Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist asked the County Council yesterday to repeal a controversial law that would require consumers to pay a 5-cent deposit on every soda and beer bottle or can sold in the county.
The law, aimed at reducing litter and recycling wastes by forcing consumers to return cans and bottles, is scheduled to go into effect in October. It was passed in 1975, but each year since then the council has postponed implementing it for another year.
Gilchrist, who has always felt there were problems with the law, said he decided it should be repealed after viewing figures provided by the county's Department of Liquor Control and Department of Finance. He gave these specific reasons:
It would cost the county's Department of Liquor Control between $1.1 million and $1.4 million to purchase trucks and hire drivers to pick up the returned bottles and cans from restaurants and stores. It would cost an additional $560,000 each year to continue the program.
The county could lose up to $3.5 million each year from its container tax of 2-cents and 4-cents per throwaway bottle if consumers switched to purchasing returnable bottles.
The mandatory deposit would hurt local businessmen because most other area jurisdictions do not include such charges on their soda and beer.
"Our business people would be faced with a potentially onerous economic burden as they compete with merchants . . . outside the county who are not required to charge the five cents per container deposit on nonreturnable containers," Gilchrist said.
Although legislation requiring deposits on bottles and cans has been enacted in several states, it has run into trouble recently in the Washington area.
An attempt by environmental groups to pass a bill in the Maryland legislature failed this past session, and the Fairfax, Va., board of supervisors debated last month whether a bill enacted there should be repealed. sThe board, however, decided to delay action until the Virginia Supreme Court hears a challenge to a similar law in Loudoun County.
Unlike the law in Montgomery, the Fairfax law does not apply to beer bottles. It has been in effect for 28 months.
John Brier, head of the Montgomery County Environmental coalition, said he was "tremendously disappointed" that Gilchrist recommended repealing the legislation.
"The deposit law would save the county 5 percent of its landfill space, and its garbage trucks could go 5 percent further," Brier said. "Plus the Department of Liquor Control would gain about $720,000 a year on bottles that aren't returned."
Brief said he based his estimate on a study showing that consumers return only 10 percent of all mandatory-deposit bottles and cans.
Several County Council members said yesterday they have not decided whether to vote to repeal the legislation. But veteran Council member Elizabeth Scull said she would vote for repeal of the mandatory deposit law, partly because the General Assembly did not pass a similar bill.
In the past, the council postponed implementing the law because soft drink and beer distributors vehemently opposed it on the grounds that it would hurt them and local businessmen. As an alternative, the beverage industry donated money for a Rockville recycling center where residents could bring their bottles, aluminum cans and newspapers.
According to Brier, few people bring bottles and cans to the recycling center although many people bring newspapers.
As an alternative to the mandatory deposit law, Gilchrist said he would direct the Department of Liquor Control to discontinue sale of soft drinks and beer in nonrefillable containers, and would expand a program to pick up roadwide litter from one Saturday per month to every weekend.