Lawmakers Mull Bigger Return for Smelly Job

Redeeming those used bottles is a messy job with little return and bottle redemption centers, supermarkets and larger liquor stores are looking to legislators for their first handling fee increase in 31 years.

They said they cannot afford to redeem returnable bottles and cans at 1.5 cents for every empty beer container, 2 cents for every soda container and soon 2 cents for every water bottle. But 3 cents for every bottle or can would make the task less trying.

"The state has allowed the program to disintegrate. There's only 12 redemption centers left in state," said John Ancheff, owner of DJ's Redemption Center in Waterbury. "If you own a redemption center, you're almost broke."

Many in the General Assembly also feel for supermarkets, which typically lease redemption machines and have to handle thousands of dirty, sticky and smelly returnables brought to their stores -- losing money on the operation every year.

State Rep. Mary Mushinsky of Wallingford said the state might need to increase the bottle deposit from 5 cents to at least 10 cents because the redemption centers and bottle returns at grocery stores operate on such a narrow margin. 

In past legislative sessions, Mushinsky has suggested the money come from the beer and soda distributors, who've kept millions of dollars in unclaimed bottle deposits since 1978. Yet earlier this year, the General Assembly and governor decided the state needed that money -- used by the distributors to pay for truckers to pick up redeemed bottles and cans, and to cover other costs -- to help bridge the three-year, nearly $10 billion budget deficit.

The distributors, Mushinsky said, tell her that they're now suffering financially.

But there's a big question: In a difficult budget year and a tough economy, where will the money come from to pay the higher fees?

"(Doubling the deposit) would be the biggest disaster ever to hit the state of Connecticut," Stan Sorkin, president of the Connecticut Food Association, said. "You'd have a major problem of over-redemption the state shelling out more dimes than they're collecting."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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