Jessie Williams sorts bottles at Roddy’s Redemption Center in China in January. Nearly 50 redemption centers have closed since 2020 even though Maine’s bottle redemption program is largely successful with a steady flow of participating consumers, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The redemption centers where Mainers bring recyclable bottles and cans may get a bigger fee for handling them after the Legislature on Wednesday passed an emergency bill that Gov. Janet Mills is expected to sign.

The redemption centers, which collect containers and refund deposits to customers, would immediately begin receiving 5.5 cents per bottle or can, up a penny from the current amount. The fee would increase to 6 cents on Sept. 1.

The bill, L.D. 134, is intended to help redemption centers that are struggling to stay open under the weight of inflation and rising costs of labor and operation.

“Expenses have gotten out of control. We desperately needed an increase,” said Peter Welch, owner of Forest Avenue Redemption Center in Portland. The last increase was approved in 2019.

Even though Maine’s bottle redemption program is largely successful with a steady flow of participating consumers, nearly 50 redemption centers have closed since 2020, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Welch spoke in support of the bill at a legislative hearing in late March, but admitted he’s not sure how long the financial boost from the bill would help.


“We’ll have to see. It depends how much expenses keep going up,” he said. “We were hopeful that they would put a (Consumer Price Index adjustment) attached to the handling fee, that that would be something that they could do so that they don’t have to go through this process on a regular basis.”

That’s where Rep. Allison Hepler, D-Woolwich, comes in. Hepler has written a bill, which she intends to release this week, that would modernize the state’s current bottle law, enacted in 1978.

Among the changes she proposes are streamlining the bottle sorting process at redemption centers and eliminating a provision of the current law that allows certain beverage companies to keep unredeemed fees. The legislation also would create a Consumer Price Index-based adjustment for the fees that redemption centers collect.

Hepler doesn’t “have a good read on” how far her bill will go. But based on widely bipartisan support for the bill passed Wednesday, she’s hopeful.

The handling-fee bill, which required a two-thirds vote because of its emergency status, sailed through the House with a 111-7 vote and the Senate with a 29-1 vote.

As the Senate’s only nay, Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Androscoggin, said he voted the bill down because he felt there were other options to explore that didn’t require increasing a fee that the state, and in turn Maine’s taxpayers, have to cover.


“There are many different ways that this legislation could have been crafted,” Brakey said. “And beyond that, I know it can be a challenging environment to try to innovate in, but I know that some businesses are finding innovative ways to exist and operate under the current fee structure.”

The increased fees will require the state to allocate $450,155 more from its Alcoholic Beverage Fund for the 2023-24 fiscal year, according to a note on the legislation. That annual amount would increase to $600,423 by 2026.

It’s not clear what, if any, impact the higher fees would have on the deposits consumers pay on bottles and cans, which range from 5 cents to 15 cents per container. According to the fiscal note, the cost of the increased fees might require a renegotiated contract with Pine State Trading Co., which coordinates bottle fees paid to the redemption centers.

Mills is expected to sign the legislation within the next 10 days, according to spokesperson Ben Goodman.

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