Vermont’s expanded bottle bill draws veto

Gov. Phil Scott speaks during his weekly press briefing held at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Gov. Phil Scott speaks during his weekly press briefing held at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger VtDigger file — Glenn Russell



Published: 07-01-2023 10:15 PM

Gov. Phil Scott vetoed H.158 on Thursday, a bill that would overhaul the state’s recycling system for beverage containers.

The expanded so-called “bottle bill” would include most beverage containers, including water bottles, which were not included in the original 40-year-old bottle deposit law.

In a letter to the Legislature explaining his decision, the Republican governor described himself as “a long-time advocate of recycling.” But, he continued, “I believe expanding the labor-intensive 1970s-era bottle deposit system would move us backwards, and we should instead focus on investing in and improving zero-sort (or blue bin) recycling.”

At his weekly news conference several hours before announcing the veto, Scott said he is concerned about the costs of overhauling the so-called “bottle bill” and called single-stream recycling “highly successful.”

“My feeling is we should double down on that,” Scott said. “That’s the wave of the future.”

“I’m concerned this bill will result in higher costs for Vermonters due to deposit fees added to a wide range of beverage products; increased handling fees will be passed onto consumers to fund the redemption system; and increased recycling costs for towns, businesses and residents as high-value cans and bottles are removed,” Scott said in his veto letter.

Under the proposed reform, beverage containers would have to be taken to recycling centers. During the press conference, Scott expressed concern about what happens in areas without access to recycling centers, in particular for people who do not have vehicles.

“What if you’re living in a single-family dwelling, you’re living in an apartment, a one-bedroom facility somewhere and the redemption center is two miles away?” he asked. “What are you supposed to do with all the bottles?”

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Proponents of the bill argued that the state’s bottle redemption system was overdue for an update, and the expansion would help keep more bottles out of landfills.

The original “bottle bill,” still in effect, was enacted in 1972 in an attempt to clean up roadsides then littered with bottles and cans. It offers 5-cent and 15-cent deposits for many beverage containers when they’re brought back to recycling centers.

Those recycling centers have come under pressure as they sort containers from about 100 different manufacturers. The “bottle bill” reform aimed to increase the reimbursement that recycling centers can expect. Now, manufacturers pay recycling centers four cents a container, a fee separate from the deposit that consumers leave and can redeem. The reformed bill would have increased the fee manufacturers pay to recycling centers to five cents a container.

The Legislature has already concluded its veto override session, meaning supporters may have to wait until next January to make another attempt to pass the legislation.

Asked if the Senate has the votes to override the governor’s veto, Moore said: “I will let you know when the time comes.”

A previous effort to reform the bottle bill failed last year.

Casella, the state’s largest single-source recycling company, opposed this year’s bill, arguing that it would take some of the more lucrative plastic bottles out of single-stream recycling and would therefore likely increase the cost of recycling other containers.

Scott echoed many of the company’s arguments.

“It simply makes no sense to toss aside the progress we’ve made since the mandatory Universal Recycling Law of 2012, to expand a separate system that diverts the most valuable recyclables away from the blue bin system,” he said in his veto message.