AUGUSTA — Dozens of people showed up Friday to comment on a half-dozen bills that seek to weaken the state’s 33-year-old bottle redemption law.

The hearings before the Legislature’s Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources started at 9 a.m. and continued with no breaks into the late afternoon.

Most of those commenting said they oppose any changes to the law, fearing job losses, increased roadside litter and dwindling proceeds for organizations that depend on the 5- and 15-cent deposits for fundraising. They included redemption center operators, fundraising groups and recycling businesses.

Those speaking in favor of the bills included beverage manufacturers and distributors who said the measures would reduce fuel emissions and save on transportation costs.

The bills include proposals to exempt wine bottles and containers over 28 ounces from redemption requirements and reduce truck traffic created by returnables and containers. Another would exempt small distributors from deposit requirements.

Maine was one of the first states to adopt a bottle redemption law. Today 90 percent of beverage containers sold in Maine are recycled. The Maine law requires a 15-cent deposit on wine and liquor containers and a 5-cent deposit on all others.

Dairy products and unprocessed-cider containers are exempt.

Consumers get the deposit back when they return the container at one of the state’s 815 redemption centers. The centers collect the deposit and a 3-cent handling fee from the manufacturers which is responsible for picking up the returns.

Those speaking in favor of the changes said they make sense economically and environmentally. Rep. Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham, sponsor of the bill to exempt large beverage containers, said the current law is confusing and inconsistent. She said 3-ounce-and-under beverage containers, called nips, also are exempt from the bottle bill and litter roadsides more than large containers, which people consume at home.

“Where is the balance?” Prescott said.

David Dumont, director of operations of CocaCola Maine and president of the Maine Beverage Association, said exempting large containers, which represent 7 percent of recyclable bottles but 45 percent of the space on redemption trucks, would cut down fuel emissions.

“We are the people who made the bottle bill work,” Dumont said.

Those against changes said the current law works.

“Any changes to Maine’s bottle bill would be devastating,” said Patricia Curley, director of the Stockton Springs Public Library.

The library raises $5,000 to $6,000, or half of its annual budget, from donations of redeemable bottles.

Clayton Kyle, chief executive officer of Clynk, the state’s largest bottle redemption company, said changes would be detrimental to the overall public good.

He said his company collects 80 million bottles annually, or 10 percent of the redeemable bottles in the state, at 46 locations and winds up with 4 million bottles not covered by Maine’s deposit law because they were sold in states with no bottle laws.

However, it makes sense for his company to absorb the costs of recycling those unredeemable bottles because of the overall benefit, Kyle said.

When committee members asked Kyle whether he wants to see the bottle law changed, he said he would like to see a similar system adopted for other valuable recyclable materials.

Committee members also wanted to know why beverage manufacturers and distributors don’t crush and shred the containers before they are loaded onto trucks at redemption centers, which would save space and maximize weight to cut down on transportation costs and fuel emissions.

Dumont said CocaCola refuses to take crushed cans to cut down on fraud by someone seeking to redeem previously redeemed and crushed cans.

The committee expects to hold work sessions on the bills in early May.

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