So you want to get a Bottle Bill enacted in your state!

It is a daunting task to get any law passed, and Container Deposit Legislation is no exception. In fact, it is always an uphill battle due to fact that the opponents (beverage bottlers, distributors and manufacturers and retail merchants) are not only well funded, they are a politically powerful industry. There is no ”one-size fits all” campaign plan. Every bottle bill campaign has been different. The key to success lies in adapting to circumstances. Although you should be prepared to be flexible when launching your bottle bill campaign, you can use the general sequence of events outlined here as a set of guidelines. As you read through the rest of the Toolkit, you will see this sequence repeated, with more specific tips for making each step successful.

STEP 1:If container deposit legislation has been introduced in your state legislature in the past, it is important that you know the history of past efforts, i.e., was it was defeated in the legislature or by referendum? who were the chief sponsors if it went through the legislature? what were the roadblocks to success? who were the primary supporters and opponents, etc.

STEP 2: Find a sponsor for the bill if this is a legislative campaign. Your chances of success are greatly enhanced if you have a sponsor in one or both houses that is in the leadership. President of the Senate, House Speaker, Majority Leader, or a committee chair.

STEP 3: Next you want to arm yourself with the facts. You probably already know about the popularity of container deposit laws, their positive impacts on litter, resource conservation, recycling rates, and jobsnow it is time to get the facts relevant to your city, county, state, or region. What is the current recycling/litter situation in your state or locality? The first phase is to gather as many statistics and as much information as possible—these will help you to know what you are getting yourself into, and you will find them valuable tools in the future. One thing you should know is that you will not win on the merits of container deposit legislation alone. You will also not win without them.

STEP 4: You must have a clear understanding of how the legislative process works in your state

STEP 5: Begin to build a coalition that has as broad a base as possible: environmental organizations, local governments, state and local government agencies, recycling businesses, farmers, teachers, hunters and fishermen, etc. The broader and deeper the coalition the better. You will need both a dedicated team of activists who will do the actual work of the campaign, and an outer circle of organizations, businesses, local and/or state government agencies, and individuals who support container deposit legislation.

STEP 6: The next step is to develop a media action plan. Don’t start getting press releases out or holding media events until you have a plan in place.

STEP 7: Develop educational materials for use in your campaign such as fact sheets, sample letters to the editor, etc. These will be helpful in educating your coalition members, potential coalition members, bill sponsors, and the media,

STEP 8: Get to know the members of both houses of your state legislature. You should have numerous copies of booklets with names of legislators, contact information, committee assignments and bios. Find out what organizations they belong to and what their personal interests are. This will help when you are talking to them and lobbying them, though more often than not you will be dealing with a staffer.

STEP 9: Develop an editorial packet and try to get appointments with editorial boards of newspapers and radio/television stations. It is important to get their support very early in the campaign. As soon as your bottle bill begins to receive public attention, it will also receive the attention of those who oppose deposit laws—beverage manufacturers and grocery organizations for the most part. So get your act together before you take it on Broadway! When your campaign becomes visible, you will see the backlash from these groups in the form of anti-bottle bill advertisements, letters to the editor, and public statements. The opposition will very likely create a paper organization (an industry front group) with a name like “The Clean Communities Council” or “Citizens for a Cleaner State” or “Citizens Supporting Recycling.”

STEP 10: Getting the bill through the legislature and on the floor of both houses will be a huge challenge. Only a fraction of the thousands of bottle bill proposals introduced over the past 30 years have been voted out of committee. The strategy of the opposition will be to keep the bottle bill “bottled up” in committee, and they will hire THE BEST lobbyist(s) in the state to achieve this goal. Their lobbyists raise money for legislative campaigns, which makes them powerful adversaries. You want to gain the support of as many lawmakers as possible early on. The more co-sponsors of the bill the better. Once a legislator commits one way or the other on a bill, he/she rarely changes his/her mind. Be prepared for the bill to be passed around from committee to committee. And be prepared for a struggle to get a public hearing (a must) and a committee vote. again. While a bill is being debated in the legislature it is important to keep public interest high. This can be done through media events, press releases, letters to the editor and town hall meetings.

STEP 11: The most influential people in your state are not the lobbyists, or the environmental groups. Constituents wield the greatest power. Mobilizing the grassroots is essential to a winning campaign. At critical times, when there is a committee vote, you must get constituents to call their legislators. A personal call when the legislator is in his/her home district is extremely effective.

STEP 12: Be patient. Don’t count on the bill becoming law the first year, or the second, or the third. Most bottle bill campaigns last for years. For example, the New York bottle bill campaign lasted 10 years. The bill finally became law in 1982. Massachusetts lawmakers have introduced bills to update their deposit law every legislative session since 1995.

As you read through the resources in this Toolkit, you will get a better idea of the process that (with a lot of persistence and a little luck) results in a container deposit law. There are numerous examples for each step that you can use as guides to help you formulate your campaign.

One final word of advice—never underestimate the power of one! The New York Bottle Bill Campaign is proof that one person can make a difference.

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