An expanded bottle bill is gaining some momentum in the California Assembly, with observers saying a unique political situation gives the effort some added clout this year.
A bill that would include sport drinks and other new beverages passed the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on April 20 with a 7-4 vote — a not entirely unexpected move.
But the bottle bill could get farther than efforts in other states because it includes related legislation that reauthorizes a fee that the plastics industry, retailers and others pay to subsidize recycling.
If that fee is not reauthorized by Aug. 31, it will expire this year and, under California's complicated program, industry costs for the subsidy would triple. That is because industry still would be responsible for administering portions of the bottle bill, but no longer would get money from unredeemed deposits to help defray the cost.
``The bottom line is we need [reauthorized fees] and the enviros are in an inviting position because all they have to do is stop a bill or make it [too] unpalatable,'' said Bruce Young, senior vice president of the California Retailers Association in Sacramento.
Young said the industry is talking with the Assembly committee's leadership about alternatives to the bill, which links the bottle bill expansion and fees. The plastics industry paid about $20 million in recycling fees in 1996.
The committee's chairwoman, Assemblywoman Debra Bowen, wants to keep the bottle bill expansion and the fees linked. However, Gov. Pete Wilson has said he will veto any bottle bill expansion.
The new bottle bill would add 2 billion containers to the 12.5 billion containers that were part of the program in 1996. It also would put a 21/2 cent deposit on aluminum, bi-metal, glass and PET containers under 20 ounces, and 5 cents on containers 20 ounces or larger.
The current bottle bill covers soft drinks and beer, but the expansion would include coffee, tea, carbonated fruit drinks, noncarbonated soft drinks and sport drinks — products that were not popular when the state's existing bottle bill was enacted.
Roger Bernstein, vice president of government affairs for the joint state government affairs unit of the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and the American Plastics Council, said the bottle bill provisions will face much closer scrutiny by legislators.
``I don't think this bill will sail through,'' Bernstein said. ``This bill is horrendously expensive for the state and the plastics industry.''
Rick Best, policy director of the environmental group Californians Against Waste in Sacramento, said consumers support the expansion because they do not understand why there are deposits on some containers and not others made from the same material.