Features |The best recycling program we can haveMay 20,2012
The recent Rutland Herald and Times Argus editorial “Redemption” presents readers with a false choice between an expanded bottle bill and “single-stream” recycling. In reality, these systems can and should work together to maximize recycling in Vermont.
The editorial acknowledged that the state’s bottle redemption law was a significant environmental achievement. It also correctly noted that using the bottle bill to keep additional beverage containers out of landfills and off our roadsides “would seem to be the safer way because it uses a system that works.” But the editorial also questioned whether the bottle bill is outdated and whether the economics of single-stream recycling can work with a bottle redemption program in place.
If the bottle bill were outdated, we would expect to see a decline in its effectiveness. Instead, it continues to recycle 85 percent of all containers covered under the law. In contrast, the overall recycling rate from curbside and drop-off recycling programs hovers around 34 percent. The new solid waste legislation (H.485) will ban recyclables from the landfill — a positive step — but even the best curbside recycling programs don’t get the return rate of our bottle bill.
In fact, the best recycling programs are those that utilize both curbside recycling and bottle bills. This has been proven repeatedly, and as the Congressional Research Service put it: “Studies suggest that local governments would achieve a greater diversion of solid waste from disposal at a lower cost per ton if both a bottle bill and a curbside collection program were in place.”
A recent Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection study also concluded that an expanded bottle bill “is estimated to reduce costs for Massachusetts municipalities, even after netting out potential revenue losses.” Overall costs go down because municipalities don’t have to shoulder the collection and disposal costs for all those hundreds of millions of bottles and cans that go through the redemption system. When you look at the bigger picture, an expanded bottle bill would actually improve the economics of recycling statewide.
Vermont now lags behind many other states, including Maine, New York and Connecticut, that have already expanded their bottle bills to cover additional beverage containers. Rather than taking this logical next step, the Vermont Legislature has just asked the Agency of Natural Resources to study this issue again. We are confident that any objective study will show that Vermont will have the highest recycling rates by improving curbside recycling and expanding the bottle bill.
It’s worth noting that there really is no such thing as “single-stream” recycling in Vermont. We already deal with different kinds of waste, such as electronic waste and CFL light bulbs, in different ways. And under the new solid waste bill, people will be asked to further separate their trash, food scraps, yard trimmings, and “mandated recyclables” like paper and plastic. There are legitimate reasons for this kind of separation, which is probably why nine out of 10 Vermonters support the bottle bill.
So-called single-stream recycling is nothing new. In fact it’s been around for decades. And while it’s great to see the separation technologies at our recycling centers continue to improve, contamination of the recyclable material remains a problem. In addition, we still need to encourage people to stop throwing recyclables in the trash, and we need to get companies to stop over-packaging their products and using materials that cannot be easily recycled.
The bottle bill addresses all of these problems. There is far less contamination of the materials, which means the glass can be recycled into bottles again, rather than being used for a lower purpose such as road construction material. It gives people a financial incentive to return their bottles and cans to be recycled. And it makes the companies that produce beverage containers responsible for recycling them. This encourages the companies to create better packaging and puts the cost where it belongs: on those who produce and consume these products.
At VPIRG, we were pleased to help pass the solid waste and universal recycling bill (H.485) into law. We believe Vermont should be doing everything it can to move toward a zero-waste future. That will mean making a number of programs work well together, including the bottle bill. Expanding the bottle bill’s proven track record of success is not outdated “conservatism.” It’s common sense.
Lauren Hierl is an environmental health advocate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group in Montpelier.MORE IN FEATURES15
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