Momentum on Bottle Bill Advocates Say

By Ken Pruitt, ELM Managing Director

For over a decade, advocates have been pressing for an update to the state’s most successful recycling and litter prevention law: the Bottle Bill. Year after year those efforts have failed, due to an aggressive industry-backed anti-Bottle Bill lobbying campaign. ELM and other advocates have been frustrated by the Legislature’s inability to update this important law, but this time we have more reason for hope than ever before. A recently-conducted poll revealed that 77 percent of the Massachusetts public supports updating the Bottle Bill to include additional containers like water bottles, sports drinks, iced teas, and the like.

The existing law, which took effect in 1983, has been hugely successful-- responsible for the recycling of 30 billion (that’s with a “b”) containers. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, since 1983 consumers have steadily increased purchases of bottled water, sports drinks and ice teas - none of which require the nickel deposit under current law (they were excluded because so few were sold back then). This shift in preferences, coupled with an unchanging law, has created a mountain of container waste.  The volume of container waste from non-carbonated beverages in Massachusetts would fill Fenway Park every year, and a great deal of that waste is being thrown into rivers, parks, forests and along roadways.  The bottle bill must be updated to include non-carbonated beverages.

The bottling lobby and other critics point to curbside recycling as a panacea that makes the Bottle Bill obsolete (they not only oppose updating the law, they want to repeal it altogether). While ELM strongly supports maximum implementation of curbside recycling programs statewide, the fact is that we need both the Bottle Bill and curbside recycling. Why? Because the Bottle Bill is primarily targeted at “on the go” beverages consumed away from home – for example, at 12-oz individual-use sports drinks rather than gallon milk jugs. Individuals who consume beverages away from home are unlikely to carry their empty bottles and cans back to place in a curbside recycling bin. This is why we need the redeemable deposit, which creates sufficient incentive for the purchaser – or others – to bring in containers to claim the deposit. The numbers back this up: the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection states that over 72 percent of container types included in the Bottle Bill were returned for recycling in 2010. This compares with an average 22 percent recycling rate for beverage containers in states without a bottle bill. In short: curbside recycling captures waste generated at home, while the Bottle Bill captures waste generated away from home. It is an effective system. It simply needs to be updated to include more “away from home” beverage container types.

[The recently conducted] poll provides the science to what we've known from our experience all along, that the Bottle Bill is popular, that we need to pass the law to update it, and it will result in a win/win/win for Massachusetts - cleaning up litter, increasing recycling and saving cities and towns money from disposal costs," said Representative Alice Wolf in January shortly after the poll’s release. Rep. Wolf, along with Senator Cynthia Creem, has championed the bill in the Legislature. "It's been clear to me for ages that my district wholeheartedly supports the bill," Senator Creem, who represents Newton and Brookline, noted.

Support for the Bottle Bill update crosses gender, party, and geographic lines according to the Mass Inc. poll of 400 people. Municipal leaders are also strong supporters: the select boards, mayors and city councils of 165 (and growing) Massachusetts cities and towns have signed resolutions supporting the Bottle Bill update. They know the reduced litter on streets and in parks will help reduce their cleanup costs, saving taxpayer money.

Supporters represent a broad range of groups including: the Environmental League of Mass., MassPIRG, the Massachusetts Sierra Club, Mass Audubon, the Charles River Conservancy, as well as the League of Women Voters, the Mass. Municipal Association, the Mass. Redemption Coalition, and the Surfrider Foundation. Mayor Tom Menino and Governor Deval Patrick have been ardent supporters, and Congressman Ed Markey has filed a Bottle Bill in Congress.

What can YOU do? Call or email your state representative and senator and ask them what they are doing to help pass the updated Bottle Bill (House Bill 890). If you don’t get a good answer, keep asking. For more information, visit ELM’s website: Select “Key Issues,” then “Waste and Recycling.”


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