Monday, February 6, 2012

Vermonters can have their bottle bill and EPR for packaging too

By Bill Sheehan and Matt Prindiville, Product Policy Institute

A controversial EPR-related bill in Vermont has died and hearings took place on a new bill.

Vermont bill H.218 died, according to Resource Recycling.  It was introduced in 2010, reportedly the brainchild of Coca-Cola and artfully framed as an “EPR Framework” bill.  It would have implemented producer financing for collection of packaging and printed paper while repealing the state’s bottle bill - which is the state’s most successful recycling initiative, collecting over 80% of beverage containers sold into Vermont.

Hearings were held on a new bill, H.485, in mid-January.  The new bill is mostly a traditional solid waste management plan based on government responsibility for recycling and waste management.  However, the bill mentions extended producer responsibility, in the form of possible agency recommendations in future reports.  Surprisingly, that was enough to draw opposition testimony from the Toy Industry Association and the anti-EPR Product Management Alliance.

The bill allows the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation to recommend options for legislative consideration, including:  (A) product and packaging bans, (B) tax incentives; and (C) deposit and return legislation or extended producer responsibility legislation for certain products.

While attempting to brand EPR for packaging and printed paper as being superior to bottle bills, Coca Cola and advocates for this approach missed the mark.  PPI has always advocated that industry-run bottle bills are not only EPR, but are model examples for successful EPR programs and ones to build on. 

Opponents have argued that bottle deposits are overly prescriptive, and don’t allow manufacturers the flexibility to create their own systems.  We would argue that container-deposits are a policy tool to achieve robust performance, and that industry-run bottle bill initiatives meet the definition of EPR because manufacturers are “physically and financially” responsible for their products.

Besides, we want to allow government to be prescriptive when results aren’t being achieved.  For another example beyond deposits, in 2006, Maine passed legislation to incorporate a $5 financial bounty in their underperforming EPR law for mercury thermostats, paid to anyone with an old thermostat.  Once the bounty was in place, returns to Maine’s thermostat EPR program went through the roof and is now the highest-performing program in the nation, with collection wildly exceeding that of any other state.

We hope Vermont will continue to lead on producer responsibility legislation, and that Vermonters will realize they can have their bottle bill and EPR for packaging and printed paper, too.  We’ll have to wait and see whether the beverage industry will support this concept.  For now, they’re busy promoting EPR in non-bottle bill states. 

For many of us who live in states with mature, successful bottle bill initiatives, we want to have EPR for packaging and printed paper too, but we’re not going to sacrifice the most successful recycling (and EPR) programs that we already have for the sake of winning industry support.  Several provinces in Canada and many EU countries have already figured this out: Bottle bills and EPR for packaging can go hand in hand.

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