A summer legislative study committee is looking at ways to increase recycling in Indiana, and one option that has been mentioned is a beverage container return law.
While environmental groups and industry representatives spoke before the Environmental Quality Service Council Aug. 28 and seemed to favor some sort of action, one opponent who didn’t speak believes such a law will not make it to the General Assembly.
“They are not going to rest it in a bottle bill. They are not going to do it,” said Joe Lackey, president of the Indiana Grocery & Convenience Store Association.
“Essentially there is a company that wants to pass a law for the state of Indiana to require raw materials be provided to his company at no cost to the company,” Lackey said. “That is a pretty good deal if you could get it.”
Lackey was at the meeting but said he was told by committee members he and other opponents wouldn’t need to speak as legislation is not pending.
“Our legislators will not fall for this. I would be surprised if there is a bill,” he said.
What may be a first step, according to Cary Hamilton of the Indiana Recycling Coalition, is the gathering of more statistics on just what material is being recycled in the state and how much recycling is occurring.
“If we get new data from the private sector and set state goals, that would be a starting place,” she said.
Elkhart County is one of only a handful of Indiana counties that tracks recycling, according to Tim Neese, a Republican state legislator from Elkhart who is also the director of the Elkhart County Solid Waste Management District.
“My job is to keep material out of the landfill,” Neese said. “There is not large volumes of glass bottles that go into the landfill because we have 15 sites around Elkhart County that people can use to dispose of those bottles.”
He also said Elkhart residents are able to utilize curbside recycling.
According to the solid waste district staff, 275.38 tons of plastic and 48.61 tons of aluminum cans were diverted from the county’s landfill in 2012 through voluntary recycling.
“That might be different statewide,” Neese said of the popular local recycling effort.
He said there is no mandatory recycling reporting in Indiana, and the figures state officials receive arrive from people like him who voluntarily send in statistics.
A jobs issue
Hamilton made a presentation to the committee Aug. 28 about recycling in Indiana and the opportunities for more reuse.
“The one point we try to stress is, we have new jobs data that shows if we were to increase recycling of the 6 million tons we are disposing in landfills every year, about 92 percent of that is recyclable, or compostable,... If we were to capture 50 percent we would create 20,000 jobs,” Hamilton said. “If we were to capture 25 percent, we would create nearly 10 thousand in-state jobs.”
She said the jobs would be created in transportation, materials collection and sorting.
Also, an increase in recycling would boost existing industries, she indicated. Indiana is the second-leading glass producer in the nation and glass plants need more scrap glass to meet demand for their products.
Hamilton said her coalition consists of industries, government agencies, non-profits and individuals.
“We haven’t taken a position on that particular issue,” Hamilton said of a container deposit. “Once there is a bill before the Legislature, we will take it up. It’s very controversial.”
An old idea
Kyle Hannon, president of the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, said the idea of a container recycling law has been brought up before.
“It’s been an idea the state Legislature has talked about many times,” Hannon said. “It was even talked about a little last summer during the EQS meetings.”
Hannon is a citizen member of the committee and was present Aug. 28 when recycling was the topic.
“The producers of glass and aluminum materials, and sometimes plastic, some of them would like to enact a bottle container bill because they contend it provides a lot more of the material they need to produce cans and bottles,” Hannon said. “And it is said that the other ways of producing recycling materials don’t produce enough materials.”
He said there is concern about a container deposit from owners of businesses that currently process materials from voluntary recycling. According to Hannon, some of those owners have invested in new sorting machines and they fear that if their waste stream is diverted by a bottle bill, they won’t be able to recoup their investments.
Also, grocery owners are opposed, Hannon said. He said the grocery owners say, “We don’t want this burden of handling the deposits and figuring out if they are from the right state.”
Hannon said he personally promotes voluntary recycling.
“I am always amazed at the amount of bottles and cans that are just tossed away,” he said. “If this stuff is as valuable as the recycling companies say they are, why are people throwing them away?”
Hannon indicated he couldn’t say if the committee will recommend container deposit legislation.
“This issue is bigger than an environmental issue,” Hannon said. “If it would be easy, it would have been solved a while ago. It is a serious business issue.”
Any changes in the state law requiring a deposit on containers will impact the public.
Ron Stork, Goshen, recently made a trip to a Goshen voluntary recycling site.
“It seems like there should be (a bottle deposit law), he said. “But you’d have to pay more when you buy them and everything is so darn expensive already. People should do it (recycle) because they want to, not because they feel like they have to get their money back.”
Goshen News writer and photographer Sam Householder contributed to this article.