Fruit juice and bottles have been added to the list requiring a 5-cent deposit. PStern CTMirror

Connecticut’s bottle return program, or bottle bill, has taken another important leap forward. As of the new year, many new beverage types – including juices, teas, coffees, sports drinks, energy drinks, and hard seltzers – are now included in Connecticut’s most effective recycling system.

This expansion is the result of a 2021 law (Public Act 21-58) that helped modernize the bottle bill. And it offers a much-needed solution in the fight against Connecticut’s waste crisis.

Beverage containers, especially plastic bottles, are a huge part of this crisis. Connecticut’s incinerators burn thousands of tons of plastic bottles every year. Those bottles that aren’t incinerated can be found lining Connecticut’s roadways and clogging its rivers. But the newly modernized bottle bill is already making a difference.

Public Act 21-58 made three key changes to Connecticut’s bottle bill. The first change – increasing the handling fee paid by beverage distributors to fund container collection at redemption centers and retailers – went into effect on January 1, 2022. This increase has already had a dramatic impact.

With more funding through a higher handling fee, eight new redemption centers have opened in Connecticut. The higher handling fee, combined with a reverse vending machine mandate for larger stores, have resulted in 300 new retail stores conveniently accepting empty containers. This explosion in redemption locations has made it far easier and more equitable to return bottles and cans.

The second change, which took effect on January 1, is the expansion to new beverage types.

The third change, which is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2024, may have the greatest impact of all. Starting in 2024, beverage container deposits will increase from 5 cents to 10 cents. Data from other states with 10-cent deposits are clear; a higher deposit means a higher redemption rate. And that means more containers get recycled, rather than ending up in incinerators, roadways, and waterways.

But we’re not there yet. Those opposed to bottle bill modernization, especially big beverage companies like Coca-Cola, are trying to persuade lawmakers to delay or derail the increase to 10 cents. And a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives has filed a bill (HB 5120) that if passed, would eliminate the bottle bill altogether.

As usual, the beverage industry is trying to chip away at the expansion that went into effect January 1. Even though Public Act 21-58 explicitly included “hard seltzers,” the legislature is considering a bill (SB 895) that would exempt “spirit-based” hard seltzers from the program. Hard seltzers are one of the fastest growing beverage types in the U.S., with sales having increased more than 220% over the past year. A bipartisan majority of lawmakers clearly intended to include this kind of increasingly popular, and frequently littered, beverage container in the 2021 bottle bill expansion.

Thanks to Public Act 21-58, Connecticut’s bottle bill is better than ever. And, thanks to those who fought for decades to improve Connecticut’s bottle bill, it will only get better from here. Now is the time to stand strong, protect Connecticut’s modernized bottle bill, and let the state’s single-best recycling system do what it does best and keep containers out of incinerators and the environment.

Kevin Budris is Advocacy Director for Just Zero.