Universal Recycling Law Takes Effect

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 The controversial “Bottle Bill” law, which for nearly 30 years has required Delaware consumers to pay a five-cent deposit on selected beverage containers, was eliminated last Tuesday.  Replacing it was the equally controversial universal recycling law that imposes a four-cent non-refundable fee on the same beverage containers to pay for the implementation of statewide curbside recycling. 

 Set to expire in late 2014, the fee will finance the creation of a new Delaware Recycling Fund.  The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) will issue grants and low-interest loans from the fund to help private waste-haulers and municipalities deal with the program’s start-up costs.  According to an analysis by the Controller General’s office, the program will cost a minimum of $16 million to initiate.

The law will require every waste-hauler in the state to offer curbside recycling to their customers in three stages: first to single-family homes (by Sept. 15, 2011); then apartments and condominiums (Jan. 1, 2013); and finally commercial businesses (Jan. 1, 2014). The Markell administration says the goal is to divert 50-percent of municipal solid waste from landfills by the start of 2015.  That goal rises to 60-percent in 2020.

 Although participation in the recycling program remains voluntary, the bill contains a provision that if diversion goals are not achieved, DNREC and a new recycling advisory council could propose “any additional mechanism necessary” to reduce the amount of waste heading to landfills, including the implementation of a “Pay As You Throw” program and waste bans.

 The new law specifically bars waste-haulers from telling their customers how much of their bill is the result of recycling.  An amendment, sponsored by State Reps. Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley) and Dan Short (R-Seaford), that would have allowed Delawareans to see the cost of recycling as a separate line item on their waste collection bills was defeated along party lines.

 “Why would you actually prohibit customers from knowing this?” Rep. Lavelle said.  “If you’re confident the program will work as advertised, and will be supported by the public, why hide the costs?  It flies in the face of the ‘open government’ initiatives this administration claims to support.  Consumer choice works best in an environment of full and open information.”

 Another amendment, which would have reduced the beverage container fee to one-cent, while broadening the scope of the containers to which it would have been applied, was also defeated.  Currently, only about 25-percent of beverage containers (plastic and glass soft drink and beer bottles) are subject to the fee

As the Bottle Bill law ends, consumer and retailers will still need to deal with some outstanding issues.  Consumers will have until January 31st to get refunds on bottles for which they paid a deposit before December 1st.   Retailers will have until February 28th to redeem the deposit bottles they’ve collected and get credited by their distributors.

Rep. Michael P. Mulrooney, D-Pennwood, who was the prime House sponsor of SB 234, said the elimination of the “Bottle Bill” is a huge step forward for Delaware in addressing both an outdated system – in which more than 80 percent of bottles go unreturned – and the need to improve Delaware’s lagging recycling efforts.

 “We’ve had an unpopular system for 30 years that simply wasn’t working. Most people were basically flushing their 5-cent deposit and society was getting nothing in return,” Rep. Mulrooney said. “With this new system, we have a smaller, temporary fee that funds a statewide recycling program. We’re getting something where for decades we got nothing.

 “This is a huge win-win for the environment, for our citizens and for the state. Republicans and Democrats have been trying for years to find a way to do curbside recycling, and we now have a voluntary system that will save millions of dollars due to the reduced landfill space needed because of recycling.”

 Rep. Mulrooney noted that Markell administration officials have held numerous meetings with representatives of grocery and other retail food stores, soda and liquor distributors, and liquor store owners to prepare for the transition to the fee, including providing consumer information materials to retailers to use and posting those materials and other information at http://recycling.delaware.gov.