This year VPIRG is celebrating its 50th anniversary. All year long we’ll be sharing special messages like this—from VPIRG staff, board, and members, past and present—reflecting on some of the major victories this incredible community has achieved together over the past five decades.
Kati and Marcie Gallagher here – we’re sisters, and we share a special history with both VPIRG and the Bottle Bill.
But before we get into that, we want to take a look back at where it all began, almost two decades before either of us were born!
You’ve heard that VPIRG is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but what you may not know is that the Bottle Bill is too!
Though it would be nice to take credit for the passage of this important piece of legislation, the truth is that VPIRG was still in its nascency when Vermont enacted the popular container redemption law in April of 1972.
But the Bottle Bill was under fire from day one—and protecting this popular environmental program from attacks by the beverage industry giants was a task almost perfectly suited to a new public interest organization. And so began VPIRG’s 50-year history defending and fighting to expand the Bottle Bill.
Throughout the seventies, VPIRG worked to strengthen the law and ensure its success. The Bottle Bill was amended in 1975 to prod the beverage industry to reuse, refill, or recycle all bottles and cans. In 1977, VPIRG returned to the legislature to get amendments that required bottles to be truly refillable and banned the use of plastic rings to hold cans together.
That early work allowed the Bottle Bill to gain a hold, and, in time, it grew to become Vermont’s most successful recycling program. All along the way, VPIRG was there – to educate Vermonters on the importance of the Bottle Bill, to stand up for it in the State House against beverage industry attacks and to fight to improve the law.
VPIRG was there in 1988, when we successfully advocated to expand the law to include wine cooler containers and liquor bottles.
VPIRG was there in 2011, when we beat back a coordinated campaign by the beverage giants to eliminate bottle deposit return programs across the nation.
It was a little bit after that where we join the story.
I came to work for VPIRG in 2013. During my time as an Environmental Associate, I worked on VPIRG’s Bottle Bill efforts – beating back further attempts by the beverage industry to repeal the Bottle Bill (they really do not give up) and pushing for the state to finally end the practice of giving away the Bottle Bill’s “unclaimed nickels” to the beverage industry and, instead, put that money (millions of dollars per year!) to use cleaning up Vermont’s waterways.
We finally succeeded in making that happen in 2018—one year after I left the VPIRG staff to pursue my graduate degree. But it’s around that time that my younger sister came into the picture …
The Bottle Bill was the first issue that I took on when I joined the VPIRG team full time. During my first fall at VPIRG, the bulk of my time was spent simply researching the Bottle Bill and trying to build up my understanding and expertise. Initially I would just go along to stakeholder meetings to take notes, staying completely silent.
In 2021, VPIRG helped introduce legislation, H.175, that would modernize the Bottle Bill, bringing it up to date by expanding it to include sports drinks, water bottles, juice bottles and more.
I could never have anticipated where that journey would take me, but after 3 years, I have developed strong relationships with those same people, actively participated in those meetings, and testified on the Bottle Bill in the State Senate this spring.
We stunned industry lobbyists as H.175 made its way through House committees, leading to increasingly desperate attempts by corporate lobbyists to block the legislation. We helped expose their dirty tactics and ties to the fracking industry which ultimately helped H.175 pass the House floor in April of last year with 99 votes. The moment when my vote count reached that number and I realized we had a chance of a supermajority was exhilarating.
But if you’ve been following VPIRG’s work this past year, you know this chapter of the Bottle Bill saga isn’t quite finished:
As we write this, VPIRG is working hard to get H.175 passed by the full Senate before the legislative session adjourns just days from now.
In fact, it would be a huge help if you would take just a moment now to look up your senators and send a short personalized email to them, urging them to pass H.175 right away!
This is the closest we’ve ever been to truly modernizing the Bottle Bill and with your help, we’re going to add one more victory to this half-century long tale.
Kati Gallagher, Trustee, VPIREF
Marcie Gallagher, Environmental Advocate, VPIRG