Supporters of a Tennessee “bottle bill” that would reward people monetarily for picking up the containers are pitching the initiative as a job creator this time around.
A “green movement” may have blossomed across the country, but the environmental argument for establishing a refund system for bottles has not garnered enough support for the Tennessee General Assembly to approve it in past years. The bill would create a 5-cent deposit and refund on the containers.
“We think the stars have been lining up for several years,” said Marge Davis, coordinator of the Tennessee Bottle Bill Project. “We think this bill will pass in 2010.”
Cleaning the city
Positive factors for passage include greater demand for recycled materials, a lowering of the previously proposed tax for bottle distributors, a positive fiscal note for the state budget, wider community support and the need to create jobs, Davis said. Last year, the Shelby County Commission endorsed the legislation. A local nonprofit, Shelby Residential & Vocational Services (SRVS), expressed its desire to serve as a redemption center.
However, the bill has had the support of local environmentalists for several years.
“We used to be one of the cleanest cities in the country and have deteriorated into a litter trash heap,” said Diana Threadgill, a Memphis resident who is executive director of Mississippi River Corridor-Tennessee. “People don’t realize that everything they throw out on the street goes into the sewer system and eventually into the river. I think the bottle bill will help us with that.”
Davis contends that setting up a refund system could create hundreds of jobs statewide because redemption centers and recycling operations would be set up to handle the bottles.
SRVS, which helps mentally disabled people find work, has lost packaging contracts and other work with the economic downturn at its Superior Outsourcing Service. The bottle bill could create new green jobs for the people it serves, said Donna Palmer, the organization’s director of employment concepts.
“SOS has the capacity to be a central redemption center or processing center where the product is sorted and then sold directly to the processors,” Palmer said. “We realized that not only is this a great opportunity for the warehouse to have a new and ‘green’ employment opportunity, but also that this project is a great opportunity to teach our workers more about recycling, how they can become involved and how it impacts their community.”
If the General Assembly passes the bill this year, bottlers on Oct. 1 would begin paying one-fourth of a cent on every container for a temporary period of time instead of the one-eighth of a cent they currently pay. This doubling of the tax for less than a year would set up the seed money to get the program running.
The tax on distributors would then be lowered to $0.00035-cent tax on each bottle, but effective March 1, 2012, bottlers would also begin paying a 5-cent deposit. Consumers would begin paying the refundable deposit the next month.
Bottle distributors would continue paying the $0.00035-cent tax on each bottle until the 2014-2015 fiscal year when it would go back up to its current rate of one-eighth cent. This tax funds anti-litter efforts, such as educational campaigns.
Initially, the startup funding for the program was supposed to have come from a 3-cent tax on bottlers.
“That didn’t go over very well,” Davis said. “We still had sponsors when it was a 3-cent fee, but we could tell it wasn’t going to pass so we looked at other states and determined how we could operate on no fees from the beverage companies other than what they already pay for the litter grant program.”
The Beverage Association of Tennessee did not return calls by The Daily News made to that organization over a three-week period.
For more information about the proposed legislation, visit www.tnbottlebill.org....