Bottle legislation being recycled in Tenn. General Assembly

Hank Hayes • Mar 8, 2007 at 11:00 AM

There's one piece of recycling legislation that has been recycled for years - Tennessee's so-called "Bottle Bill."

"This bill is going to pass sooner or later. ... These bills pass with persistence," Marge Davis, coordinator of Pride of Place (POP)/Tennessee Bottle Bill Project, insisted Thursday during a swing through Northeast Tennessee to promote the latest version of the "Tennessee Deposit Beverage Container Act."

What hasn't changed is that attempts to defeat the recycling bill also get recycled - and the legislation still appears to have more enemies than friends.

Davis said one of the bill's main sticking points - the idea of creating recycling collection points at beverage container point-of-purchase locations - has been eliminated.

The bill, however, still calls for distributors to pay a 5 cent deposit for each beverage sold in Tennessee, plus a 3 cent handling fee paid to the state. The money would go into a special fund administered by the state.

According to POP's plan, the distributor would get the 5 cent deposit back when the product is sold to the retailer. The retailer gets back its 5 cents when the product is sold to the customer.

The customer gets back 5 cents when he or she redeems the empty container at a certified redemption center, while the center gets back 5 cents when it submits an invoice to the state. The center also gets the 3 cent handling fee per container.

The last step in the bill's plan is that the redemption center owner either sells or gives the empty containers to a recycler or third-party handler.

Davis said the deposit and handling fee will create a market for the redemption centers - as many as 800 redeeming an average of 4.4 million containers a year.

"The most prominent thing is ... it makes the redemption center be entirely market driven," she explained. "Nobody is required to run a redemption center. ... We'll have to figure out a way to limit how many people can do it, and the state will be certifying and regulating them."

Roads would be cleaner, and more money would go into litter control programs as a result, Davis said.

"It took California 10 years to do this," she said of the Bottle Bill legislation. "Tennessee will do this sooner or later because the litter isn't getting any better. The need for recycling stock is getting greater."

But the bill has some powerful opponents - last year those included the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Stores Association, Beverage Association of Tennessee and Tennessee Malt Beverage Association. In Northeast Tennessee, major businesses like Food City and Holston Distributing Co. also were opposed.

What all objected to is that the legislation's forced "deposit" on drink containers would amount to a new consumer tax driving more retail business into places like Southwest Virginia, where the sales tax is lower.

"Convenience store and grocery store owners are already negatively impacted by bordering states with much lower sales tax and gas tax," Emily LeRoy, associate director of the Tennessee Oil Marketers Association, said in an e-mail. "If you put a $2 per case tax on beverages, you are going to drive even more retail sales across the border. People don't think twice about driving 10 miles to save a penny on a gallon of gas, and they will definitely go across state lines to save $2 per case on their beverages."

Jarron Springer, president of the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Stores Association, pointed to the results of a roadside litter study showing that beer, soft drink, water, juice, wine and liquor containers constitute just over 5 percent of the litter found on 10.5 miles of roadways at 95 sites in the state. The association commissioned the October 2006 study.

"As we've said all along, a Bottle Bill is not going to be the answer," Springer said. "It's not going to help us in litter because it is such a small portion of the litter stream anyway."

While opponents will again attempt to defeat the bill, Davis said lawmakers can expect to be lobbied by groups like Tennessee Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club.

"I have a passion for this," she said.

For more information go to www.tnbottlebill.org.

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