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‘A nickel ain’t what it used to be’

It is barely two weeks after Green Up Day and roadsides that were clean are already littered with cans and bottles. When Vermont’s bottle bill, among the first in the nation, was passed in 1972, the deposit on beer and soda containers was established at five cents. Forty years later, the deposit is still five cents. Had the original five-cent deposit been adjusted for inflation, it would now be roughly 25 cents. This helps to explain why bottle redemption centers are hard to find and why Vermont’s roadsides are littered with cans and bottles.

Nowadays, there is negligible economic incentive to redeem containers for the five-cent deposit. Instead, we rely on people’s willingness to “do the right thing” and most Vermonters do. My concern is with those who don’t. A deposit of $1.50 per six-pack would provide a bit more incentive not to toss cans and bottles onto our roadsides. It might provide incentive for walkers and industrious children to gather discarded returnable containers.

Finally, it would increase the volume of returnables at bottle redemption centers, allowing their operators to be better compensated for unpleasant but important work. Here in the Mad River Valley, our sole bottle redemption center operates on a reduced schedule because of low volume.

Beverage industry and retail grocery lobbies have long opposed bottle deposit bills and any attempt to expand them. Sometimes they argue that the deposit represents a “tax” on consumers. If so, I wish all my taxes were like bottle deposit “taxes”—refundable. Lobbyists also argue that recycling is more cost effective than container deposits. This is true, though not by much. More importantly, recycling alone, because it lacks a financial incentive and in certain cases imposes a small cost penalty, does not and will not keep cans and bottles off our roadsides and out of rivers and streams.

This letter is inspired by an observation my wife and I made as we patrolled our road before the most recent Green Up Day. There are simply more cans and bottles on the roadside than there were a few years ago. Well, as my grandfather might have said, “A nickel ain’t what it used to be.” It is time for Vermont legislators to show the same wisdom they showed 40 years ago and bring a good 20th-century law into the 21st century.

 

Wayne Davies lives in Waitsfield.

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