N.J. Assembly committee advances bottle deposit bill

John C. Ensslin, The Record

A bill that would require a deposit on all glass and plastic bottles in New Jersey for the first time since the 1970s advanced from a state Assembly committee on Monday.

By a 3-1 vote with one abstention, lawmakers referred the measure out of the Assembly’s Environment and Solid Waste committee for a vote by the full Assembly.

Similar measures have failed to gain traction in previous legislative session. But this one – co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vaineri Huttle, D-Englewood, would earmark 75 percent of any revenues generated toward fixing problems of lead in public drinking water supplies.

The other 25 percent would go toward retailers and redemption centers for handling costs.

That provision drew support from several environmental groups and residents of Newark, where elevated levels of lead have been detected this year in the drinking water of 32 public schools.

“This allows us to deal with two environmental issues at the same time,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said at a press conference prior to the vote.

“We create a larger fund that makes sure we not only recycle bottles but recycle the infrastructure in our cities,” he added.

The measure came under fire, however, from bottlers and beer wholesalers.

Michael Halfacre, executive director of the Beer Wholesalers Association of New Jersey, said no state in the continental United States has adopted a bottle deposit law in 30 years. He also noted that Delaware repealed its bottle deposit law in 2009.

“They don’t work and they are ripe for fraud and abuse,” Halfacre said, citing cases where people have been accused of importing bottles from one state to collect deposit money in another.

Huttle noted that ten states currently have bottle deposit laws and that revenues from those programs have generated between $10 million to $20 million annually.

“For those of you who say this is a Newark problem only, it certainly is not,” Huttle said. “Because of a lack of water infrastructure funding, this has the potential to affect many communities across the state.”

Huttle said the measure also would help improve problems with highway litter problems from people tossing containers out of passing cars.

Revenue from the deposit program would come from unclaimed recyclables – bottles that were not returned for deposit, she said.

The bill would require a 10 cent deposit on all glass and plastic bottles and aluminum cans of 24 ounces or less and a 20 cent deposit on beverage containers between 24 ounces up to 3 liters.

Assemblyman Scott Rumana, R-Wayne, voted against the measure, citing concerns over fraud and abuse.

“I see that absolutely happening,” Rumana said. “This is not a way to go from a consumer stand point.