols, Sustainable Maine director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, in an email. “They were unable to keep pace with inflation and labor costs, utilities.”
NRCM estimates about half of bottle bill containers in the state are processed through redemption centers, while another 25% go through reverse vending machines or the state’s bag drop program. The rest aren’t redeemed, the group said in a statement.
Dave Tremberth, who manages a South Portland redemption center, said most centers don’t have a way to raise their income as costs rise. “Another season at the same handling fee will reduce the number of local redemption centers,” he said in written testimony, adding that his own facility was struggling with higher utility, maintenance and insurance costs, along with costs to lease and operate reverse vending machines.
Iowa also increased its handling fees this year to stave off deposit center closures. That state upped its handling fee from 1 cent to 3 cents at the start of the year.
Beverage brands like BlueTriton, which owns Poland Spring, said Maine already has one of the highest handling fees in the country compared with places like Iowa and Oregon. They felt that raising the fee wouldn’t do much to stabilize the bottle bill in the long run and would add costs to their businesses and to consumers. TOMRA, a reverse vending machine manufacturer, was neutral on the bill, but said any changes to the state’s bottle bill must come with “checks and balances.”
The Maine Beer & Wine Distributors Association called for beverage distributors and redemption centers to work together on “modernizing and simplifying” the system, especially for sorting and collecting processes.
Two competing bottle bill modernization bills — one backed by environmental groups like NRCM and another favored by some in the beverage industry — are expected to come up for a public hearing in the next couple weeks. Some stakeholders tried unsuccessfully to combine the two bills, Nichols said.
LD 1909, sponsored by Rep. Allison Helper and supported by NRCM, calls for streamlining how containers are sorted by eliminating the requirement to sort by brand. It also calls for eliminating a provision of the current law that allows certain beverage companies to keep unredeemed fees, instead funneling the unredeemed money into bottle bill improvements.
LD 1910, led by Rep. Ed Crockett, also calls for redemption centers to sort by material type except CLYNK, the state’s bag drop program. It aims to decrease the handling fee down to 5 cents by 2024.
Maine is also in the process of implementing its extended producer responsibility program for packaging, the first in the country. The program is meant to work in tandem with the bottle bill.