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It’s all hands on deck for every Zero Waste activist in the state! Last session, a dedicated core of activists and organizations fought to pass a bottle bill in Rhode Island as part of a trend to expand and improve bottle bills nationwide. Volunteers collected tens of thousands of littered nips. Residents sent letters and emails to their elected officials. Allied legislators joined in the call to improve our recycling system. And local and regional media took note of the momentum building in the Ocean State.

As a result, the RI General Assembly voted at the end of the 2023 session to create a joint House and Senate study commission to examine solutions to beverage container pollution in the legislative “off season.” The commission will meet this fall and winter and release their policy recommendations in the spring. And then it’s time to get a bottle bill passed! As Representative Carol Hagan McEntee noted at the time of the study commission vote, “I guarantee you there will be a bill. That's what’s coming out of this. This is not a study commission to kill the bottle bill.”

Why do we need a bottle bill in RI? Beverage containers litter parks and streams, clog stormwater infrastructure, and break down into harmful microplastics. Even the bottles that make it into a curbside recycling bin often aren’t recycled into new bottles due to cross contamination. Bottle bills create a financial incentive to properly return bottles and pick up litter, so more bottles get off the street. And those bottles are sorted on the spot rather than dumped into a truck with a mix of non-food grade containers, so more bottles can actually be recycled. Plus, the systems created to collect bottles for recycling in a bottle bill program can easily become a system to return and reuse the bottles in the future. 

What happens next? The study commission will meet periodically over the next few months to discuss policy solutions to beverage bottle litter and plastic pollution including the details of how a bottle bill would work in Rhode Island. You can watch the meetings on Capitol TV. Clean Water Action will be at the table as well as advocates from Save the Bay and the Audubon Society of RI, representatives from other interested parties like liquor and convenience store owners, the Rhode Island Beverage Association, and legislators from both the RI House and Senate. Details to be discussed in those meetings include the amount of a bottle deposit, how the redemption process will work, how unclaimed funds will be used, and how we will ensure equity so that all Rhode Islanders can easily return their bottles and reclaim their deposits. 

The study commission will also be taking note of how other states are strengthening their existing bottle bills. Maine recently passed legislation to modernize their very successful bottle bill program and ensure that unclaimed deposits are invested into bottle bill improvements rather than giving them to the beverage companies. Connecticut’s bottle bill upgrades are coming into effect this winter including raising the deposit amount to 10 cents, expanding the types of bottles covered, and distributing $1.6 million in grants from their state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to modernize and establish redemption centers in environmental justice communities. The Vermont legislature also recently passed bottle bill upgrades, and Massachusetts activists are pushing for updates to their bottle bill, too. There is momentum across New England!

Let’s make sure Rhode Island passes a bottle bill next session! Clean Water Action and our allies in the Rhode Island Zero Waste Coalition will keep the public updated on the progress of the joint study commission. You can help right now! Take action and send your legislators a message letting them know you want to see a strong bottle bill come to a vote in the 2024 session. We have the momentum; let’s get this done!

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