Proposed Rhode Island Bottle Bill Stalled by Business Interests


PROVIDENCE — Advocates for a circular economy agree that a bottle-deposit program is a staple for reducing plastic waste.

Despite so-called “bottle bills” in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New York, and Vermont, Rhode Island has for decades resisted enacting a take-back program, much as it does mandating motorcycle helmets. Although there is a lack of public opposition, elected officials and businesses cry foul of a system proven to increase recycling and reduce litter.

Some of the state’s most influential trade groups object.

The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce contends that a deposit law poses “a significant burden on a wide variety of businesses.”

Trade groups for minimarts and gas stations, food and beverage businesses, hotels and restaurants, and liquor stores and distributors all oppose a bottle bill. The New England Convenience Store & Energy Marketers Association, a trade group representing some 500 minimarts, claims the businesses it represents don’t have the space to store empty bottles.

The Rhode Island Hospitality Association claims bottle redemption will increase costs for rent, labor, energy, and food.

Beer, wine, and spirits distributor McLaughlin & Moran Inc. says it isn’t equipped to manage empty bottles.

A 2009 study by the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation found that a 5-cent deposit produces a significant increase in the collection of plastic bottles, aluminum cans, and glass containers.

The Audubon Society of Rhode Island has noted that 88 percent of plastic bottles are recycled in states with bottle bills, compared to 68 percent of plastic bottles that are collected through the state’s current single-stream system.

House bill H7611 calls for a 10-cent fee on all beverage containers, a deposit amount only used in Michigan and Oregon. The Conservation Law Foundation says the higher fee has led to a 90 percent redemption rate in those two states. If adopted in Rhode Island, an additional 15,000 tons of plastic containers will be diverted annually from the Central Landfill in Johnston, according to the organization.

In Oregon, the fee has funded a refillable bottle program. In Rhode Island, a 4-cent handling fee paid by beverage distributors would cover the costs for retailers and redemption centers.

“We are an outlier on this,” said Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, D-Narragansett, sponsor of the bill, noting that states with bottle bills have higher recycling rates.

Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy, D-Hopkinton, objected, saying the 10-cent fee would cut into beverage sales near Connecticut where the deposit fee is 5 cents.

“The last thing I want to do is put our retailers at a disadvantage … which would force people to go to Connecticut to buy bottled water,” said Kennedy during a March 5 House Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources hearing.

McEntee offered to lower the fee to 5 cents to advance the legislation.

“We need to take this seriously, otherwise we’re getting an awful lot of plastic pollution, and we have to protect the planet and the future,” McEntee said.

The bill was held for further study.


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  1. discouraging that even in this day and age these business forces don’t care about waste, about litter, about producer responsibility. They feed the cynicism that Rhode Island doesn’t care about anything. Also disappointing that Resource Recovery isn’t leading the charge for container deposit legislation, they know the throwaway culture is depleting landfill space.

  2. Each of us responsibly doing our part, or at least taking steps towards doing our part to be good stewards of our planet will not decrease costs of most goods. At least not initially. We have been paying too little for too many things for too long. If unnecessary items like bottled water are more expensive, then people will be less likely to buy them which will mean less material to recycle. This is a small example that applies in many more ways. Our gasoline is too cheap. Our clothes are too cheap. It costs someone or something to carelessly blow through resources the way we have been. In some cases people and in most cases our world is subsidizing our excesses.
    If we will not handle resources fairly then we should be ‘nudged’ in that direction.
    As an example: For those of us who drive EVs, and/or bike commute, we realize it is not always as convenient on longer trips. Not yet.. We are willing to plan ahead and not have everything be as easy as possible and at the lowest level of cost and effort. If our parents always did was was the fastest, easiest, and most convenient for them when we were young, we would not be here to contemplate it.
    Let’s not take the easiest road. Both for our actual children and figurative ones.

    Also, "force people to go to Connecticut to buy bottled water."
    There is so much wrong with that statement. Use a refillable water bottle. Or, pay the extra few cents for the convenience (ie. laziness) factor. Nobody is being forced to do anything. We each can make our own choices.

    Steve Hunter

  3. bottle bills are just a tax they do not increase recycling rates, they are popular w. legislatures because of the unredeemed deposits and what they can use those funds for. If your state is at 60% redemption rate then 40% of the extra money(unredeemed deposits) goes to the states slush funds, your state rep gets new curtains and a desk. This is standard protocol. If you want to fix the problem don’t use PET bottles if the consumers want beverages in alum cans (far and away from the best environmental choice) then the beverage producers will make the change. 20 years ago people said Walmart would never support organic foods too. This is just another tax don’t be deceived by the word recycling, it is not a universal catch-all. The landfill will fill up and we will ship our trash to Ohio as everyone other state does. I am all for being eco-conscious but a bottle bill only benefits the legislature and no one else. I process recyclables for a living and this is what I know and live, it will not affect my pocketbook if this goes through I am just very well informed and I hate that people are fooled in this way. 20 years ago I processed way more of these recyclable grades but being surrounded by bottle bill states changed that, I view these items as commodities that are based on supply and demand economics. Look at California where the dep is .10 and the rate of return is very very high. This is because people bring in trailer loads of vessels from Nevada and get the dime that no one paid into the system the taxpayers get it on both ends. It is a very lucrative criminal enterprise, I am sure that would never happen in RI….I hate to be cynical but this is what happens when best intentions are trumped by ignorance intentional or otherwise..

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