AUGUSTA — State lawmakers are considering nearly a dozen measures to update Maine’s bottle bill law, including legislation that would increase the deposits paid by consumers and the handling fees paid to redemption centers.

In testimony Wednesday before the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, redemption center owners said the handling fee they receive now doesn’t cover rising costs, especially the recent increase in Maine’s minimum wage.

But bottling companies and retailers say Maine may have too many redemption centers, and raising the deposit on bottles and cans would put Maine companies, including craft breweries, at a competitive disadvantage.

The bills aired in public hearings before the committee included one that would bump the basic bottle deposit from 5 cents to 15 cents and the deposit on wine and liquor bottles from 15 cents to 45 cents.

Maine voters first approved the state’s bottle redemption law at the ballot box in 1976, and it went into effect in 1978, largely as a roadside litter control measure.

According to the Container Recycling Institute, Maine collects more recyclable beverage containers per capita than any other state in the nation, thanks in large part to the bottle bill. In 2010, each Mainer turned in, on average, more than 700 recyclable bottles and cans compared to roughly 200 containers in states without a deposit. Those testifying Wednesday also touted the state’s high container recycling rate of close to 90 percent.

Donald Cook, the owner of Rolando’s Redemption in South Portland, said he’s been in business since the law was first passed. He said redemption centers frequently provide jobs for the disabled or those in recovery, and without the ability to increase their revenue, the centers are unable to keep up with rising expenses, including mandated wage increases and rising utility, mortgage or lease costs.

“If I’m going to knock my head against the wall I’m not going to do it,” Cook told the committee. Other former redemption center owners said the increase in the minimum wage had already forced them from business.

Maine collects more recyclable beverage containers per capita than any other state, largely because of its bottle bill. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Voters approved an incremental minimum wage increase in 2016 that reaches $12 an hour in 2020 and will then be pegged to inflation in future years.

Redemption centers currently receive a 3.5-cent handling fee for the bulk of the containers they take in, and a 4-cent fee for a few others, a cost that is paid for by either beverage manufacturers or the wholesale distributors of those beverages. The various bills would increase the handling fee to 8 cents.

Rep. Peter Lyford, R-Eddington, a sponsor of one of the bills, said redemption centers have no ability to increase their revenues, unlike other businesses that can offset rising labor costs by increasing the prices on their goods and services.

“Most businesses have the ability to raise their revenues,” Lyford said. “The problem isn’t the minimum wage, the problem is they can’t respond to that like you could by increasing the price of (for example) a jar of baby food.”

But beverage manufacturers, including Maine’s craft brewing industry, oppose increases to handling fees and bottle deposits, which they pay or are paid by their customers.

Sen. Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, who is also the owner of Rising Tide Brewery, said raising the deposit on bottles and cans to 15 cents would put her company and others in Maine at a competitive disadvantage, as much of the beer they sell is consumed outside of Maine. Sanborn urged the committee to take a more comprehensive approach to reforming the state’s landmark bottle redemption law.

Maine Political Report



Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers Guild, said Maine breweries are strong supporters of recycling, but increasing the handling fee would only shift costs from one industry to another. “I understand these bills are talking about cents, but literally these cents add up to hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars to our state,” Sullivan said.

He, too, urged a more comprehensive approach to solving the problem.

Steve Roop, the owner of a six-store chain of agency liquor stores and redemption centers in Androscoggin and Oxford counties, offered the committee an alternative to raising the handling fee on beverage containers. He said the state should establish deposits for the many other products that are sold in plastic containers – such as laundry soap, windshield washer fluid and other liquid automotive products like motor oil and antifreeze.

“Put a nickel on everything and you won’t have to go back to the same well the next time or when the minimum wage goes to $15 an hour,” Roop said. “Put a nickel on everything and it will work.”

Sarah Lakeman, representing the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said the bottle bill has been the state’s most successful recycling program. She cited a 2018 report by the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, which found the bottle bill’s return rate was between 75 percent and 87 percent, “far outpacing the statewide recycling rate, which was 36.79 percent in 2016, and is now presumed to be declining.”

The resources council is supporting one of the bills that increases the handling fee for redemption centers. That measure also includes provisions to improve data collection concerning the effectiveness of the bottle bill in Maine.

Others speaking against any increases in the handling fees included Newell Auger, a lobbyist for the Maine Beverage Association. He said the redemption center system in Maine has far too many outlets to be efficient.

Auger said there are more than 420 redemption centers in Maine, far more than the number in neighboring New England states with bottle deposit laws, including Vermont and Massachusetts.

“In Lewiston-Auburn alone there are 17 places you can take your bottles back,” Auger said.

The next step for the 11 bills before the committee will be a work session in the weeks ahead, where the bills may be amended or combined into a single measure that the committee will eventually vote on before sending it to the full Legislature.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

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