One of the biggest political fights over recycling this year —Kentucky's proposed bottle bill — has died following several weeks of widespread media campaigns and intense legislative jousting. Kentucky House Majority Leader Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, pulled the bottle bill after it became apparent at a Feb. 29 meeting of Democratic lawmakers that they would not support it, according to a Stumbo aide.
"He'd give anything to have it, but it's just not there," said Barbara Rhoads, an administrative assistant for Stumbo.
Stumbo instead plans to substitute a broader environmental license fee to pay for highway litter pickup. And he is moving ahead with plans to put the bottle bill to a referendum vote, a move some observers say is designed to strengthen his hand with the license fee.
Plastics industry officials hailed the development and said it reflects widespread concern that the bill is a tax and represents a burden on consumers, because they would have to return the bottles to redemption centers to get money back. Curbside recycling is much easier for consumers, said Luke Schmidt, president of the National Association for PET Container Resources in Charlotte.
Opponents submitted petitions with 154,000 signatures opposing the bottle bill, Schmidt said.
But environmentalists lambasted Kentucky's beverage and packaging industries for an unprecedented advertising campaign that branded the bill a tax.
"The misinformation campaign put out by industry made the legislators react," said Tom Fitzgerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council in Frankfort. "They ran a campaign that called a totally refundable deposit a tax.
"We will absolutely take a referendum, because we think the public supports this," he said. A bottle bill is much more effective in diverting packaging from landfills than curbside recycling, Fitzgerald said.
Rhoads predicted that voters would approve a referendum. Her canvass of lawmakers found many who opposed the bottle bill but support putting it to a public vote, she said.
Kentucky law sets out a two-step process for such a vote. First, lawmakers would have to put a question on the ballot, probably in November, asking for permission to hold another vote to amend the state constitution, she said.
That second vote, which would officially adopt the measure, would take place during a special election, Rhoads said.
But NAPCOR's Schmidt said a referendum vote would face stiff opposition.
"It is just inconceivable that you could change the Kentucky Constitution to make the bottle bill the law of the land," he said. "There have been efforts to amend Kentucky's Constitution on general issues, and those have been defeated."
Stumbo's substitute environmental fee would raise about $25 million a year to fund litter pickup, Rhoads said. The bottle bill would have generated about $10 million a year in unclaimed deposits, she said.
Stumbo's proposal would have put a nickel deposit on containers of 4-20 ounces and 10 cents on larger bottles. Besides the environmental fee, a member of Gov. Paul Patton's Cabinet is pushing an advance disposal fee on containers, but that has not received much attention, Schmidt said.