This story is part of CT Mirror Explains, an ongoing effort to distill our wide-ranging reporting into a "what you need to know" format and provide practical information to our readers.
This story has been updated.
Connecticut’s “bottle bill” — the commonly used phrase for a law that has been in place since 1978 — is the state’s deposit-and-return system for bottles and cans.
Certain beverages in the state carry a 5-cent deposit, redeemable at designated locations. Consumers pay the 5 cents when they buy the drink and get the money back upon returning its container.
On Jan. 1, 2024, the deposit amount will double to 10 cents, though retailers can continue to sell bottles labeled with a 5-cent deposit that they procured prior to the deposit increase. Consumers can redeem those empties for 10 cents.
Here’s what to know about the deposit-and-return program.
What types of bottles qualify?
Most metal, glass, and plastic beverage containers are eligible for a refund if they’re between the sizes of 150mL to 3 liters for carbonated drinks and 150mL to 2.5 liters for non-carbonated beverages.
Drinks that qualify for a refund are: carbonated beverages, beer and malt beverages, non-carbonated water (including flavored water), hard cider, juice, tea, coffee, kombucha, plant-infused drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks.
Paper cartons and pouches are not subject to a deposit, nor are milk/dairy beverages, wine and liquor, plant-based milks or spirit-based hard seltzer.
Where can I redeem my bottles and cans?
Stores that sell drinks with a deposit are required to take back the empties and give you your money. They are only required to take back the brands that they sell. They are allowed to redeem more but aren’t required to.
Some retailers have self-service machines — known as reverse vending machines (RVMs) — that receive empties. Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, consumers will be limited to redeeming 240 empties in an RVM at a time.
Major grocery store chains have had RVMs for more than four decades, but as of Jan. 1 the types of stores required to have the machines expanded to include large chain drugstores like CVS and Walgreens, as well as other chains like Dollar General, Target and Walmart.
But stores that don’t have RVMs are still required to redeem consumers’ empties. Chris Nelson, supervising environmental analyst at Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said he’ll sometimes redeem bottles and cans at a store’s customer service desk.
“My local Big Y, they periodically will add new beverages that are covered by the bottle bill, and sometimes the reverse vending machines aren’t programmed to accept the bar codes,” Nelson said. “So on a handful of occasions, I’ve gone in with some empty containers that the machines wouldn’t take. I brought them to the front customer service desk, and they redeemed them there.”
Connecticut also has “redemption centers” — private businesses that redeem bottles and cans — though many of them operate on limited hours.
Are there any guidelines I should follow when redeeming bottles and cans?
Nelson said bottle caps can be on or off; though, if they’re on, they should be secure. Labels must remain on bottles so they can be identified as a redeemable product.
Bottles and cans should be empty. Retailers are allowed to refuse to redeem products that contain foreign materials, like cigarette butts.
Where does the money from unredeemed bottles go?
Historically, the money has gone to the state’s general fund, but a recent law changed that so distributors are now receiving funds as well. While they are receiving 100% in the latter half of 2023, the percentage of funds that goes to distributors will drop to 35 percent in the new year and increase incrementally between January 2024 and July 2025, after which it will be tied to the statewide bottle redemption rate.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that the portion of the money from unredeemed bottles that began going to distributors this year will increase on a sliding scale and would rise to 55 percent by fiscal year 2025. But distributors have received 100% of the funds in the latter part of this year. That will drop to 35 percent in 2024 before increasing in future years and the percentage will ultimately be tied to the statewide bottle redemption rate.