Code for Hoarding: 'Unprecedented Volume of Customers' KO's Bottle Bill.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

If you've been to a supermarket in the last several days, you know shoppers are hoarding stuff because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Everywhere, it seems, there are empty shelves where the canned goods used to be and empty cases where the frozen vegetables used to be, to name just two categories of suddenly scarce foodstuffs.

This morning at a Stop & Shop, I watched wide-eyed as panicky elders swarmed and overwhelmed two employees trying to move rolls of toilet paper from a pallet to a shelf.

"You can't stop them," one employee cried to the other as a little old man pulled an eight-pack of the precious paper from his hands.

Hoarding has now forced the state to suspend the Bottle Bill -- although that is not the way the Department of Environmental Protection and the Office of the Attorney General phrased it in a joint announcement of the suspension yesterday.

They were much more, how do I say, "delicate."

MassDEP and the AG said they were temporarily suspending enforcement of "the requirements for retailers to accept beverage containers that have a deposit" because "many grocers, supermarkets, and other retail operations have indicated that they are overwhelmed with an unprecedented volume of customers purchasing provisions so they can spend time at home to help in the effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19."  They asserted that the suspension "will allow individual retailers to assess their operations and, if necessary and appropriate, shift staffing to enable smoother operations."

This action "will also limit any contamination that potentially could occur from staff handling used beverage containers," they said.

"Consumers are encouraged to hold on to their deposit containers for redemption at a later date," MassDEP and the AG stated, "or to recycle those containers with existing household recycling" -- in other words, to abandon their deposit money to the state.

The suspension took effect immediately, meaning on Wednesday, March 18, and will remain in effect until further notice, or until the current state of emergency is lifted.

The Bottle Bill, or Beverage Container Recovery Law, as it is formally known, was enacted 37 years ago.  It requires consumers to pay a five-cent-per-container deposit on most beverages sold here.  

To get an idea of the financial impacts of the law, I did an online search, typing in "unclaimed bottle bill deposits in Massachusetts."

One of the first things that popped up was a study from the Container Recycling Institute (CRI), which showed that, in calendar year 2015, more than a billion containers were turned in for recycling in Massachusetts.

That year, Massachusetts consumers collected $62.3 million in container deposit refunds and the state got to keep $43.4 million in unclaimed deposits, the study found.

The CRI study also found that the Bottle Bill generated between $85 million and $151 million in economic activity here and supported more than 2,000 jobs, including at least 1,480 directly related to recycling.

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