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Voices / Open Letter

Vermont has a long legacy of environmental leadership. Gov. Scott, we can do even better.

‘I urge you to build on our existing bottle-redemption law and outlaw single-use beverage containers’

Lissa Schneckenburger creates community with music as a performer and a teacher. Her album, Thunder in My Arms, was released this past spring.


To Governor Phil Scott:

I am concerned about the cost of Vermont’s landfill and recycling system, and how the burden of those costs is passed on to consumers and taxpayers.

My family is in the middle of a Zero Waste Challenge, where we attempt to put nothing in the trash can or recycling bin for two weeks. Saying that this is a monumental task is the understatement of the year.

My family has decided to change our consumption habits and refrain from buying some of our favorite items (like juice, wine, or crackers), simply because of what would happen to the container and packaging after we are done with it. I carefully comb my local grocery store for food and essentials that are not packaged in materials that will end up in the trash.

The biggest takeaway from this experience is that it is not sustainable for any family or individual long term. It is also completely unfair to expect citizens to go to such extreme lengths.

The real culprits are the companies that create, ship, and profit from these products, and the policy makers who allow so much waste to be created in the first place.

* * *

You may already know that Vermont passed the nation’s first bottle bill in 1953, the Beverage Container Law, which banned the sale of beer in non-refillable bottles.

Sadly, the Legislature allowed the bill to expire four years later as a result of strong lobbying pressure from the beer industry. If it hadn’t lapsed, it would have saved our state an unprecedented amount of money in waste that we would not have been forced to process.

Vermont’s current bottle bill was the second passed in the United States. It was enacted to “reduce litter, increase recycling, reduce waste disposal costs, create local jobs and save energy.” Originally it covered all beer and soda containers, and in 1991, the Beverage Container Law was expanded to include liquor. It is considered a huge success, and in 2005, the overall redemption rate in Vermont was 85 percent.

In addition, you have taken a big step forward by signing into law what is being heralded as the nation’s broadest single-use plastics ban. Thank you!

I urge you to build on that momentum, build on our existing bottle-redemption law, and outlaw single-use beverage containers. Many Vermonters remember that not too long ago, milk was delivered in reusable bottles, and basic necessities came in reusable and biodegradable packaging like cloth sacks, so we already know from experience that it is possible.

We need to reinstitute the idea that reusable and biodegradable containers are smart, cost-effective, and patriotic. Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate lots of modern conveniences, and I am not suggesting that we go back in time.

But we must learn from history in order to make better choices now and in the future.

I don’t want my tax dollars to go to disposing of old packaging; instead, I want companies to offer better options so that it will no longer be an issue. Our state will need to expand previous legislation and institute strict guidelines to push them in the right direction.

Is this something you are prepared to do?

It is time to stand up to corporations and lobbyists. Their goal is to make money, so it’s no surprise that they haven’t been protecting Vermont’s citizens’ best interests.

Your goal should be to protect Vermonters, our natural resources, and our pocketbooks. As the first governor to sign a single-use beverage container ban alongside a comprehensive reusable-container system, you would go down in history as a visionary example to all other states.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #535 (Wednesday, November 6, 2019). This story appeared on page D1.

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