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Lawmakers to consider 10-cent container deposit

Environmental groups that have long pushed for instituting a 10-cent deposit on bottles and cans in the state are hoping a new state report will bolster their cause.

"A number of years ago, the state set a goal of recycling 80 percent of our beverage containers, and we've come nowhere close to that goal and really haven't moved the needle," said Conservation Minnesota's Executive Director Paul Austin.

During the last legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill requiring the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to design a container deposit program for the state. The agency's report with its final recommendation is due to the Legislature on Jan. 15.

Minnesota's recycling rate for cans is 40 percent — half of the state's recycling goal. Austin said that, if all the the aluminum cans that are not recycled in a day in Minnesota were lined up end to end, they would stretch from the Twin Cities to Grand Marais. He said he's confident a container deposit would dramatically boost recycling.

"People don't realize how much waste there is because most people recycle at home and do their part, but so much of the world of beverage containers happens away from home," he said.


Opposition exists

The idea of a container deposit faces stiff opposition from some waste haulers who warn it could it could hurt their bottom line and businesses concerned about the added costs. Minnesota Retailers Association President Bruce Nustad said such a program would impose unfunded costs on businesses to train staff, update cash register systems and track the refund dollars.

"It is either going to result in higher consumer prices, or it's going to result in reduced employment hours or lower wages or even lost jobs," he said.

Eleven states have container deposits, including Iowa and Michigan. Delaware repealed its deposit program in 2010 and replaced it with a universal recycling law that required all waste haulers in the state to provide single-stream recycling, which allows all types of recycling to be mixed together instead of having to be sorted.

The draft proposal being worked on by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency would apply the 10- cent deposit to containers up to one gallon. One redemption center per county would be required with at least one additional center for every 5,000 residents per county. Those centers could be staffed or rely on a machine to return the deposits.

Statewide, recycling rates have remained flat for more than a decade, said Wayne Gjerde, recycling market development coordinator. The base recycling rate in Minnesota was just more than 45 percent in 2011.

"We've kind of hit a plateau the last 10 years," Nustad said.

Public comment


The MPCA held a public meeting in September to gather public comment on the idea of a container deposit program. He expects another meeting will be held when the draft plan is released.

So what would the impact be on local governments' recycling programs? Olmsted County Environmental Resources Department John Helmers said the answer lies in the details.

"It's like everything else; it depends on how it's rolled out. It could be a win for us, or it could be a loss," he said.

If the program allows counties to operate a redemption center, he said it likely would boost revenues because the county would get to sell the material and get a fee from the state for processing it. But if Olmsted County did not get to operate a redemption site, then it probably would mean a loss in revenue. At this point, he said the Minnesota Solid Waste Administrators Association has sent a letter of support for the idea as long as counties get the chance to run these redemption centers.

Local concerns

But not everyone's thrilled with the idea. The Red Wing City Council adopted a position this week opposing the container deposit.

"It's a paperwork nightmare," Red Wing City Council member Dean Hove said during the council discussion.

Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, also said he opposes the idea. He said it's a regressive tax that will hurt lower-income residents harder than others.


"It's not a real good idea and disproportionately affects lower incomes, and it's just a bureaucratic piece of nonsense that is not needed," Senjem said. "Certainly in our county, and I'd dare say most counties in Minnesota, I don't see a lot of environmental waste."

Still, supporters of the proposal remain optimistic. Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, first introduced a bill for a container deposit two decades ago. He said he is hoping that the upcoming MPCA report will build momentum for the cause.

He added, "Why should taxpayers and others have to pay for some business that is not taking care or responsibility for their own products?"

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