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Legislation that would offer refunds for consumers who turn in their recyclable beverage containers is set to reappear when the General Assembly convenes in January.
The bill stalled in committee in March after criticism from the business community, but it’s returning, this time with active support from Maryland Public Interest Research Group, a statewide consumer advocacy organization founded by students at this university. If the state becomes the 11th to adopt a bottle bill, proponents say recycling in the state would increase drastically.
“Every bottle that isn’t recycled means more litter, more incineration and more waste in our streets,” MaryPIRG Programming Associate Joanna Guy said last week in a presentation to the Student Government Association. “Maryland can do so much better, and passing a bottle bill is the first step.”
The bottle bill would establish centers around the state where beverage containers could be turned in for a 5-cent refund, money that consumers would pay as a deposit with each beverage container. Bottle distributors would contribute to a fund for the centers to pay for the refund and a small per-bottle handling fee.
The facilities would have what look like “reverse vending machines,” Guy said.
“This incentivizes recycling for people who wouldn’t already recycle,” she said. “Maryland should be leading the country in recycling and sustainable waste management.”
The state would shoulder the initial costs of building and maintaining the centers, said MaryPIRG Director Emily Scarr, but the program would pay for itself over three to five years through unredeemed money.
But after the bill was introduced to the state House and Senate in February, retailers raised concerns about the possibility of increased bottle prices. Local officials also worried that counties would shoulder too much of the cost and that the program could interfere with existing curbside recycling programs. In March, Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), the bill’s sponsor, temporarily tabled the legislation and decided to reconsider it over the summer.
Whether the bill’s specifics will change in response to the criticism is still unclear, Scarr said. Guy said misinformation was responsible for at least some of the concerns.
“[Existing] recycling is good, but it’s not enough, and it’s proven this can work alongside curbside recycling,” she said.
MaryPIRG discovered the legislation over the summer and launched the campaign Don’t Trash Maryland, which hosts trash cleanups and has generated nearly 7,000 signatures for a petition supporting the bottle bill, Guy said.
The bottle bill is an important step toward increasing recycling in the state, said Ori Gutin, SGA sustainability director.
“As students, we’re the most susceptible to the effects of climate change, and it’s why our voices are so critical,” Gutin said.
The bottle bill and Don’t Trash Maryland campaign are only part of a recent spate of student sustainability initiatives at the university. The SGA voted last week to become a member of a coalition against the expansion of Dominion Resources’ Cove Point natural gas terminal, which would drastically increase state carbon emissions. And in October, the SGA passed a resolution urging the university administration to eliminate carbon emissions from purchased electricity by 2020. Such a move would put the university on track to meet future goals for reducing carbon emissions, said Mark Stewart, sustainability office senior project manager.
In 2009, The university adopted the Climate Action Plan that calls for incremental reductions in carbon emissions. After hitting last year’s mark of 15-percent reduction from 2005 levels, a recent report from the sustainability office says the school is on track for a 25-percent reduction by 2015.
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