Perhaps the conservative Virginia General Assembly has New Testament objections to pouring new beer and soda into old bottles.
For half a dozen years legislative committees have religiously bottled up bills that would spur recycling of beverage containers--and help remove Virginia's roadside litter--by requiring deposits on soda and beer bottles and cans sold in the state.
And once again, the "bottle bill" is expected to be put on ice when the legislature opens for its 46-day winter session next Wednesday, even though "probably 75 to 80 percent of the residents" of the state would be in favor of such a law, said State Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell Jr. (R-Alexandria).
Mitchell, who abstained in last year's 8-to-6 vote in the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the bottle bill "is the kind of thing I instinctively want to vote for, and I will vote on it this year . . . although I have had questions about its costs for consumers, merchants and bottlers." Mitchell said he abstained last year because he had insufficient time to consider the bill between the public hearing and the committee vote.
A new public hearing on the bottle bill, sponsored by Sen. Madison E. Marye (D-Montgomery) and cosponsored by local senators Clive L. DuVal 2d (D-Fairfax) and Charles L. Waddell (D-Loudoun), will be held at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 17 in Senate Room A.
The recycled bottle bill is identical to last year's and contains a sweetener that earlier bills, first proposed in Virginia in the mid-1970s, did not: a provision giving retailers 2 cents of the 10 cents that would be paid for every returned bottle and can.
But even if a bottle bill were to survive a committee vote, supporters have little hope the General Assembly would pass it. "How optimistic can you be in Virginia?" asked Pat Franklin, president of Virginia for Returnables, the citizen group lobbying for a bottle law.
"I've been to Maine and seen a remarkably cleaner state," DuVal said. "I've seen boys coming into stores with sacks they've collected, older people, everybody returning bottles and cans . But while this bill would save money, energy, resources and the beauty of Virginia--and most people are for it--it is opposed by the power structure . . . and unlikely to pass."
Six states now have bottle laws: Oregon, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, Michigan and Iowa. It is generally conceded that one result of the laws is cleaner and more attractive states. Three other states--Massachusetts, New York and Delaware--will put bottle laws into effect this year. But voters in California, Colorado, Arizona and Washington turned down bottle bills in referendums last fall.
Maryland and the District, like Virginia, have considered bottle bills for several years but regularly kill them in the face of strong business opposition.
Franklin says environmentalists think a Virginia bottle law not only would remove 60 to 80 percent of the state's roadside trash and "save the state about $9 million a year" in litter pickup, trash-hauling and landfill dump costs, but also would reduce beer and soda prices.
Industry spokesmen say recycling bottles and cans would cost everyone--especially bottlers and merchants--and in the opinion of John DeMoss, executive director of the Virginia Food Dealers Association, would "most certainly raise the price of beer and sodas to consumers."
DeMoss also says that the state's existing $1.3 million-a-year antilitter program, passed with industry blessing as an alternative to the bottle bill, is working well and makes a beverage deposit law unnecessary.
Fairfax and Loudoun counties approved litter laws banning throwaway beverage containers several years ago, but the Virginia Supreme Court in 1980 struck them down on grounds that local jurisdictions did not have power to impose such laws.
In the three years the laws were in effect, local officials say they saw a significant reduction in roadside litter. But industry spokesmen also say that soft drink sales dropped in the two counties and that the restrictions were costing business money.
Said DeMoss: "We don't think it's right to make retailers the garbage collectors for the state."