The expansion to the existing Massachusetts bottle bill (House Bill 3515) is dead. Again…
The bill was elegant and smart, and it would have brought a little money with it.
It would have given a makeover to the state’s bottle redemption law, which puts a refundable nickel deposit on some drink containers to encourage consumers to return them rather than throw them in the trash.
The 1982 law was written before the explosion of the snake-oil industry more commonly known as the bottled water business. And so it applies only to carbonated drinks — not water, sports drinks, or teas. Those drinks account for at least 1 billion of the more than 3 billion drink containers sold in Massachusetts each year. Only a third of those excluded containers, at best, are recycled (compared with 80 percent of bottles that carry deposits).
The bottle bill update would have kept most of that plastic out of landfills and sent it to redemption centers. Those centers get 2.25 cents from beverage distributors for every bottle they handle, and the bill would have raised those handling fees by a penny — the first increase for struggling recycling centers since 1990.
The state said the new law would save cities and towns up to $7 million a year in trash costs and add $20 million to the $38 million the state already gets each year from unclaimed deposits.
Not surprisingly, the beverage industry went to work on legislators to snuff out the whole thing. After all, the new law would cost distributors money, making them responsible for even more bottles, when what they really want is to be responsible for none of them.
The companies that seem to have had no problem jacking up prices over the decades when it meant profits for them suddenly found grave concern for the well-being of their customers: There was no avoiding passing their extra costs along to Joe Six-pack, they said, and that wouldn’t be fair to him.
They were über-tree huggers, too, they said, and they worried that encouraging more bottle redemptions would undermine curbside recycling. As if we couldn’t — or shouldn’t — do both.
Despite their efforts, the bottle bill update got further than it has in the 16 years advocates have been trying to get it passed. A compromise made it out of a Senate committee for the first time in mid-July.
“I’ve worked on a lot of bills, and I really thought they were going to do it this time,’’ said Phil Sego, spokesman for the Massachusetts Sierra Club.
The bottle bill was done in by the dreaded T-word. Critics called the deposits a tax. And legislative leaders would rather eat their own heads than pass anything that even remotely resembles that evil specter.
Never mind that the five-cent deposit is fully refundable. Never mind that the bill would save cities and towns cleanup costs and fund water supply improvements. Never mind that the bill would offset the much bigger and more permanent cost of clogging landfills with plastic forever.
If intransigent legislators understood those nuances, they had no appetite for communicating them to voters in an election year, or no faith that their constituents would get it.
RIP (for now…)
Additional Information on Existing MA Bottle Bill: http://www.mass.gov/dep/recycle/reduce/bbillcon.htm