Lawmakers: Bottle Surcharge Doesn’t Help Towns Clean Up

Lawmakers: Bottle Surcharge Doesn’t Help Towns Clean Up

It’s a routine that state Rep. Mary Mushinsky (D-85) knows well — getting off the train and walking home, a trip of just less than a half-mile. Along the way, she encounters nips — small bottles of alcohol sold at liquor stores that are frequently strewn along roads, highways and parks.

“I’m walking home from the train right now and I’ve already taken pictures of about 10 of them and I just found another four, so that’s 14 and I’ve only gone two blocks,” Mushinsky said during a phone interview Friday afternoon.

By the time the veteran lawmaker got home, she had counted 39 along the way.

It’s an issue every city and town faces, and in response, the state legislature in 2021 passed a bill placing a 5-cent surcharge on each 50 mL bottle, with the money going to municipalities to help pay for environmental cleanups, including efforts to remove nips from public places.

The funds are released to cities and towns in April and October of each year, and payments are based on the number of nips sold in the municipality.

“The money is supposed to go to picking up things like this,” said Mushinsky, a member of the Environment Committee. But lawmakers have doubts that is actually happening.

“Just today, we sent a slight adjustment to the bottle law and it has language in it to have the Council on Environmental Quality find out what happened to the money sent to each town, so hopefully we will get a report on that,” she said. “I don’t think it works, to be honest. I don’t think the money does anything. It was the liquor industry’s idea, but it’s not effective.”

The program is administered by the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Connecticut, which collects the money and distributes it to municipalities.

“They put an extra fee on themselves so they wouldn’t have a deposit,” Mushinsky said. “They take 5 cents per bottle and give it to the town to clean up the environment, but clearly it does not work well and their product is all over the streets anyway.

“I personally am unhappy with how it’s playing out and feel we need to put them in the deposit law along with the other liquor-containing beverages,” she said.

In the last round of payments sent to cities and towns in October, Meriden received $47,069 for the period of April 1 to Sept. 30, 2022, and received a total of $82,592 for the year the program has existed. Cheshire received $9,766 for the six-month period and has received a total of $17,360 in the last year. Southington has received a total of $53,825 in the last year, including $31,307 for the six-month period, and Wallingford received $59,442 in the last year, of which $32,443 is for the six-month period.

Cheshire hasn’t decided yet what to with the money, according to Assistant Town Manager Arnett Talbot.

“The Solid Waste Committee of the Town Council is considering a combination of programs and some cleanup events,” said Talbot. “They are in the process of planning how to spend this money and any future money we might get. Hopefully within the next month or so we will have that in place.”

In Wallingford, the issue came up recently when Long Hill Road resident Bob Gross asked the Town Council and Mayor William Dickinson Jr. how the town would be spending its share of the money.

“We have received the money,” Dickinson said. “It hasn’t been appropriated yet. My chief concern now is the 2023-24 budget, so that’s occupying time and concerns.”

“It’s a shame it’s just sitting there,” Gross said. “It could be used to fix parks.”

According to the State Office of Legislative Research, “the law requires municipalities receiving the funds to use them for environmental efforts to reduce the amount of solid waste generated in the municipality or impact of litter. These efforts can include such things as hiring a recycling coordinator; installing storm drain filters to block debris or buying a mechanical street sweeper, vacuum, or broom to remove litter from streets, sidewalks, and abutting lawn and turf areas.”

“It’s not working,” Mushinsky said.

“They’re all over the streets and people like me and volunteers, we clean them up every year, but I get tired of cleaning up the liquor in the streets. I really get tired of it.”

“They’re all over the place. My personal preference would be either to put a deposit on them as soon as possible or, if we can’t do that, to ban them. But they’re here now and they’re all over the streets of Wallingford, I can tell you that,” she said.

It’s a problem that is costing taxpayers money because municipalities and the state have to devote time and staff to cleaning them up, Mushinsky said.

While the payouts are supposed to fund those efforts, Mushinsky hasn’t yet seen any results, she said.

“When the stuff is left along the roads and parks, the public volunteers, the Department of Public Works, the Parks Department and the Department of Transportation, they all have to clean up this stuff,” Mushinsky said.

“And it’s every year, and in some of these neighborhoods it’s every week, depending on how close you are to the liquor store, and it’s pretty bad. So I don’t think this fund works very well. I’m not a fan of this fund because it doesn’t make a dent in the problem.”


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