By Anna Syrell
Green Up Day is right around the corner—of the calendar, that is—and Vermonters will head out to the roadsides to pick up the refuse of winter. Based on my past experience, there will be bottles and cans as well as fast food containers, vehicle debris and plastic bags. The litter certainly does accumulate around here, but the number of beverage containers on roadsides in states without bottle deposit systems, like Pennsylvania, is considerably higher by my observation when I visit family there.
In 1972, Vermont passed its first bottle deposit bill as a way to clean up litter along our roads. Since then, it’s become a successful statewide recycling program that allows Vermonters to redeem beer bottles and soda cans for a nickel per container. Bottle drives provide a fundraising source for Scout troops and class trips, too. Glass liquor bottles, with the exception of wine, were added to the deposit system in 1990. In 2019 the law was changed to require the unredeemed deposits, about $1.5 million annually, to be returned to the state for deposit in the Clean Water Fund. While bills have been introduced over the last two decades to expand the deposit system, they have been unsuccessful. A step in that direction took place last week, however, with the Vermont House passing H.175 with a 99 to 46 vote. H.175 updates this landmark environmental law by expanding the redeemable list to include plastic water bottles, wine and hard cider bottles, and containers for all carbonated and non-carbonated beverages, except for dairy products, plant-based “milk” products, and non-alcoholic apple cider.
Right now, the bottle bill covers only 46 percent of the beverage containers sold in our state. Plastic water bottles are the second-most littered piece of trash in Vermont. Furthermore, broken and contaminated glass contributes to contamination of recycled paper and cardboard, is difficult to handle and expensive to dispose of, which can lead to dumping. Containers redeemed under the bottle bill are more valuable for recycling because they are cleaner and far more likely to be remade into new containers. By passing H.175, we will increase the number of recycled containers in Vermont by an estimated 375 million per year.
According to a recent poll, 88 percent of Vermonters support the bottle bill, and 83 percent support updating it to include more containers. Expanding the bottle bill makes sense because it:
- increases recycling rates and reduces litter;
- supports the closed-loop economy by making more bottles back into bottles;
- reduces costs to solid waste management districts by reducing the volume of glass in our recycling bins;
- increases the handling fee for redemption centers to cover the added work associated with sorting these products;
- boosts the economy by creating more jobs than curbside recycling; and generates more revenue for the Clean Water Fund.
Getting back to Green Up Day, Saturday, May 1, this year, you can help by joining your neighbors and adopting a section of Charlotte’s roads. Sign up at the Green Up Charlotte website and pick up a few green bags to fill.