If you’re among those Connecticut residents sitting on a few dozen empty bottles or cans waiting to go out for recycling, holding off for a few more weeks will pay dividends.
Beginning Jan. 1, Connecticut’s 5-cent redemption on eligible bottles and cans will increase to 10-cents, allowing customers to double the return off of deposits that are baked into the costs of sodas, beer and other beverages.
The changes to the decades-old recycling law — better known as the “Bottle Bill” — are the result of a broader effort by state lawmakers to modernize the program and boost the state’s laggard recycling rates. On the eve of the switch, however, some wholesalers are raising concerns that it could have consequences for the long-term viability of the program.
Here’s what to know about the change:
What is the Bottle Bill?
Connecticut lawmakers passed the state’s first container redemption program in 1978, and it went into effect two years later. The program works by charging retailers a deposit fee (currently a nickel) on every eligible container, such as a bottle of beer or soda, which is then passed along to the customer.
If the customer returns with their empty container, or takes it to a redemption center, they get their nickel back. The retailer or redemption center, in turn, is reimbursed the 5-cents by the beverage wholesaler, along with an additional “handling fee,” that varies depending on the type of container.
Historically, the wholesaler would then transfer any unclaimed deposits, or escheats, into Connecticut’s general fund, generating millions of dollars in revenue for the state.
Earlier this year, lawmakers amended that provision allowing wholesales to keep those unclaimed deposits in anticipation of the jump to 10-cents in 2024. “A lot of people are going to be saving their returnables and then on Jan. 1, they’re going to get double the money,” said state Rep. Joe Gresko, D-Stratford, who oversaw the changes to the law.
What items are eligible?
Originally, the Bottle Bill only applied to a limited number of easy-to-recycle items such as bottles and cans designed to hold soda and beer. In 2009, the program was expanded to include plastic water bottles.
In 2021, lawmakers dramatically expanded the Bottle Bill to cover a host of new items, from kombucha and energy drinks to flavored juices and teas. Wine and liquor bottles, along with dairy items and paper cartons, continue to be excluded from the program.
Confusion arose earlier this year as to whether spirit-based seltzers — which are distributed by a different class of wholesalers that specialize in wine and liquor — should also be exempted from the program. Malt-based seltzers, such as White Claws, are included. Ultimately, lawmakers clarified the law to exempt spirit-based seltzers.
Where can I return my bottles?
Retailers are only required to redeem deposits on brands that they sell, though some may accept additional items at their discretion.
In addition, there are 24 bottle redemption centers licensed by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection that generally accept a wide-range of eligible products (however, those connected to retailers do not have to accept items not sold at that store).
As part of the changes to the Bottle Bill passed in 2021, most larger retail chains are also required to have at least two reverse vending machines that allow customers to redeem bottles and cans for their deposit.
Will costs go up next year?
Yes. A key feature of the Bottle Bill is that customers are reclaiming deposits that were paid on each container when it was purchased, whether individually or as part of a package of drinks.
“This is why education is key,” Gresko said. “People are going to go into the store and see, ‘Hey, there’s a quarter added to the price of this.’ It’s important to know why.”
To minimize confusion around the change, many beverage companies in the last year began replacing the “5-cent” return stamp on their labels with the letters “CTRV,” standing for Connecticut Return Value.
Regardless of what stamp is on the label, however, bottles and cans sold after Jan. 1 will have a 10-cent deposit baked into the price, while items purchased with the lower, 5-cent deposit will be able to be redeemed for the higher value.
Why the change?
The purpose of the Bottle Bill is to incentivize people to recycle their used bottles and cans, as Connecticut’s rate of returns have lagged behind other states with similar programs.
More than 758 million bottles and cans were redeemed in Connecticut in 2022, for a redemption rate of 44.3 percent, according to DEEP. In neighboring New York, redemption rates have averaged above 65 percent.
In addition to increasing the cash incentive to return bottles and cans, the latest changes in the law will, beginning in 2025, allow wholesalers to keep more of the unclaimed deposits if more people redeem their products — with the goal of having wholesalers fund education efforts around the program.
Critics of the change, however, say that the decentralized structure of the state’s redemption program makes it difficult to encourage participation.
“There isn’t an awful lot in Connecticut that distributors can do to promote redemption,” said Bree Dietly, a consultant for the American Beverage Association.
Furthermore, Dietly said that distributors are concerned about “bootleggers” who ship in large quantities of bottles and cans from neighboring states with lower deposits in order to turn a profit.
The 2021 expansion came after several years of debate in Hartford over the best way to update the law to boost recycling, without placing a costly burden on businesses. Ultimately, Dietly said, lawmakers may have to revisit the law again if it becomes unwieldy to operate through a combination of increased out-of-state returns and diminishing unclaimed deposits.
Source : CT Insider