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January 22. 2014 12:09AM

Lawmakers told: Can the bottle bill

CONCORD — Representatives of the beverage industry, grocers and the state liquor commission all turned out to oppose the latest proposal for refundable deposits on beverage containers in New Hampshire, popularly known as the "bottle bill."

Soon after the nation's first bottle bill was approved in Oregon in 1971, efforts began in New Hampshire and many other states to follow suit, although only 11 states have done so.

Legislation to require a deposit of five cents per container of beer, wine, water or carbonated beverages has come up frequently over the years, and has never gained much traction in Concord. The last attempt was during the legislative session of 2010, when HB675 died in committee.

The questions by lawmakers at Tuesday's hearing before the House Environment and Agriculture Committee suggest the most recent effort, HB1287, is likely to meet a similar fate.

The bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Charles Weed, D-Keene, acknowledged at the outset that he was "highly outnumbered" by opponents, many sporting the orange badges of lobbyists, he said.

He told the committee that bottle bills have increased recycling and reduced roadside litter, and can supplement successful efforts at voluntary recycling in New Hampshire.

"This kind of bill will cause people to think about recycling when they are not at home," he said.

Craig Bulkley, chief operating officer of the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, warned that the bill, if passed, could cost the state $1.4 million in reduced wine revenue, and $5.7 million in lost beer taxes. He noted that New Hampshire is surrounded by states with bottle bills, and has enjoyed a price advantage without one. Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts are among the states that require deposits on beverage containers.

"If you lose the perception that we have lower prices, people are not going to travel to New Hampshire to buy their beer," he said.

There was some confusion over whether the bill includes wine bottles. Rep. Weed said it does not, but committee members pointed out that wine bottles are included in the bill, with no exemption.

The definition of "beverage" in the bill includes "beer, ale, wine, wine coolers, soda, non-carbonated water and all non alcoholic drinks in liquid form," except for milk and dairy products.

John Dumais, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Grocers Association, told the committee he has spent the better part of his career beating back bottle bill proposals in the state.

"We are here in opposition to this bill, as we have been since 1976," he said.

Dumais cited a litany of concerns, including higher worker's compensation and insurance bills for employees who have to handle returned containers, problems with pest controls, and the cost of space needed to hold returned containers until they can be picked up by the distributor.

He said times have changed since the first bottle bills were introduced, and that voluntary recycling is now widespread. Besides, he said, a nickel isn't worth what it used to be.

"When I was a youngster, that five cents meant something," he said. "But for most of us today, that five cents will not justify the inconvenience."dsolomon@unionleader.com


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