House Democrats introduced two bills yesterday aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions and curbing toxic pollution by requiring a 5-cent deposit on beverage containers and imposing a 5-cent tax on single-use plastic bags from grocery stores and other retailers.
Citing climate change concerns, Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) reintroduced legislation that would establish a national 5-cent deposit on plastic water bottles and other beverage containers. Markey, the chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, first introduced the "Bottle Recycling Climate Protection Act" in 2007.
Markey pointed to the energy and oil used in making plastic bottles in an attempt to rally support for the legislation this time around. "A national bottle bill can help America quench its thirst for imported oil," he said in a statement. "We can still have carbon dioxide in our fizzy drinks, while cutting down on heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."
He also suggested the bill would encourage large-scale recycling of cans and metal and plastic beverage containers, giving the aluminum and glass industries easy access to cheap materials.
Nevertheless, Tom Lauria, spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association, said Markey was tackling the problem the wrong way.
"Water bottles are one-third of 1 percent of the waste stream," he said. "I don't think the deposit ... is necessary because I think people on Earth Day need to think more about recycling."
Lauria said bottled water customers try to recycle, noting that water bottles are the single most recycled product in the plastic waste stream as measured by curbside recycling.
Angela Logomasini, the director of risk and environmental policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, slammed the deposit as a tax. She has headed up the conservative think tank's efforts to dispel consumer worries about bottled water safety and environmental impact.
"A tax is a tax," Logomasini said. "I don't see that it's a positive thing, and I don't think it's going to change how people use containers. It's just another way to fill government coffers."
Logomasini also pointed out that states and localities are already managing recycling programs.
Eleven states currently have deposit programs that require consumers to return containers to claim their refund. They boast recycling rates that are twice those of states without deposit programs, and the legislation exempts them from the national deposit for three years or as long as they maintain their high recycling rates.
Groups such as the Container Recycling Institute, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Public Interest Research Group supported the bill last session, and the legislation is likely to garner support from environmentalists again.
Moran also introduced a bill that would that would place a 5-cent fee on single-use bags in order to cut down on water pollution and garbage in landfills.
Under the Plastic Bag Reduction Act of 2009, the 5-cent tax would begin Jan. 1, 2010, and increase to 25 cents per bag on Jan. 1, 2015. The legislation would apply to grocery sacks, dry-cleaning bags, take-out food bags, retail bags and service station bags.
Funding raised through the tax would go toward several programs; a 1-cent tax credit would be directed toward retailers implementing the program, another cent would go to the Land and Water Conservation Fund to clean up pollution, another cent would be dedicated to state and local trash reduction and watershed protection programs, and the remaining 2 cents would go toward paying off the national debt.
"Our environment is literally choking on plastic bags," Moran said in a statement, noting that patches of ocean measuring hundreds of square miles are flooded with the detritus.
"Equally disturbing, as these plastics break down, toxic chemicals are being released into the environment," he added. "Some environmentalists believe we may be witnessing the negative repercussions locally in the Potomac and Anacostia rivers with the advent of inter-sex fish."
A number of countries in Europe, Africa and Asia already have imposed a plastic bag tax or banned plastic bags. In the United States, San Francisco banned plastic bags in 2007.
Moran's bill arrived on the heels of an announcement by the American Chemistry Council aimed at increasing the recycling of plastic bags. Known as the Full Circle Recycling Initiative, the program will attempt to ensure all plastic bags contain 40 percent recycled content by 2015.
Industry stakeholders are expected to invest nearly $50 million in the effort, which the council estimates will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 463 million pounds, conserve energy to heat 200,000 homes and reduce waste by 300 million pounds each year. Walgreens Co., and other retailers are participating in the initiative.