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Political courage needed to modernize bottle bill, says Somers

Connecticut has a trash crisis on its hands.

Every week, average Connecticut residents diligently put out their recycling bins thinking they are doing a good thing. Little do they know that those recyclable materials are often incinerated or shipped on freight cars to landfills in Ohio. This is largely due to a change in global environmental standards, whereby traditional recipients of recycled material now refuse dirty, contaminated paper and plastic. As a result, millions of pounds of American recyclable materials collected under an outdated system have nowhere to go.

This market reality means recyclables – bottles, cans, paper, glass and cardboard – now cost municipalities significant money where they formerly brought in revenue that helped lower garbage costs. So far, the state has few answers for municipalities and private and commercial waste customers. It seems our state policymakers simply hope the garbage will go away or the marekts will magically reverse themselves.

The one bright spot we see is that bottles and cans redeemed through the bottle bill program do have value. Consumers can take their bottles and cans to machines at the grocery store or to redemption centers. The materials are recycled and reprocessed – in many cases locally – and then made into new products, displacing the need for virgin materials and the many environmental disruptions that come along with mining new material.

Connecticut's bottle bill has largely remained unchanged for decades and its outdated nickel deposit value is simply no longer effective at incentivizing consumers to redeem containers. In addition, the handling fee paid to grocers and redemption centers to manage all those bottles and cans hasn't been upgraded since 1980, often resulting in crowded bottle rooms and fewer redemption centers, making the program inconvenient for consumers. Expansion of the bottle bill to many new beverages, like teas and sports drinks, would mean that these containers won't slip through the cracks of the system anymore and into our environment.

In eastern Connecticut, the bottle bill offers another important benefit: it provides critical job opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Arc Eastern Connecticut operates a redemption center in Woodstock that trains and employs about a dozen people with IDD ongoing. People with IDD not only handle this work very well, they gain experience, confidence and valuable on-the-job training on their way to employment and independence in our eastern Connecticut communities.

Due to the state's outdated redemption fee structure, The Arc's redemption center loses nearly $50,000 per year. Like other redemption operations, it faces certain closure if our legislature fails to embrace updated fee structures for the bottle bill. Jobs will be lost, and some of the 1 million pieces of trash The Arc's Redemption Center processes every year will cumulatively litter our streets, neighborhoods, beaches and parks. Valuable vocational training will disappear as well.

Lawmakers and the Lamont administration must face the reality that single-stream recycling has failed and its's time for Connecticut to re-embrace the bottle bill program and implement a modern economic model to make it work. Redemption fees need to be updated to 10 cents from 5, incentivizing these highly recyclable materials out of the blue bin to preserve quality, value and the environment.

Efforts to modernize the requirements of the bottle bill program have failed due to effective lobbying of solid waste haulers and beverage corporations who support the status quo. It is time to challenge the status quo. Our environment in eastern Connecticut is potentially at risk and higher taxes will result unless legislators act. We need the bottle bill to work again.

We urge legislators to stand up and demonstrate the political courage needed to keep our shoreline and oceans clean and help our municipalities through Connecticut's recycling crisis. In doing so, jobs and a critical vocational training program for people with disabilities will be saved. Eastern Connecticut cannot withstand the dire consequences of legislative inaction any longer.

Kathleen Stauffer is the CEO for The Arc Eastern CT and Heather Somers is a state senator representing the 18th District.

 

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