Decision to Ditch an Expanded Bottle Bill Shows the Lure of Other Recycling Incentives

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Looking at legislation to expand the state’s Bottle Bill, the legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy definitely saw the glass as half-empty.

It would be more trouble than it was worth, the committee decided, to extend the five-cent refundable deposit on beer and soda containers to fruit juices and other non-carbonated, bottled and canned drinks. 

Last week, the committee shattered all hopes of expanding the Bottle Bill by voting to send several bills that would have accomplished that feat to study.  “Study” is the place in the Massachusetts Legislature where bills go to die.  You might call it the landfill for luckless legislation.

I clearly remember when the Bottle Bill was enacted many years ago, and how much I favored the bill, and how I welcomed the boost it would give to recycling efforts in this state.  I consider myself a scrupulous and proficient recycler, although that appraisal is no doubt inflated, as self-evaluations usually are.

So why did I find myself nodding in agreement as I read the State House News Service account of the meeting last week when the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy tossed those new and improved versions of the Bottle Bill in the ditch? 

It isn’t that I’m tired of stuffing empties into a big green garbage bag every few months, driving five miles to a liquor store, and getting $3.15 for my trouble.

It isn’t that I’m bothered by that grizzled gent who prowls our neighborhood in a beat-up sedan on the mornings our recyclables are at the curb and ferrets from our bins the Schlitz cans I put there by mistake after a long night.

And it isn’t that I’m convinced deposits on fruit juices, iced teas, energy drinks, bottled water, flavored water, sports drinks, etc., equate to a new tax on every citizen of Massachusetts, although that policy would indubitably increase handling costs to retailers.

It’s more a feeling that there must be a better way in the year 2012 to get more people to recycle all recyclable goods, and that recycling rates would rise if we provided more free sites where people could drop off their empties and other recyclables.   

I’m leaning toward agreeing with the folks at Real Recycling for Massachusetts, an anti-Bottle Bill group, who advocate “expanded recycling through measures that are more effective and less burdensome (than mandatory deposits), including expanding curbside pickup, making it easier to recycle on-the-go, making recycling accessible in more public places such as parks and arenas, and supporting comprehensive litter prevention programs,” and no, I’ve never been on Real Recycling’s payroll or the payroll of any similarly-oriented organization.

You can make the argument that plenty of money is available to pay for non-deposit-driven recycling: the tens of millions of dollars in unclaimed deposits claimed each year by the Commonwealth.  This is a source of a line item of approximately $40 million in the state’s general fund.  (Interesting fact: It was estimated that an expanded bottle bill would have generated an additional $20 million for the general fund from unreturned drink containers.)

But if the legislature, due to overall budgetary pressures, could not see its way clear to diverting a big chunk of that $40 million to expanded free recycling sites and programs, I would like to see the nickel deposit on beer bottles and cans converted to a permanent tax earmarked for expanded curbside pickups, more recycling centers and the like.

That way at least I could tell my wife I was doing it for the environment every time I reached for another. (Six pack)

Next: The alleged thwarting of the majority of legislators who supposedly favored an expansion of the Bottle Bill.

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