Steven Soifer: Maryland legislature must pass bottle deposit bill
HB 839, sponsored by Del. Pete Hammen, D-46, would have required a $.05 deposit, and subsequently a refund, on beverage containers (glass, aluminum and plastic) sold in Maryland. While the bill may have died an ignominious death in committee last week, plans already exist to reintroduce it next year.
Citizens Using Resources Better (CURB), an outgrowth of a student group from the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, is pushing the bill. According to Jennifer Will, one of CURB’s leaders and a graduate student at the school, Maryland’s “bill is unique in that it doesn’t involve the bottlers. Instead, the program will be state run and will pay for itself and then some, through unclaimed deposits.”
Another unique aspect of the bill, according to Jake Weissmann, another CURB leader and School of Social Work graduate student, is that although “the bill is statewide, it will fall to the city and county governments to establish the redemption centers and to hire people to staff those centers.” Weissmann believes that the bill could create as many as 250 jobs.
Here’s how it would work: When a consumer purchases a container, he or she would pay an additional $.05, which the retailer turns over to the comptroller’s office. When a person returns this bottle to their local county-run redemption center, he or she receives the $.05 back. In return, the county-run redemption centers receive an additional $.02 from the State as a handling fee. This $.02 will come from unclaimed deposits, which accumulate when people do not return their bottles and cans for a refund. Finally, private retail stores may also apply to be a redemption center.
Thus, the bottle bill pays for itself through unclaimed deposits, creates more recycling and retail industry jobs, saves taxpayers money, increases recycling rates, and controls litter — all positive benefits. In fact, studies show beverage containers comprise 40 to 60 percent of all litter, and that bottle bills help to reduce container litter by 69 to 84 percent, and total litter by 34 to 64 percent. If that weren’t enough information in its favor, a 2002 report showed recycling rates were two and a half times higher in deposit states than in non-deposit states. Given that the State’s Highway Administration spends about $8 million per year of taxpayers’ money for highway litter cleanup, and that this bill pays for itself, it clearly benefits everyone.
Who opposed the bill? Well, other than a representative of Baltimore City Mayor Sheila Dixon’s office (which is ironic, since the City Council passed a resolution supporting the bottle bill!), the only other significant opposition came from out-of-state interests. Anheuser-Busch flew in more than a half dozen lobbyists from St. Louis, spending tens of thousands of dollars lobbying against the bill, romancing many who previously supported the bill, including Dixon. If the bill passes the House Committee in the next week or so, we can expect them to spend hundreds of thousands against it.
Maryland needs this bottle bill. It’s not too early to contact your state legislators to let them know they should pass it next year.
Steven Soifer is a professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Reach him at SSOIFER@ssw.umaryland.edu.