Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley’s national bottle bill recently had a hearing, complexities of implementation were highlighted.
Late last month Sen. Jeff Merkley’s national bottle bill came up for a hearing before the Chemical Safety, Waste Management, Environmental Justice, and Regulatory Oversight Subcommittee. One of the main themes of the hearing was the challenge of ensuring a national bottle bill did not negatively impact state and local recycling infrastructure. Similar legislation was introduced in 2021 but did not come up for a vote.
What is a bottle bill?
A bottle bill is a euphemism for a piece of legislation that regulates the recycling of plastic bottles. Often, plastic bottles are the most valuable and most recyclable extract from the waste stream. Certain state and local jurisdictions have enacted recycling plans with special infrastructure to divert plastic bottles from the general recycling stream and into specialized bottle recycling programs.
A County Perspective
Maryland’s 24 counties have developed their own comprehensive waste management and recycling operations. Historically, counties have resisted state bottle bills due to the same challenges referenced in Senate hearings, primarily that state or national requirements to divert plastic bottles will negatively impact local recycling operations. As some of the most valuable parts of the waste stream, plastic bottles largely fund county recycling and often subsidize the recycling of less profitable or even loss-leading plastics. If the federal or state government were to establish a program to remove the most valuable part of recycling, we could see a serious negative impact on a county’s ability to fund its waste infrastructure.
One possible alternative avenue being explored in several states, as well as Canada & the EU, is the idea of extended producer responsibility or EPR. EPR is a concept where producers are given more responsibility for the packaging they choose for their products. Packaging that is less recyclable or compostable will have a higher cost for producers compared to packaging that is better for the environment.