The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives in unprecedented ways. It has changed how we work, learn, and even shop for food and other necessities. With folks getting sick throughout Connecticut and beyond, it has, by and large, brought out the best in our communities. People are staying home and wearing masks to protect their neighbors, others are donating their hard-earned time and money to help those in need, and countless frontline workers continue to provide essential services every day.
Unfortunately, some have been using COVID-19 as an opportunity to push misinformation and sow confusion in service of profit during this time of public crisis. The plastics industry has pursued rollbacks of single-use plastics bans based on unsound science. Big oil has demanded bailouts. And opponents of Connecticut’s bottle bill have claimed that bottle redemption programs are unsafe.
The focus at grocery stores throughout the state has rightfully been on keeping shelves stocked, cleaning, and protecting workers and customers from getting sick. Along those lines, the State’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has allowed stores to temporarily stop collecting bottles for redemption so that the sole priority of these stores can be on keeping all of us safely fed and supplied.
The key here is that this is a temporary measure. Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation has been spread, which has led to confusion regarding why the program is not being enforced. Specifically, certain groups have been pushing the message that the state has completely suspended the program because of concerns that bottle collection could spread the virus.
It’s important to correct the record on this, especially because it relates to the safety of consumers and workers at this critical time. The state has not suspended the bottle bill program itself. Deposits are still being collected, and there are many independent redemption centers still operating in Connecticut. These redemption centers have been classified as an essential service during the pandemic.
Importantly, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s guidance to stores did not base enforcement suspension on concerns that bottle collection could transmit coronavirus. In fact, the Connecticut Department of Health believes that the risk of coronavirus transmission from bottle collection is low.
To the extent that certain parties are claiming the bottle bill program has been suspended because it is unsafe, they are shamefully misrepresenting the facts in pursuit of their own goals at a time of crisis, and it is up to all of us to call them out.
The fact is that the bottle bill collection infrastructure is cleaner and safer than the materials recovery facilities used by curbside recycling. Deposits on beverage containers incentivize the return of those containers to grocery stores, liquor stores, and redemption centers for recycling. This saves money for towns and cities by lightening the burden on curbside recycling, and it provides a platform for transitioning to reusable bottles. Importantly, it also helps keep plastic out of incinerators. Burning plastic in waste incinerators belches dangerous pollutants into Connecticut’s communities, impacting respiratory health and putting residents at greater risk of illnesses like COVID-19.
COVID-19 presents a challenge unlike any most of us have ever seen. When we emerge from this public health emergency, we will need to rely on clean, safe systems for reuse and recycling that will help preserve budgets that have been stretched thin and keep communities clean and safe. The bottle bill is a key part of this, regardless of the misrepresentations touted by opponents.
Kevin Budris is staff attorney for the Zero Waste Project, Conservation Law Foundation.