Bottle Return Programs in New England: A Report Card 

A deep dive into the progress of Bottle Bills across our region.

Photo of hand putting empty plastic bottle inside bottle return program machine.

Bottle return programs in New England reduce litter, improve recycling, and save our cities millions. Photo: via Canva.

Across New England, empty plastic bottles litter our neighborhoods, parks, and waterways. The reason? Globally, beverage companies produce and sell about two trillion drink containers each year. And, unfortunately, many of those drink containers go from recycling bins to landfills or waste incinerators, poisoning our air and water. But we can change that – by implementing a commonsense law called a bottle bill.

How Bottle Bills Make a Difference 

CLF has been at the forefront of reforming our region’s recycling system for years. One of the best ways to boost the recycling of plastic, glass, and aluminum containers is bottle return programs, also known as deposit return systems or “bottle bills.”  

These laws work by placing a small deposit on single-use bottles and cans, which consumers get back when they return the empty containers to the retailer or a redemption center. Beverage producers (like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Nestlé) pay the fees required to fund the system, so these programs cost taxpayers nothing. And, because fewer containers end up in the trash, taxpayers end up saving money. 

While some New England states pioneered bottle return programs, others have failed to get on board – or have programs that need updates to make them more effective.  

How Are Bottle Return Programs in New England Performing? 

We’ve worked with legislators across New England to pass and modernize our bottle return systems. Each state faces unique challenges, but we’ve made strides in the right direction. Here’s our state-by-state report card: 

Maine (A-)

Bottle return program card for Maine. State scores an A-. Maine's bottle return program has the highest score amongst all of New England.

Maine has one of the oldest and most comprehensive bottle deposit programs in the region (and the country). Last year, Maine passed a law to modernize its bottle bill with critical new provisions. It strengthened the financial stability of existing redemption centers, simplified the complex sorting and collection systems, and spurred investment in critical areas, such as reuse and refill initiatives. On top of that, the bill maintained an increased handling fee to ensure redemption centers get compensated fairly. But there’s room for growth: a 10-cent deposit could help the state increase its redemption rate – which dropped over the last decade. All considered, Maine scores the highest grade in the region. 

Vermont (B) 

Bottle return program card for Vermont. State scores a B.

In 2023, Vermont legislators took a critical step forward by passing an updated bottle bill in the Legislature. The changes to the bill would have opened more redemption centers, covered way more containers, and freed our communities from litter. But despite tri-partisan support for the bottle bill update, Governor Scott vetoed it. Vermonters rallied to overturn the veto. Though the bill received overwhelming support in the House, it didn’t get the two-thirds majority vote needed in the Senate to override the veto. As a result, Vermont’s score leaves much to be desired.

Connecticut (C) 

Bottle return program card for Connecticut. State scores a C.

In recent years, Connecticut took two steps forward and one big step back in its commitment to recycling. While its bottle deposit increased to 10 cents effective January 2024 and the program now includes more beverages than it had previously, legislators also weakened the program. In 2023, they passed a measure to exclude two popular beverages altogether: spirit-based beverages and hard seltzers. That leaves it with just an average grade when it comes to the effectiveness of its efforts. 

Massachusetts (C-) 

Bottle return program card for Massachusetts. State scores a C-.

Passed nearly four decades ago, Massachusetts’ bottle bill has struggled to keep up with the times. Today, the bill applies to barely 42% of all beverage containers. It doesn’t cover flavored waters, energy drinks, iced teas, and many other beverages that didn’t exist when the bill was first enacted. As a result, Massachusetts has the lowest redemption rate of all states with bottle bills across the country. We know the state can do better. In 2024, we are working with partners and legislators to pass a much-needed bottle bill update so that the program covers more beverages and sets a 10-cent deposit.  

Rhode Island (F) 

Bottle return program card for Rhode Island. State scores an F. Infographic shows that Rhode Island has fallen behind other New England states in passing a bottle return program.

Rhode Island remains without a bottle bill. But, in 2023, the Ocean State Legislature created a study commission to consider how a bottle return program could work. And many advocates feel hopeful a bottle bill could pass this year. That spells good news for a cleaner future and a chance to avoid a failing grade. 

New Hampshire (F) 

Bottle return program card for New Hampshire. State scores an F. Infographic shows that New Hampshire has fallen behind other New England states in passing a bottle return program

New Hampshire, facing the toll of drink container pollution, also receives an F. But, while it once seemed like a pipe dream, a bottle bill could gain traction this year. Along with our partner organizations, CLF has spearheaded advocacy to pass a much-needed bottle return program for the Granite State. Despite many past attempts, this new bottle bill model will balance the needs of New Hampshire’s beverage industry, retail centers, and communities.  

New England Deserve Better Bottle Bills 

Our state-by-state report card makes something clear: We can do better and have the momentum to do so. By supporting stronger bottle bills across New England, we can drastically slash trash and serve as a model for other states. Your support is vital. Join us by asking your legislators to pass a strong bottle bill in your state. 

Bottle return programs incentivize and improve our recycling system. But an ideal future is not one where we get the most money for our bottles. It’s one where we stop our reliance on single-use plastic altogether. Bottle bills with refill targets can help us achieve that goal. With plastic pollution a full-blown global crisis, we have zero time to waste. 

Before you go... CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.