Fairfax County's 16-month-old bottle deposit law is costing the county millions of dollars in business and changing the drinking habits of many of its residents, area bottlers claimed yesterday.
What's more, it's leading to the widespread importation of the outlawed nonreturnable bottles into Fairfax from other localities, the bottlers said.
Since the county's law requiring a special 5-cents-a-bottle deposit on the nonreturnable bottle became effective, soft drink sales in the county -- one of the most rapidly growing jurisdictions in the Washington area -- have plunged 12 percent, according to a study conducted for the bottlers by a George Mason University professor. That translates into a potential loss of $14.6 million in sales to county businesses and $33,800 in lost soft drink taxes, said business administration professor Richard L. Entrikin.
But soft drink sales in other Northern Virginia localities that do not have the bottle deposit law are soaring, climbing 16 to 19 percent, he said. Entrikin attributed part of that increase to Fairfax County residents buying nonreturnable bottled drinks elsewhere.
"The consumer is pretty well telling us that he or she seems to prefer the convenience of the nonreturnable bottle," said Jay F. Davis, head of the Forestville-based Washington Seven-Up Bottling Co. "The consumer opts overwhelmingly to buy the most expensive package."
The bottlers called the news conference at the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce's office to call attention to Entrikin's study, financed by the Glass Packaging Institute and the Can Manufacturers Institute, and to their own plight. One county official who is studying the revenue impact of the controversal deposit law later questioned the validity of some of the study's revenue figures, which were based on a larger population than the county currently claims.
The bottlers are already challenging the Fairfax County law in the state courts, seeking to overturn a lower court ruling that upholds it. The Fairfax law is one of a number of local regulations that tend to "have a negative effect on sales generally," a lawyer for the bottlers, William G. Thomas of Alexandria, said yesterday.
The Fairfax law, is similar to ones enacted in Loudoun and Montgomery counties, was designed to help cut down on roadside litter, but county officials said yesterday it is too early to know whether the Fairfax law has been effective in that regard.
The Entrikin study, which questioned 100 randomly selected Fairfax County shoppers, found that more than one of four was buying substitutes -- noncarbonated drinks -- instead of soft drinks.
That was cheering to some halth professionals.
"To me, it's encouraging to see less soft drink consumption," said Sidney M. Wolfe, head of the Ralph Nader organization's health research group. "With few exceptions, soft drinks are simply huge doses of sugar with no nutritional value at all."
But in Fairfax City, which is surrounded by the county and which allows sales of nonreturnable bottles without deposit, drink sales are thriving. "It's true, people come here from outside the city" to buy drinks said Robert Perdew, assistant manager of the University Shopping Center's Drugfair store. "Hardly anyone," he said, purchases the drinks in returnable bottles.
Sure enough, a half block away in a three-day-old Safeway food store in the Courthouse Plaza shopping center, Marion Endres, an Annandale resident clad in blue jeans and a fur jacket, was pushing a cart along an aisle filled with nonreturnable soft drinks.
Endres said she "naturally" shops in the city because of the county's bottle law. "It's the inconvenience of taking the bottles back and, especially when you have got little kids, it's impossible," she said.
"Let's face it," she said, putting some drinks in her cart, "American people, you know how spoiled we are. We are going to pay the extra costs." Woodard broke down in tears when Biros asked him if he expected people would question him about his crimes.
"I expect that they will," Woodard said.
Ugast agreed that Woodard seemed ready for some form of release but expressed concern that tests performed by Madsen indicated Woodard at times experiences a "brooding resentment," anger and immaturity.
As a result, Ugast ordered the hospital to draw up a strict program for conditional release limited to 3 1/2 hours a day for unsupervised school attendance. Woodard, who said he is interested in studying English and Spanish, hopes to begin classes in February at the Emerson Preparatory School in Washington.