Publication:Johnson City Press; Date:May 11, 2008; Section:Local; Page Number:4A

Bottle bill expected to be recycled for next year

• Legislation pulled, but will be reintroduced with a few changes.

By JAMES BROOKS Press Staff Writer

    NASHVILLE — The aura of Earth Day collided with political reality this week when Sen. Doug Jackson, DDickson, chairman of the Senate Environmental, Conservation and Tourism Committee, withdrew the bottle bill again when he realized there were not enough votes to bring it out of committee.

    “Dead but not defeated,” Jackson vowed to bill supporters after declining to bring it to a vote on Tuesday.

    “It’ll come back next year,” said Marge Davis of Pride of Place. Davis has lobbied for the bill for several years and last year passed through Johnson City on a bicycle trip across the state to rally support for the measure.

    “It couldn’t pass this year, but the bill will come back with a reduced handling fee for the beverage distributors who opposed it. The 3-cent fee paid to redemption centers for processing the containers will come more from unclaimed deposits and the scrap value of the containers, rather than directly from the distributors,” she said. “That will make it more affordable for the distributors while the redemption centers will still get 3 cents per container. That was the deal breaker this term.”

    The high water mark this term came during testimony on April 29, when 11 Tennessee residents spoke voluntarily for the bill against one paid out-of-state speaker for the beverage industry.

    Among those testifying in favor of the bill was former Elizabethton High School biology teacher Gary Barriger, speaking for the Overmountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

    Barriger has organized stream monitoring and litter pickup from the relatively pristine trout streams of the East Tennessee mountains over the years, and he testified that more than 50 percent of the litter removed from streams was beverage containers.

    The proposed 5-cent deposit on glass, plastic and aluminum beverage containers is seen as a way to reduce litter and boost recycling in Tennessee, where littering was recently ranked among the worst in the country, and where residential recycling rates rarely rise above 10 percent.

    In April, the general membership of Tennessee’s Association of County Mayors voted to support legislation creating a Tennessee bottle bill. They mayors present voted without dissent to endorse the measure during their annual County Government Day in Nashville.

    The legislation, which has 13 additional co-sponsors in addition to Jackson, also has strong support from the voters. According to a recent telephone survey by the University of Tennessee’s Social Science Research Institute, 80.4 percent of 777 registered voters contacted by random-digit dialing said they would support or strongly support a 5-cent deposit on beverage containers.

    Mayors’ association Executive Director Fred Congdon agreed that the retention of the annual “litter grants” that pay for prisoner litter crews and litter education through Keep Tennessee Beautiful was what distinguished this bill from numerous previous efforts.

    The 1981 litter grants created a pair of litter taxes on beer and soft drinks as an industry-backed alternative to a proposed bottle bill. It also included a proviso that the taxes would automatically be repealed should Tennessee ever pass a container deposit.

    Since roughly 15 percent of the 4.5 billion containers sold annually in Tennessee would not be redeemed, the new bill included $5 million per year of the unclaimed 5-cent deposits to replace the tax-based funding.

    Mayors were particularly interested in finding that the proposed bill would have created jobs and small businesses in their communities. Rather than returning empties to retailers, the Tennessee Deposit Beverage Container Act would have provided for a network of independent redemption centers earning a 3-cent handling fee that would be separate from the 5-cent deposit.

    This fee would cover the cost of recovering more than 200,000 tons of empties each year and seeing they go back into manufacturing.

    Although the distributors balked at the fee and killed the bill for now, Davis points out that most of the redeemed containers will be used to make new bottles and cans and thus help hold down beverage prices in the store. This is borne out by the experience of the 11 states that currently have bottle bills, Davis said.

    The bill called for 35 percent of leftover monies from unclaimed deposits and unspent handling fees to be apportioned to local governments for education, including schools.

    That would amount to $15 million annually, while another $5 million would go to local governments for their solid waste programs. That still leaves $20 million to be rebated back to distributors.

    “It was an eminently fair bill, with widely distributed benefits,” Davis said.