Report on Maryland Bottle Bill meeting
Saturday, Feb. 10, at the office of Baltimore Harbor Watershed Association in Baltimore

Why do we need a bottle bill? Anyone who is interested in the litter crisis in our watershed - in the streets, in Sligo Creek, the Anacostia, the Potomac - knows that curbside recycling alone is not stopping the littering of beverage containers - plastic, aluminum, or glass. More than 16 billion such containers have already been landfilled, incinerated, or littered so far this year in the United States (according to the Container Recycling Institute). States with a bottle bill, such as Michigan, have much less litter. We need every option available to provide incentives for people to not toss their beverage containers out the car window, into the brush, etc. The cleanup costs, demoralizing blight, and toxins released into the water are too significant.

The meeting: About 17 people from the region met with State Delegate Pete Hammen to discuss the HB 839 Bottle Bill that Hammen has proposed and that will now receive a hearing already on Wednesday, March 7th. The Baltimore Harbor Watershed Association hosted the meeting; they are on the Baltimore Harbor and have taken dramatic action with their Harris Creek Debris Collector (trash boom) to raise awareness about the litter in the harbor. After the meeting, we took a short walk over to look at it. Please see this link for more information and pictures. It's been in place since last March and they have collected 16 tons of trash since then. The project is funded for 5 years, at a cost of $30,000 per year. They are planning about 5 more of these in the harbor.

Back to the meeting: This was the first meeting to get interested folks together to support a Maryland bottle bill, which Hammen proposed only 2 months ago. I was impressed with his commitment to this as "the right thing to do for Maryland." Pat Franklin, from the Container Recycling Institute (informative website:, a nonprofit based in Fairfax County, was there to give the benefit of her 30-year expertise on bottle bill issues. Other attendees included two from Greenbelt, including a City Council member and a Citizens Recycling and Environmental Advisory Committee member; grad student activist reps from Citizens Using Resources Better (C.U.R.B.); Baltimore City Planning; Baltimore Community Foundation; Chesapeake Bay Foundation; and bottle bill activists. The Anacostia Watershed Society representative couldn't make it and Tracy Bowen of Alice Ferguson Foundation did not show.

Pat Franklin remarked that this was a good preliminary turnout but also stressed the major battle ahead and the difficulty of fighting the powerful and well-funded opposition of manufacturers, distributors, etc. She stated that some of the opposition in the past is no longer here and some have reversed their stance to support a bottle bill (e.g., Owens-Illinois). She said that some container manufacturers actually support a bill but because of beverage manufacturers can't come out and say it. Her advice was to know opposition and have a very dedicated sponsor, with a broad-based coalition, and at least one group that will be the leader.

The proposed deposit will be 5 cents, with the rationale that it is easier to get a bill with this amount passed and then do an amendment later for a larger sum. They want each county to have at least one redemption center, and hopefully some retailers will have their own operation. Stores will have to keep track of deposits (with 2-cent handling fee), which should be easy for the chains with barcoding already in place. The redemption center need not be the recycling center. Refillables might be exempt from the law.

Here is more info from Pete Hammen:

State Recycling Trust Fund will consist of:

  • Newsprint Recycling Incentive Fee
  • Telephone Directory Recycling Incentive Fee
  • Computer Manufacturer Registration Fee
  • Unclaimed deposits
  • Fines collected for violation of the provisions of the bill

Trust Fund will be used to:

  • Provide grants to the counties to be used to develop and implement local recycling plans
  • Provide grants to the counties for public awareness campaigns
  • Pay redemption centers the refund value of the returned beverage containers plus a handling fee of 2 cents per container (previous bill had bottlers paying the handling fee)
  • At the end of each fiscal year, any unspent or unencumbered balance in the Fund will revert to the General Fund

Redemption Centers:

  • Will be certified by the Department
  • Each county in the state will set up and run at least one redemption center
  • Private retail stores may apply to be a redemption center
  • May use reverse vending machines provided that
  • It accepts all types of empty returnable containers
  • Pays the refund value to the redeemer

Financial Accountability:

  • Redemption centers will file with the Department and the Comptroller a quarterly report, outlining all relevant beverage container transactions; these numbers will be used to calculate handling fees and refund values
  • A dealer (retailer) that originates a deposit on a beverage container must prepare an annual report with the Department and the Comptroller; report must include the dollar value of the total deposits for the calendar year collected by the dealer. All deposits collected in their capacity as a dealer must be returned to the Comptroller for deposit in the Fund.

Penalties for violation:

  • A redemption center, dealer, distributor, or manufacturer that violates any of the provisions of this bill is liable for a civil penalty up to $10,000 for each violation
  • A person may be fined up to $100 for returning between 25 and 100 beverage containers illegally
  • A person may be fined up to $500 for returning more than 100 beverage containers illegally

The next steps are to start building support and an action plan with groups to contact (such as labor, teachers, MaryPirg, Sierra Club, Farm Bureau, glass manufacturers, watershed groups, Parks dept., etc.).

Letters to the editor and state and local officials in support of the Bottle Bill are needed.

Here are some other good websites:

Reported by Wendi Schnaufer, FoSC Litter Chair