The Bottle Bill is the well-known state law that allows individuals to return certain beverage containers to a redemption center for a five cent rebate. For VPIRG, the issue runs deep- the organization has been fighting to defend and expand the Bottle Bill for over 40 years.
It’s a simple yet novel idea, and Bottle Bills across the country have been proven to increase recycling, reduce contamination of recycling streams, and keep more waste out of landfills. In fact, the ten states with Bottle Bills collectively process as much recycling as the rest of the country combined.
But what happens to the extra nickel on those bottles that we do not return to redemption centers? In seven out of the ten states with Bottle Bills, they go towards funding state programs and projects. But in Vermont, the so-called “unclaimed nickels” go directly to the beverage industry, amounting to nearly $2 million a year. Even the deposits associated with bottles and cans that you recycle go right to the beverage industry.
This is revenue that other states continuously use to their benefit, and Vermont is missing out. In Massachusetts, the unclaimed nickels are used to fund the Clean Environment Fund, which helps to finance projects such as composting and solid waste reduction. New York State uses a large portion of the unclaimed nickels for their General Fund, while allocating $15 million to the state Environmental Protection Fund. In states like Maine, Hawaii, California, and Connecticut, the unclaimed nickels are returned to the state and partially used to finance the recycling program.
Here in Vermont, we could be putting this resource to better use. Virtually any allocation of the unclaimed deposits would be better than taking millions of dollars out of the pockets of Vermonters and leaving it in the pockets of the beverage industry.
Vermont is in the process of implementing forward thinking universal recycling program under Act 148 that will guarantee curbside pickup for compost and recyclable materials. This will require increased funding that is currently unaccounted for. The $2 million in unclaimed nickels we give the beverage industry would go a long way in creating a state wide universal recycling system. Without some solution to this lack of funding under Act 148 we might not be able to achieve the goal of providing recycling options for all Vermonters.
Regardless of what we do with the revenue from unclaimed nickels, virtually any allocation that benefits Vermont and its citizens will be a huge step forward from lining the pockets of the beverage industry.
Also, check out the gallery below to see some images of VPIRG’s work on the Bottle Bill going back over the years: