March 11, 2003
WHEN THE state enacted the bottle bill 21 years ago to reduce litter, the most popular drinks were soda and beer. Limiting the deposit law to them made sense. Since then, juices, noncarbonated water, and other drinks have become favorites, and it is high time for the state to expand the law to these other containers as well as to wine and liquor bottles, as the Romney administration has proposed. Officials estimate that the measure would produce as much as $15 million in new unclaimed deposits for state use.
Since 1982 the bottle bill has worked well to clear the state's roadsides, beaches, and forest trails of most of the soda and beer containers that once blighted them. In the aftermath of the beverage revolution, expanding the law would also end confusion about which drink containers are returnable for deposits and which are not.
Expanding the law to include spring water bottles is especially needed because they so commonly become litter. The wine and liquor deposit would be 15 cents; on juice and water containers, 5 cents, as with beer and soda containers.
The Retail Association of Massachusetts, which opposes the bottle bill, says the expansion would add to cross-border sales. The association's president, Jon Hurst, also says that pickup of returned wine and liquor bottles from retailers and restaurants would be more complicated than with beer and soda because deliveries are not as frequent. His organization favors mandatory curbside recycling programs as the best way to keep the most items out of the solid waste stream.
Pat Franklin, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute in Arlington, Va., counters that a combination of a deposit law with curbside recycling removes the most drink containers. She notes that the 10 states with deposit laws have 29 percent of the US population but recycle fully half of all the beverage containers recycled nation-wide.
Both Franklin and officials in the state Department of Environmental Protection discount the risk that expanding the bottle bill would hurt the state's curbside recycling programs. In fact, the municipal systems would be happy to lose the glass from their loads, since it is heavy, expensive to process, and has little resale value. The plastic containers are light but expensive to transport because they take up so much space in the pickup trucks. The one beverage container that more than pays for itself in recycling -- the aluminum can -- makes up just a tiny percentage of the containers that would be included in the expansion of the bottle bill.
The bottle bill began as an antilitter measure but became a hallmark of the recycling revolution. Expanding it now makes good environmental and fiscal sense.
(c) Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company. This story ran on page A10 of the Boston Globe on 3/11/2003.