“Bottle Bill” Dies in Committee…But Lives On in Budget?

Legislation to impose a 5-cent deposit on cans and bottles has been defeated again in the policy committees of the House of Delegates — but related langauge asking the Maryland Department of the Environment to study implementation issues of the same program goals has been added to the House’s budget bill.

HB 862 was this year’s bill (revised from previous years’ introductions), which MACo joined numerous other stakeholder groups in opposing. MACo cited the troubling effects on widespread and growing recycling programs – noting that removing the most valuable material stream from recovered waste could undermine successful county-run curbside single-stream offerings. (Read the MACo testimony online)

After the House’s primary assigned committee (Environment and Transportation) had suggested the bill be converted to study language, the second assigned committee (Economic Matters) voted unfavorably. Under ordinary circumstances, that would end the debate on the issue, and shelve it for the year.

Instead, during the budget debate on the floor Tuesday, the House adopted budget language directing the Department of the Environment to take up the issue, working with the Maryland Environmental Service. The language reads:

Report on Establishing a Beverage Container Deposit Program: The committees are concerned that Maryland’s beverage container recycling rate could be higher. For instance, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), Maryland recycled about 40.4% of beverage containers (including wine and beer bottles) in 2013 through a combination of curbside and drop-off recycling (down from 42.8% in 2012), while states with deposit programs generally have an average recovery rate between 70.0% and 85.0%. Therefore, the committees request that MDE and the Maryland Environmental Service (MES) jointly study establishing a beverage container deposit program or any other programs that would increase beverage container recycling and decrease beverage container waste. MDE shall submit the report to the committees by September 1, 2016.

The House’s budget differs in multiple ways from the Senate’s – including this topic, where the Senate did not take any action. The two sides will reconcile their differences and submit a conference report in the week or two ahead. All areas of difference are eligible for changes as the two chambers resolve their differences.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties