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Legislature won't take up 10-cent deposit

Elizabeth Dunbar

MPR News 91.3 FM

ST. PAUL — Minnesotans won’t be asked to pay a 10-cent deposit on bottles and cans anytime soon.

DFL lawmakers say there just isn’t time to consider such a big change this year. But some of them still hope there is time to address the state’s lagging recycling rates through other legislation.

Opposition to container deposit mounted even before anything was formally introduced. Trash and recycling haulers, grocers and the beverage industry all lined up against it. Lobbyists representing national industry groups flew into Minnesota for meetings and hearings, and opponents even formed a new interest group, Recycle Smart Minnesota.

But the DFL lawmakers who were thinking about introducing the container deposit bill say lack of time is the main reason they’ll hold off.

“I think our maximum time period is nine weeks, so it’s not really a time that we’re going to be looking at major policy issues,” said state Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL- Brooklyn Park.

Because of its complexity, the bill likely would have needed hearings in six different House committees, Hortman said.

“We really don’t have the time for a knock-down drag out fight between the interest groups,” she said. “I think next year would be a great time to take a look at it. When you look at the value of material we’re throwing away, it’s very significant.”

Ten states have deposit laws, and recycling rates for bottles and cans in those states are twice as high as in Minnesota.

Minnesota’s overall recycling rate has been flat in recent years at just over 40 percent. The state has always been among the top recycling states, but now other states are catching up.

In the Twin Cities metro area, the goal for the last nearly 25 years has been to recycle half of all waste. Some lawmakers say even without a deposit bill this year, the Legislature should at least boost that goal.

“These goals are very outdated. They don’t even acknowledge the incredible potential of organics composting,” said state Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis. “One of the reasons to do it now is we’ve seen a dramatic change in the nature of the waste stream. It’s a reality check in terms of what the waste stream looks like and responding to that.”

Hornstein’s bill would increase the metro recycling goal to 75 percent, which includes expanded organics recycling. According to a recent report from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, nearly a third of what consumers throw away is food waste and other organic material.

Doing a better job of recycling and composting in the metro will cost money initially. But Hornestein said that would save millions in the long run. He proposes redirecting some of the state’s solid waste tax to fund local recycling programs instead of sending it to the state’s general fund.

The 75 percent goal came out of a separate report the MPCA did on metro area recycling, Hornstein said.

“It’s not random. It’s been studied. We know we can achieve it; we know we can get there,” he said. “So the key here is putting it in state law so that everyone knows that we’re serious about it.”

Waste Management, the largest recycling and trash hauler in Minnesota, isn’t sold on increasing recycling goals yet.

“We do have some concern with increasing goals in part because in the past those goals have not been seen simply as goals,” said Julie Ketchum, the industry group’s director of government affairs. “They become standards to meet. In some ways it promotes government involvement that affects a free market system.”

But unlike the deposit bill, which Waste Management opposed outright, officials are meeting with lawmakers to find common ground. As for the potential 10-cent deposit on cans, prospects are uncertain. It could depend on which political party is in charge after the November elections for governor and the Minnesota House.