- A bill that would expand Vermont’s container deposit law nearly passed, but is up in the air now that the legislative session has adjourned. H 158 would add more types of beverage containers and restructures the system to require beverage manufacturers to participate in a producer responsibility organization.
- The legislation would have added wine and non-carbonated beverages like water, juice, hard seltzer, iced tea, coffee and sports drinks to the bottle bill program by Jan. 1, 2027. The legislation would also increase the handling fee from 4 cents to 5 cents a bottle and set redemption rate goals.
- The House and Senate did not hold a key concurrence vote on bill amendments before the session ended May 12, but the bill might be taken up again when the legislature reconvenes. Supporters say major updates are needed to match Vermont’s aging bottle bill structure with today’s economy. Yet waste companies like Casella say the update will hurt recyclers by taking valuable materials out of their systems.
If signed into law, H 158 would have made some of the most significant updates to the bottle bill since it was first enacted in 1972. Proposed changes were meant to keep redemption centers from closing and raise recycling rates, among other updates.
This isn’t the first time Vermont has mulled major changes to its bottle bill. Lawmakers worked to pass a similar expansion last year, which made it through the House and Senate but was also not finalized before the end of the legislative session.
“Despite the success of the program, the bottle bill has not been meaningfully expanded or modernized since it was first enacted over five decades ago,” said Peter Blair, policy director of Just Zero, in a statement.
More than 75% of beverage containers covered under the program get recycled each year, but only about 36% of containers not included in the bottle bill are recycled, Just Zero says. Other supporters include VPIRG and the Can Manufacturers Institute.
However, Casella, the state’s largest hauler, has opposed the bill, saying the update would raise recycling costs to consumers. The expansion would “threaten the economic viability of recycling facilities because they skim off the most valuable recycling streams – mainly the PET and the aluminum,” said Kim Crosby, Casella’s director of environmental compliance, in a statement. Crosby estimated that recycling fees could increase by about 7% to offset loss of revenue.
This year’s bottle bill update would add new types of containers, and it also calls for several deposit value changes. Wine bottles would have a 15-cent deposit. Other types of containers would have a 5-cent deposit value, the same as other containers in the program. The bill would not cover milk, dairy products, infant formula, meal replacement drinks nor nonalcoholic cider.
A Senate amendment requires the state’s natural resources agency to update the legislature on the redemption rate and recommend whether the deposit value should be increased. Previous versions of the bill called for eventually raising the deposit on most containers to 10 cents.
Another major update would require all manufacturers and distributors of covered beverages to participate in a newly formed producer responsibility organization starting Jan. 1, 2024. It would be responsible for managing the bottle bill system.
The PRO would submit a stewardship plan by Oct. 1, 2024, that includes details on offering convenient collection points, reducing sortation burdens at redemption centers, offering consumer education aspects and other details. The Beverage Association of Vermont, which represents brands like Coca-Cola, applauded the addition of a PRO to the bill.
The bill also lays out a statewide minimum beverage container redemption rate goal of 75% by July 1, 2026, and updates that goal incrementally every few years until it reaches 90% by July 1, 2040.
The bill also raises the handling fee for most containers from 4 cents to 5 cents. Redemption centers typically sort bottles by brand and sometimes sort more than 100 brands, and “we have not changed the fee to keep pace with redemption,” state Sen. Becca White, a bill supporter, told VT Digger.
Once the PRO is operating, it would collect the handling fee now going to redemption centers. A Senate amendment allows small stores of less than 5,000 square feet to opt out of redeeming bottles when that change occurs.
Some local redemption centers support the bill, saying the extra penny in handling fees, combined with the expanded list of bottles coming to their facility, will help keep their doors open.
Maine is another bottle bill state that recently increased its handling fee. Gov. Janet Mills signed the emergency bottle bill update earlier this week, saying it was necessary to prevent more redemption centers from closing. Vermont’s bill also dictates where unclaimed beverage container deposits, known as escheats, will go. The state currently collects 100% escheats, but the bill would change that model in 2026 to temporarily allow the PRO to collect a portion. After 2031, the state would return to collecting the full amount, with some of the money going to the state Clean Water Fund and the Waste Management Assistance Fund.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the bill was headed to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk.