A bail of crushed plastic bottles awaits shipping to a recycler at the Willimantic Waste Paper Company, a materials recovery facility (MRF) that sorts single stream garbage into its original components for recycling. Cloe Poisson

Connecticut is in the midst of a waste crisis. The state depends on antiquated and highly polluting trash incinerators that disproportionately impact environmental justice communities. Incinerators in Hartford and Bridgeport burn up to two-thirds of Connecticut’s waste, blanketing communities of color and low-income communities with toxic pollutants like particulate matter, lead, mercury, and dioxins. Meanwhile, waste and recycling expenses have skyrocketed, raising costs for towns, cities, and residents throughout the state.

With the Hartford incinerator expected to permanently shutter next year, many are left wondering where to turn for a solution.

Fortunately, legislators are considering a bill that would reform the state’s recycling system and help get us out of this polluting, expensive mess.

For years, Connecticut neglected one its most effective programs for diverting and recycling waste: the deposit return system, commonly known as the “bottle bill.” The state has not updated the five-cent deposit that consumers pay on many beverage bottles and cans since the program started in 1980. As a result, only 44% of deposit containers were returned as part of the deposit-return system in 2020. This is the worst redemption rate among all bottle bill states in the U.S. At the same time, Connecticut is burning more than 60,000 tons of recyclable containers each year, and the rest end up in increasingly expensive curbside recycling systems.

To make matters worse, officials have failed to update the handling fee paid by beverage distributors for containers collected by redemption centers and retailers. With an inadequate handling fee, many redemption centers have been forced to close and bottle return rooms at grocery stores languish.

Fortunately, these low redemption rates and limited redemption locations are solvable problems. If Connecticut can raise its container deposit, update the handling fee, and expand the scope of containers in the system, it can realize a fully functioning, convenient redemption system. Thankfully, the legislation now being considered, Senate Bill 1037, would implement all of these much-needed reforms and inject new life into a recycling program that can save towns and cities money, reduce waste, and keep bottles and cans out of incinerators.

Senate Bill 1037 would raise Connecticut’s container deposit to ten cents, which promises to dramatically increase the redemption and recycling rates for bottles and cans. States with ten-cent deposits collect more than 85% of their containers for recycling. The bill would also make container redemption more convenient by raising the handling fee paid by distributors, requiring more chain stores to install reverse vending machines to collect containers, and creating a grant program to help fund new redemption centers in underserved urban areas. Finally, it would expand the program to include all noncarbonated beverages like juices, teas, energy drinks, and sports drinks that have become ubiquitous in the past two decades.

Bottle bill modernization will save towns, cities, and residents money, which is why the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Connecticut Council of Small Towns support Senate Bill 1037. Environmental groups throughout Connecticut support the bill as well because it will improve recycling, reduce litter, and help keep containers from being burned in polluting incinerators in Connecticut’s communities.

Modernizing the bottle bill will not instantly solve every part of Connecticut’s waste crisis, but it is a proven, cost-effective step forward at a time when the state needs to take advantage of every tool in its toolbox. We can—and must—protect our communities and our environment, and save money, by reducing and diverting waste and improving recycling. This legislation is key to these efforts.

Contact your legislators today and ask them to support Senate Bill 1037 and modernize Connecticut’s bottle bill program. It’s time to get our communities and our budgets out of the waste mess we’re in.

Kevin Budris is a staff attorney in the Zero Waste Project at Conservation Law Foundation.

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