Sen. James Jeffords, chairman of the Environment and Public Works committee, plans to introduce a producer-responsibility law aimed at boosting the U.S. container recycling rate to 80 percent, according to several sources familiar with the legislation.
The bill probably will include a container deposit, although details could change, sources said. A spokesman for Jeffords, I-Vt., said an announcement is planned for April 22.
While some industry officials and environmentalists say the bill's introduction does not mean a national deposit system is likely, observers said hearings and Jeffords' involvement as head of a key Senate committee will elevate the issue in Congress.
``It's part of the long process of getting this back on the national agenda,'' said Lance King, spokesman for both the GrassRoots Recycling Network in Athens, Ga., and the Container Recycling Institute in Arlington, Va.
One industry observer, commenting anonymously, said it is interesting that Jeffords sets a goal of 80 percent - the same figure pushed by shareholder and environmental groups pressuring the soft drink industry, and by the recycling organization Businesses and Environmentalists Allied for Recycling in Atlanta.
``In the past, Jeffords' main thrust has been introducing bottle bills without any goals attached,'' the source said. ``What we don't know is what language he will use to `help' - I use help in quotation marks - to get to that level.''
On the record, industry officials said they had not seen the bill's language and did not want to say much.
A spokesman for the National Soft Drink Association in Washington said only that its members think comprehensive curbside recycling programs are the most cost-effective way to recycle. The National Association for PET Container Resources in Charlotte, N.C., said it remains leery of government-mandated recycling goals because ``industry in many cases does not have control over how containers are recycled.''
Jeffords' bill marks a change in direction because it sets the broad goal but leaves details of how to get there to industry, sources said.
One source likened it to the approach in British Columbia, where the government sets a goal and makes industry responsible for meeting it. According to the Web site of its Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, British Columbia has a beverage container recycling rate of 81 percent.
Environmentalists praised Jeffords' action, saying it shifts the burden of combating packaging waste to companies and consumers.
``That is the fundamental problem of waste in this country - taxpayers got it in their heads that it is the taxpayers' problem,'' said Bill Sheehan, executive director of the GrassRoots Recycling Network.
Jeffords' bill comes amid an active week on recycling issues: Coca-Cola Co. shareholders debated a resolution critical of the company's recycling policies and environmental groups launched a new advertising campaign targeting Coke and PepsiCo Inc. In addition, Hawaii legislators were slated to start negotiations on bottle-bill legislation that passed the Legislature in a watered-down form last year.
Atlanta-based Coke debated the resolution at its April 17 annual meeting in New York. The resolution was softer than one introduced last year, because shareholders behind the effort said they wanted to recognize Coke's progress incorporating recycled PET in its bottles. But they were critical of the soft drink giant for not presenting a plan to combat falling recycling rates.
The resolution received 4.17 percent of the votes cast, below the 5.2 percent that last year's resolution garnered.
``I think clearly this reflects the fact that we are making some good progress and are being recognized,'' said Coke spokesman Ben Deutsch, referring to the company's announcement last year that it would have 10 percent recycled content in all PET bottles by 2005.